By Kristian Dyer
» More Columns
Kyle Flood has the potential to be a better head coach at Rutgers than Greg Schiano ever was, and Saturday’s 28-24 win over Arkansas underscored his genius.
It was January a year ago that Schiano left Rutgers for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the new challenges of the NFL. He left behind a program that he literally built from scratch and he left a Scarlet Knights team in the capable if unproven hands of Flood, a lifelong assistant who wasn’t the popular pick to be head coach. But former athletic director Tim Pernetti made the shrewd move to see potential in Flood and late in the 4th quarter of Saturday’s comeback win, Flood showed why he was the right pick.
It wasn’t in any significant or gutsy play call that he made. It wasn’t a sideline speech that fired up his student-athletes. In fact, it had nothing to do with anything that happened on the field.
Midway through the 4th quarter, Rutgers was down 24-14 and needed a stop. Arkansas needed to eat up minutes and Rutgers needed to force the visitors into a punt. The possibility of a 3-1 start and a statement win over an SEC program all hinged on the defense making a stand.
Then, Flood defied conventional norms for a head coach in a clutch situation – he took off his headset, something the micromanaging Schiano never did whether his team was on offense or defense. After he did that, Flood walked a few yards down towards the packed students section and away from the team’s bench area. He faced in the direction of the students who at that time were chanting the refrain of “Zombie Nation” – in unison – thousands upon thousands of them jumping up and down in black.
And Flood began to clap with them as they screamed and chanted. He bobbed his head and smiled and briefly, the Rutgers head coach looked away from the field then waved his arms for more noise. The crowd responded as the stadium reached a deafening pitch.
Arkansas, no stranger to tough environments with their SEC pedigree, were clearly rattled and forced into a four-and-out as the crowd grew louder and louder; it was clear that Rutgers had turned the momentum. That momentum turned into a dramatic comeback win and perhaps the signature moment of Flood’s short tenure so far “On the Banks.”
Many college head coaches would have blocked out the noise, the chaos in the stands of a sold-out High Points Solutions Stadium and focused on the defense – that’s what the conventional norms would dictate. But Flood understood the moment and he knew that momentum hung not just on the field but in the stands, where a teeming crowd had waited three-quarters for a reason to get excited, to get frothy and perhaps a bit rowdy.
Flood understood that the kind of atmosphere that would unsettle the Razorbacks was needed. So the headphones went off and the piece of paper he scribbles his notes on went into his back pocket. And he turned to the student section and began to clap along with them.
It was a small gesture for sure, but it showed why Flood was and remains the right man after Schiano.
And that is not to bash Schiano. To say that he built the football program out of rubble implies that there was something of note there before. What Schiano did was create a program from nothing, from a proverbial wasteland of football talent. He taught Rutgers how to practice, how to travel, how to have tradition – even if he had to create the traditions himself.
But Schiano’s shortcomings were in the fact that he controlled everything and hired assistants who were comfortable under his thumb, who were “Yes Men.” Instead, Flood is the one who is comfortable in his role, in his own skin. And more than anything he trusts his coordinators and assistants.
That was summed up in Saturday’s 4th quarter moments where he stepped aside and became the most important cheerleader in the packed stadium. For what the Rutgers head coach did underscores that it won’t be by force of his personality – like Schiano tried to do – that will see Rutgers rise to the next level.
Instead, it will be a Flood that will do it. And like any son of New Jersey, he will do it his own way.