The Official End of an Era in the Big East
By Paul Myerberg // Jan 26, 2012
Miami (Fla.) and Virginia Tech left for the A.C.C. in 2004, followed a year later by Boston College. Rutgers broke through in 2006, bolting out of the gate with nine straight wins and rising as high as No. 7 in The Associated Press poll before splitting its last four games to finish 11-2. Coincidence? Not quite. Perhaps no program – and no coach, Greg Schiano – benefitted more from that trio’s bolt to greener pastures, one that created a power vacuum atop the Big East. Rutgers, along with West Virginia and Cincinnati, helped fill that gap. But the Scarlet Knights never got over the hump, instead making brief bursts towards B.C.S. play before ceding Big East supremacy to other more solidly-built conference rivals.
Schiano will leave Rutgers ranked third on the program’s all-time wins list, with 68 victories over 11 years, and will be the first coach since Frank Burns, from 1973-83, to finish with a record over .500. He’ll also be remembered as the coach who lifted the Scarlet Knights out of its generation-long malaise.
As Bruce Feldman of CBS put it, Schiano’s tenure does represent “one of the clearest cases of a coach who left a place much better than he found it.” Prior to his arrival, Rutgers hadn’t posted a winning season since 1992. The Scarlet Knights won 12 games from 1996-2000. In April of 1996, Rutgers lost, 10-6, to a team composed of Rutgers alums.
“Rutgers Grads Give a Lesson,” said the headline in The New York Times. “In the school’s first alumni game, a team of Rutgers alums defeated the Scarlet Knights, 10-6. Even more discouraging, defensive end Rusty Swartz, a fifth-year senior who was fourth on the team in tackles last season, suffered a knee injury that might end his career.”
Schiano led Rutgers to six bowl games, all since 2005. The program is on a five-game bowl winning streak, tying the program with Mississippi State for the longest active streak in the country. Rutgers has won at least eight games in five of the last six years, a stretch that has been matched only once in program history.
Schiano turned the Scarlet Knights from laughingstock to Big East contender, which was no small feat. So it’s ironic, to a degree, that the early favorite to be Schiano’s replacement will be Florida International’s Mario Cristobal, a former Schiano assistant who inherited a similarly disastrous situation when he took over with the Golden Panthers in 2007.
The next coach – whether Cristobal or another coach with college experience – will take over a program built on a solid foundation, albeit one that needs a push in the right direction. For all of its recent success, Rutgers remains one solid step clear of being included among the upper crust of the F.B.S., if not simply the Big East.
Cristobal may very well be the first call. That relationship works on a number of levels: Cristobal is a former Rutgers assistant, as part of Schiano’s debut staff; he’s clearly an accomplished head coach, having led F.I.U. from out of nowhere to back-to-back bowl berths; and he has a solid reputation in Florida, which will aid Rutgers’ recruiting.
It’ll be an attractive job. While Rutgers won’t be able to cherry-pick its next head coach – Rutgers is still not at that level – the program can be very selective in how it proceeds in its coaching search. The selection process should include several prerequisites; head coaching experience should be an absolute necessity, for example.
In the big picture, Schiano’s departure completes the Big East’s recent coaching overhaul. On a national level, as Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune noted, only four of the 25 head coaches hired heading into the 2001 season remain at the same school: Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel, Gary Patterson of T.C.U. and Georgia’s Mark Richt.
More than any other conference in college football, the Big East has experienced a changing of the guard since the end of the 2008 season. The league’s longest-tenured coach is now Syracuse’s Doug Marrone, who was hired as Greg Robinson’s replacement in 2009. In 2010, Butch Jones, Skip Holtz and Charlie Strong were hired at Cincinnati, South Florida and Louisville, respectively. Paul Pasqualoni and Dana Holgorsen were hired in 2011. Paul Chryst and Rutgers’ coach-to-be-named-later will join the Big East this fall.
Think back to 2001, when Schiano arrived at Rutgers. Rick Minter was the head coach at Cincinnati; the Bearcats had four head coaches during Schiano’s tenure. Randy Edsall was at Connecticut, not to be replaced until 2011. John L. Smith was at Louisville, with Bobby Petrino and Steve Kragthorpe preceding Strong. Walt Harris was at Pittsburgh; counting interim and 16-day-long coaching stints, the Panthers have had six coaches in the years since.
Jim Leavitt lasted at South Florida until 2010, when Holtz took the reins. Pasqualoni was still at Syracuse, with six years in the N.F.L. separating his final year with the Orange and first season with the Huskies. Schiano was hired at Rutgers in the same year as West Virginia hired Rich Rodriguez, who is now on his third F.B.S. job in the last 11 years.
Schiano’s departure for the N.F.L. marks the end of an era for the Big East, even if the last decade-plus hasn’t been kind to the nation’s most maligned B.C.S. conference. He was the final connection to the Big East’s salad days, when Virginia Tech and West Virginia were national title threats and Miami, for two years, the best program in college football.
Those days are over; 11 years after Schiano’s arrival, the Big East’s future has never seemed more dire. West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse will someday be gone, either as soon as 2012 or not until 2014, should the league have its way. To compensate, the Big East stretched its conference borders all the way to the southern tip of California. That’ll be a change, as will this: Come the fall, Rutgers will be led onto the field by a coach other than Schiano. How things have changed for the Big East – and not necessarily for the better.
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Tags: Big East, Greg Schiano, Mario Cristobal, Rutgers
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