COACH ASH: I want to welcome you guys and thank you guys for coming. I wanted to give you guys this opportunity to meet and greet and sit down and talk to our assistant coaches that have been hired here at Rutgers. We have had a lot of requests and just thought this would be the best opportunity to give everybody a chance to sit down, if you choose to, face-to-face before signing day. Signing day, we want it to be about the players that come into this program and give them an opportunity to be showcased and give our coaches a chance to meet and greet with you people.
A little bit about the coaches that have been hired here so far. When I accepted this job back in December, I had a very detailed plan of how I wanted to go about building this program really from A to Z. The number one thing at the top of the list was surround myself with great people that were great coaches, a great support staff, and really good players that we bring into this program.
I think I've done a great job of doing that. Very excited about the group of men that I put together to help us do great things here at Rutgers.
I want to talk a little bit about the hiring process and the things that I was looking for in some of the guys that I hired. I had a list of things that I was looking for. Didn't have to hit every single one of them with every single guy, but I wanted to make sure we were pretty spot on with most of the characteristics I was looking for.
The number one thing I wanted were men of character, I wanted guys that could be trusted not only by me but most importantly by the players. I wanted guys that could build connection with the players and they could show the players that they cared about them. If we care about the players the right way, we help develop them to reach their full potential, we're going to have a chance for them to play extremely hard for us.
The third thing was competence. I wanted to hire a group of men that were very knowledgeable in the position we were going to ask them to coach. They know and understand how to recruit players to this level. They know how to recruit the type of players we want here.
A couple other things I was looking for was compatibility, I wanted a group of guys that were compatible, that I thought were compatible with each other. Coaching requires extreme sacrifices, a lot of commitment. When we work extremely long hours, it is more beneficial to have guys that enjoy coming to work every single day, enjoy getting into those staff rooms, foxholes and working together. I thought that was going to be an important trait with a lot of guys I hired.
The other thing I was looking for were a group of guys that had come from successful experiences. Not all of them had to be that way, but I wanted a majority of the staff to have been part of winning programs. We all know winning is extremely hard at this level. If you haven't done it, you don't know how to make it happen. It requires an extreme amount of commitment, sacrifices by the coaches and their families if you want to reach the highest level. I wanted to assemble a group of coaches that have been there and done that.
Other things I was looking for in the coaching staff was loyalty, loyalty to me. In this profession you're going to come across a lot of really good times and a lot of bad times, you're going to face a lot of adversity. When you hit those rough times you want to make sure you're surrounded with people that are loyal to you, stay positive, they believe in the plan, and they continue to move forward.
The last thing was high energy. We talked about that at the press conference. We needed to change the culture here at Rutgers in the football program, needed to start with positive energy. It starts with myself and the coaches I bring into this program to try to instill the type of energy that we want in this program and in these players also.
Where are these guys from? There's been a lot of talk about not a lot of connections to New Jersey. To be honest with you, it didn't matter where I got a job. I wasn't concerned with where they were from. Most of these coaches are guys that I have coached with at some point along my journey. As you look at their résumés, there are guys from Iowa State, from Wisconsin, from Arkansas, from Ohio State. There are eight individuals on the staff in some capacity, whether it's the support staff, coaching staff, that had been at Ohio State at some point in some capacity.
That was really important to me because they're going to understand the expectations of the program, they're going to understand the day-to-day operations because a lot of the things I'm going to do are going to be modeled by what we did at Ohio State. So that was important to me.
Lastly, I want to talk about my expectations. There are not a lot of them but they're going to be high expectations. One, it's to be involved in all aspects of our players' lives. That's our job as a coaching staff, to make sure we're on top of and develop them academically, socially as well as athletically. The only way you can do that is to have a very strong connection, have a very strong relationship built on trust, and make sure that you show you care about them, that you have open lines of communication not only with them but their family or guardian back home and they know we have their best interests in mind.
The other thing is to bring in the right type of player here to Rutgers. There's certain characteristics we're going to look for in the recruits we bring into the program to help us change the program and help us be competitive on the football field and eventually win. It's important they not only develop the current players we have, but they go out and recruit the type of player we're looking for.
I wanted to take this opportunity to say I'm excited about being the head coach here and I'm more excited about the type of men I've been able to surround myself with as we start this journey and get ready to hit the road for recruiting on Thursday.
I'll take some questions at this time.
