Time of the Flood

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – There are so many things that remained the same at Rutgers under first-year coach Kyle Flood, it is easy to overlook what is different.

But to find it, just watch the Scarlet Knights sing the alma mater after a win, be it in front of the students and the band at home, or in front of the traveling fans on the road.

Former coach Greg Schiano used to stand on the side for it, soaking it up before heading off the field. Flood stands in the middle of the team, usually arm-in-arm with his players, who point his direction and break out huge smiles when the verse "Since the time of the Flood" is sung.

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It was written in reflection of a devastating flood that swelled the adjacent Raritan River well beyond its banks, but it has new meaning because of its new coach, who is markedly different than his predecessor.

The Scarlet Knights are 7-0 (4-0 Big East), ranked No. 15 in the BCS poll, and are readying for a homecoming game Saturday against Kent State. They are there thanks to the best start to a coaching career in school history.

"It's a different style of coaching," Rutgers sophomore quarterback Gary Nova said. "Coach Flood is more of a player's coach. He gives us a lot of freedom and everyone loves playing for him because he lets us be ourselves, go out there and play."

The moniker of player's coach is usually met with a raised eyebrow, and conjures up a lack of accountability, but such is not the case with Flood, who was the offensive line coach the last seven seasons.

He proved that late in the summer when junior Michael Larrow, who was expected to be a major contributor on the defensive line, was arrested for allegedly not heeding the directions given by police when they were called to the scene of a domestic dispute.

Flood suspended Larrow for four games –- one-third of the season –- for a violation of team rules. And by then, it came as little surprise the punishment would be so harsh.

"The first time he dished out a punishment, where a guy was late to a meeting or something like that, you thought, ‘Oh, maybe coach Flood won't beat a guy down,'" Rutgers senior nose guard Scott Vallone said. "Then, he dished out the punishment like he said he would and everyone was like, ‘Wow, he's not going to be the happy-go-lucky assistant coach that he was.'"

Flood with Beau Bachety (84) and Steve Beauharnais (42)

The last time Rutgers started a season like this it became the darling of college football. Schiano led Rutgers to a 9-0 start in 2006, when they finished 11-2 with a victory against Kansas State in the Texas Bowl but a sting-forever triple overtime loss to West Virginia cost the Scarlet Knights an elusive BCS bowl berth.

"Coach Flood is a player's coach," Rutgers senior middle linebacker Steve Beauharnais said. "He's a real fun guy to be around. The defense loved him because he used to smack talk us on defense when we used to pass rush, but it was all fun and games. He always told us the defense would force the offense to play better and vice versa. He's a real competitive guy."

The hallways of the Hale Center, which houses the football program, are covered with the same pictures as when Schiano ran things.

Academics, character, family and accountability remain the focal points of the program, and recruits receive the same message of building a winning program without compromising in the classroom.

One of the slight changes came when Flood removed a quote in the team meeting room from legendary basketball coach John Wooden and replaced it with one from Aristotle:

"Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives -- choice, not chance, determines your destiny."

Flood simply said the quote fit his personality well.

To those on the outside, the program remains familiar. Inside, though, there is a discernible difference.

Flood, who was an assistant under Schiano for seven years, knows he does not run things the same way as his predecessor, who took the Scarlet Knights from a laughing stock to national prominence in his 12 seasons.

Flood even makes sure to thank Schiano for all he did for the program, and recalls the day the former coach left to become the head coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- the two stood in the head coach's office and talked about it when Flood was named the interim coach that day.

It took another five days for Flood to be named the head coach, but he took the words to heart.

"I would say my personality is different than Greg's, but I don't know how that manifests itself," Flood said. "I think the biggest mistake you can make when you get a head coaching job for the first time is to try and be like somebody else."

Flood continually credits Schiano for building the program, and acknowledges there is more than one way to run a program, but he certainly put his stamp on it in providing security and peace of mind for Nova.

