Rumors of Schiano flying south follow landmark season

By Kristian Dyer  |   Monday, November 27, 2006  |  Comments( 4 )

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
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Perhaps it is a sign of how far Rutgers has come.

Or maybe how low Miami has sunk.

Greg Schiano, the native son of New Jersey who turned Rutgers, albeit briefly, into a Top 10 team, is reportedly among the finalists for the University of Miami position.

Having turned his team from a punch-line into a contender, the man who was once the coordinator for the very same Miami program that appears primed to make a gesture toward him would be leaving the Scarlet Knights in their best position ever. Rutgers, now 10-1 after a strong win versus Syracuse on Saturday, is a team on the rise. Since taking over the Scarlet Knights program in December 2001, Schiano has accrued a less-than-impressive 22-40 all-time record in his first head coaching position. The 2005 Insight Bowl appearance was the first by a Rutgers team in almost 30 years.

It was Schiano, he of the infamous "State of Rutgers" proclamation upon his hiring, who built a program that was keen on keeping New Jersey talent in-state; it was he who crafted an undersized, sometimes physically overwhelmed team into a program capable of competing with many of the top teams in the nation. Six years ago, even six months ago, the thought of Rutgers being in the national championship picture and in line for a BCS bowl was unthinkable.

Now, the stars are aligning for the unthinkable to happen again.

Years ago, before Schiano turned a loser into a winner, it was not even conceivable that a struggling program on the banks of the Raritan would have one of its coaches primed to leave for a Miami team, a program just a handful of seasons removed from its championship glory. Now that Rutgers is tied for a share of the Big East lead with one conference game remaining and Miami struggling to stay afloat in the ACC, the Hurricanes are set to storm into Piscataway to take away the best thing ever to happen to the Scarlet Knights. Schiano would be leaving a program that he literally revived from the dead. The unthinkable would be happening.

Schiano remembers those days when the program appeared on its last breath, when the media was calling for his job and the stadium was half-full. It was only three years ago that there was serious talk about Rutgers dropping down to the I-AA level, giving up the dream of competing in the Big East and realizing that it, as a program, could not compete with the power and prestige of the "real football schools." Greg Schiano had bought into his Camelot in the Garden State, but very few others did.

Then 2005 happened. On the heels of a lackluster and lethargic 5-7 season the year prior, Rutgers was all of a sudden bowl eligible and headed out to Phoenix to play Arizona State on the "neutral" turf of the Insight Bowl. The loss didn't matter much as the Scarlet Knights went head-to-head with a program that had far more prestige and clout than Rutgers' 100-plus years of football history had ever achieved. On the heels of the bowl loss came an overwhelming sense that Rutgers had finally arrived. A 9-0 start and a dramatic win over third-ranked Louisville has built the program "on a rock," as Schiano likes to metaphor. The vision, Schiano's dream, was finally coming to fruition.

Yet now, for a Rutgers program and a fan-base that is still leery and jaded from more then a century of failure and broken promises, the news that their native son might trade in turtlenecks and traffic for palm trees and seashells is a rude awakening. It was the day that the 44,111 who packed Rutgers Stadium to watch the signature victory over Louisville dreaded. Now, for Cinderella, the clock is striking midnight.

Will Schiano, the man who stayed the course when others sneered, stay in the Jersey embrace of Piscataway? He, the visionary, the explorer who has chopped a trail of success through decades of decay, could well be the legend, the 'JoePa' of the school if you will, might well be gone. A Rutgers football program that has yet to exorcise the demons of its past turned to him in its most desperate hour. Schiano, born and bred in the culture of New Jersey, might now leave his program and his dream, for an offer he might not be able to refuse.

Where would that leave Rutgers? Sold-out stadiums and a fan-base clothed in a sea of red is still not the norm in a region that loves its professional football and is just beginning to learn of the 137-year-old kid in town. There is no denying, that despite the rankings and the recent media swirl, Rutgers is no Tuscaloosa or Austin or even Coral Gables. For a program on the rise, all that glitters and gleams of college football is not found in New Jersey.

Yet, this is a coach who went against conventional wisdom when he took the job in December 2001, who boldly proclaimed that Rutgers would be challenging for national championships and fighting for the best talent in New Jersey, no longer to be poached by Penn State, West Virginia and the like. This man, who delivered the biggest win in the program's history, has shattered expectations and is the epitome of the program. Now, the scarlet nation turns its lonely eyes to the man who is the face of the school.

What Schiano brought to the program was a consistent dream and focus. He recruited players who bought into his philosophy, who played his style of ball. What his teams might lack in talent they make up for in drive and determination. Much like their coach, the Scarlet Knights take to the field as a gritty team, a unit that chops through adversity, mockery and scorn to become respected. More than a head coach would be lost should Schiano pursue other options; the heart and soul of a program that has realized so many dreams and has many more to fulfill would be lost forever.

Not a whole lot has gone right since Rutgers defeated Princeton in the first intercollegiate football game in November 1869. Defeat after stinging, humiliating defeat, has followed and dominated the past three decades. However, of all the losses Rutgers has suffered since it became the birthplace of college football 137 years ago, none might hurt as much as losing Schiano. The promise, the expectation, the fruit his tenure has born, might all be lost. Not even another century-plus might be enough to eradicate the wounds that this loss might cause.

Now, sources say that Schiano is in negotiations for a long-term deal, building on the contract he inked this past offseason. Rumored to be in the ballpark of a 10-year contract worth $2 million per season, this would ensure that Schiano would not be leaving New Jersey for anything short of the NFL. Perhaps the orphan child of the birthplace of college football has found a home.

Kristian R. Dyer cover the BIG EAST for Rivals. He appears regularly on ESPN.com and in the pages of Blitz! magazine. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com
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