Q. Chris, you mentioned the high energy and change of culture. There's three guys 28 years old or younger, four guys 32 or younger. Kind of the youth of this. We've seen it on Twitter a little bit, too. How does that help in terms of an advantage?
COACH ASH: I don't want them wasting their time on Twitter.
That was by design. I think we have a pretty good blend of youth and excitement and energy with experience and wisdom. That combination is really what I wanted on the staff.
I didn't want a staff of all older, experienced guys that have been through the wars. I didn't want a staff that was completely filled with a bunch of young go-getters either. I wanted a nice little blend of that. I think I've been able to do that.
I didn't want a staff of a bunch of 'yes' men either, but those that would get aligned with my vision and plan fairly easily.
Q. Chris, obviously one spot left to fill. Can you give an update where that stands?
COACH ASH: I'm taking my time with it. I have talked to several people. I'm not in any rush to do it. I want to make sure it's the right fit for the offensive staff, whatever needs I feel like we have left to address as a full staff. I hope to have it filled here fairly quickly. But there's no timetable. I want to make sure it's right more so than just hiring a guy by a certain date.
Q. Would that be a runningback coach or is there flexibility?
COACH ASH: There's flexibility, but right now runningbacks is the position I'm looking for.
Q. You have a defensive backs background. Jay Niemann does, as well. You used two spots on defensive backs coaches. Was that an emphasis on purpose given the struggles?
COACH ASH: No, to have four guys coaching the DBs would be crazy, to be honest with you.
Jay has had tremendous experience both in coaching the secondary and the linebackers. He's been a back seven guy. So I'm very comfortable with him going to coach the linebackers. He played linebacker when he was a player. Not sure how many years ago that was, Jay, but it was awhile ago (laughter).
He's a defensive coordinator. He and I believe in a lot of the same things. But my comfort level of him going to coach the linebackers is extremely high. That's why I hired him.
Q. Chris, there is a perception that Rutgers wasn't maybe physically ready to compete with the rest in the Big Ten. Is that what you were looking for when you were looking to hire a strength and conditioning coach, improve that?
COACH ASH: Well, there are a lot of things that the strength and conditioning coach is going to do here in this program. I've said this to a few people. If I didn't think I could get Kenny Parker with me, I might not have taken the job. It was that important of a hire for me.
He's not going to be just a strength and conditioning coach. Is he going to physically develop the players? Absolutely. But the mental development and the confidence and the belief and the training we put these guys through is going to be probably more important than the physical development. The adversity that he's going to put them through to see how they respond, the competitive environment that he's going to create both in the weight room and in the off-season drills, on the practice field, is going to be extremely important for us.
That was the biggest hire I could have made in Kenny Parker. Whatever perceptions there are out there about Rutgers, I really don't care. It's about moving forward. I needed to do it with a guy that was aligned with the vision of how I wanted the program developed. Kenny was a home run for me.
Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit about the hiring of this fellow back here, Rick Mantz. There aren't a lot of connections to this area. He has those connections, well-respected in this area.
COACH ASH: I didn't know Rick when I hired him. When I got this job, again, it didn't matter if it was at Rutgers or San Jose State, some school in California. Part of my plan of building a staff, I wanted to get somebody in the high school directors or high school relations, excuse me, position that could help build relations with the high school coaches in that state.
As I started to make calls around or received calls or emails, there was one name that kept coming up. It was Rick. Calls, emails, text messages kept pouring in about Rick. I reached out to him and said, I'm not sure who you are, but I need to meet you.
He came over. Told him what I was looking for before he came over. We had that initial meeting. He came in with a detailed plan of what we should do here at Rutgers to build relationships with high school coaches and promote the game of football here in the state of New Jersey.
He had energy, passion. He has love for Rutgers. It didn't take me long to know that's the guy I wanted on my staff. We didn't have a previous relationship before, never met him, didn't know him. Just the outpouring of support for him in a position I had created here at Rutgers was unbelievable. I knew I needed to talk to him. When I did, it was real clear that's the guy I needed to hire.
Q. Do you have to take a unique approach to close out this recruiting class?
COACH ASH: Well, I think recruiting itself, you have to take a unique and creative approach regardless of what point it is. Right now we are playing catch-up to a lot of recruits. We're trying to hang on to kids that are committed to us. We're actively trying to find other prospects to go out and try to recruit.
It's a challenge at this point in the game because we are late. It doesn't matter if it's right now in the middle of January or the middle of August, we are going to try to be creative and do things differently to try to build relationships and connections with recruits regardless of where they're from or what position they play.