For the last two seasons, the handling of the quarterback position was a source of frustration for the fan base. The Scarlet Knights had a revolving door at quarterback, whether it was Tom Savage and Chas Dodd rotating in 2010 or Dodd and Nova flipping back-and-forth last season.

When Flood named Nova the starting quarterback midway through training camp, it was with the stipulation there would be no changes even if Nova struggled early.

"I really believe that when players earn the right to be a starter, they need to have the opportunity to grow into the position," Flood said. "I think you see less switching, less rotation-type things, and that's really just how I feel. I've always felt that way as a position coach."

Flood with Tim Wright (5) and Miles Shuler (14)

As it turns out, Nova did have trouble in the first two games, but Flood never wavered. Dodd never warmed up, and Nova never thought he was in jeopardy of being pulled, which did wonders for his mental approach.

"Before the Tulane game he told me, ‘There's no chance of me taking you out unless something very bad happens,'" Nova said. "Hearing that from the head coach gives you a lot of confidence. I know when he told me that, he meant it genuinely."

Nova added that getting pulled this season never crossed his mind, even when he was 11 of 20 against Tulane and 15 of 27 for 130 yards the next week against Howard as the offense continually stalled.

"Last year (it crossed his mind) all the time," Nova said. "It's not a good feeling when you come out on a series and you don't know if you're going to go back in. And if you don't go back in, you don't know when you're going to go back in a game. It was something I had to deal with last year and accept that role."

Flood's approach was rewarded in a big way when Nova was stellar in throwing for 397 yards and five touchdowns in an upset win at Arkansas on Sept. 22, and overcame a poor first half Saturday to throw four second-half touchdown passes to erase a 10-point halftime deficit in a 35-10 win at Temple.

It also isn't a coincidence the offensive line, which was in flux the last two years with players being constantly shuffled around, settled on a rotation of six in training camp and is playing well.

"I think everybody knows the role they have in the program," Rutgers senior receiver Tim Wright said. "They both have the same values and principles. I think coach Schiano tried to handle a lot of things on his own. I feel like coach Flood just lets the players and the leaders and the older guys on the team handle situations while they are small before they escalate.

KNIGHTS' MARCH

Off to a 7-0 start, No. 15 Rutgers is once again dreaming of a BCS berth. A look at their remaining schedule:
Date Opponent
Oct. 27 vs. Kent State
Nov. 10 vs. Army
Nov. 17 at Cincinnati
Nov. 24 at Pitt
Nov. 29 vs. No. 16 Louisville

"Coach Schiano tried to handle things on his own early and when they escalated. When you have guys that know the standard, we're able to keep the young guys on course."

Vallone said Flood allows his coordinators (Dave Brock on offense and Robb Smith on defense) to call plays and injects his influence only occasionally. Schiano, he added, was more involved in game-planning and play calling.

"Coach Flood has a really good football mind and interjects when he feels he has to, but he really just lets his coaches coach, and lets the coordinators call the play," Vallone said. "He's not really an in-your-face kind of guy, but he will when he has to and he's not a pushover by any means."

Flood met with his team leaders -– Beauharnais, Wright, Vallone, safety Duron Harmon, linebacker Khaseem Greene and a few others –- during the offseason to make sure the players had a voice in the direction of the program, as well as in how minor violations such as being late to a lifting session or a meeting, or missing class, would be policed.

"Most of the time he depends on the seniors and the leaders to take care of things," said red-shirt sophomore running back Jawan Jamison, who leads the Big East with 789 rushing yards. "He wants to treat us like grown men, and grown men lean toward their leaders to handle problems rather than it have to be the head coach all the time because he has other things to do. We take care of it on our own most of the time, but he gets involved if he has to."

For the first time in six years, and just the fifth time in school history, Rutgers is 7-0. Given Rutgers played three true freshmen this season, there is no mistaking Flood inherited plenty of talent.

But to Jamison, there is also no doubting the significance of Flood's style.

"We're definitely winning because of it," Jamison said. "And, it's more enjoyable."


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