It's just a little bit more challenging because typically you're recruiting guys anywhere from one to two years and you have a very strong relationship with them. We don't have that luxury right now. We're trying to build relationships with guys in three or four weeks before signing date. That's difficult to do.
Q. Now that you've been here and have your staff in place, you talked about changing the energy. What have you seen overall from where it is and what has to happen in the next coming months for this to change?
COACH ASH: It's got to stay consistent. I think myself, I came in here extremely energetic and excited to get going. The coaching staff that has been assembled, the support staff that has been assembled is the same way. They're hungry, excited, eager to get going.
It's about consistency. Can we sustain that energy, when the players get back here, when we hit a speed bump in the road and face a little adversity. That's going to be the challenge for us.
It starts with me at the top, but I think I surrounded myself with guys that understand how to do their business, they understand the expectations. They understand there are going to be good times and bad times, and we're going to stay extremely positive through both of them.
Q. With the players gone right now, have you been able to have any interaction with them recently? What can they expect when they come back for the spring semester?
COACH ASH: We've had a lot of interaction with the players, more of the assistant coaches have than I have. We've had conversations over the phone. There have been several players that have come back early from break, have stopped in the office, I met with some of them. I bumped into some of them when they're going down to the training room to get rehab or treatment from previous injuries.
We're doing the best we can in a short amount of time to not only recruit but connect with our current roster. We're excited to get them back here. They'll show up here Monday night with a team check-in, have their first workout Tuesday morning on the 19th at 5 a.m. We're going to have a little early morning boot camp deal to find out where we're at with our players.
They're excited about that because of the unknown, what they've heard. We're excited to get a chance to be around them and see them. This will be the first time that most of the staff has had any face-to-face contact with any of the players. We're trying to do anything we can to connect with them early. That's going to be a big part of our success with them moving forward, how fast we can connect with them.
Q. It's a day after the national championship. I think every Rutgers fan is sitting there going, Great game last night, when is Rutgers going to be there?
COACH ASH: There are a lot of schools around the country asking that same question.
We're not sitting here talking about championships. We're talking about getting better every single day. Does every coach in this profession have a dream of potentially playing in big games like that? Absolutely. Been there as an assistant. It's unbelievable, great feeling, unlike anything else when you reach that position.
But our goal right now is to get better every single day. We have so many things we have to do to try to get this program going in the right direction, to compete in the division we're in. We're going to do that one step at a time. We're not going to be in any rush, take shortcuts, worry about two years, three years down the road. We're worried about being the best we can be today and get better tomorrow.
Q. You mentioned signing day coming up. You have 12 commits right now. Is there a number that you're looking for?
COACH ASH: No, actually we talk about that every day. I'm not concerned about the number of commits we get right now. Can we get up to 25? Yeah, we could. I'm not concerned about that. I'm concerned about getting the right guys right now.
We're not going to take shortcuts and go out and grab somebody that maybe is not the right fit, whether it be character-wise or academically or athletically and take a lot of risk. It's not just the best way to build a program for the long-term. There's no number. It's all about the right guys.
Q. Coach, you spoke earlier about your expectations for the players. How about your expectations for this team moving into next season? Is bowl eligibility enough?
COACH ASH: I'm not worried about that. Bowl eligibility, that's for you guys to worry about. Like I said, I'm worried about getting better from one day to the next. If we build a highly competitive football team that's focused on being the best they can be, getting better every single day, focused on being a great teammate, the wins and bowl eligibility and all those things will come.
I'm not worried about any of that right now. We're not even going to talk to the players about that right now. It's how do we come together, build strong relationships, build a team that will compete every single day in every facet that we want them to compete in.
Eventually when we get on the field the wins will come because of that. We have to focus on the culture, the work ethic, the toughness, all the things that make you a successful football team.
We have no idea where we're at right now. We have to find the baseline, a starting spot, and develop the plan to get where we want to be. The rest will take care of itself.
Q. I know it's still very early, but have you had any thoughts about the quarterback competition going in? Is Chris still going to be the starter?
COACH ASH: No thoughts to that at all. Not worried about it. Every spot is open. Everything is going to be a competition. From the day they show up on Monday night, we have our first workout Tuesday morning, it's about competition.
We've sent this message already. If you're afraid to compete, you're not going to be welcome here at Rutgers, whether you're a current player, an incoming player, a recruit down the road. The program is going to be built on competition.
There are not going to be any starters anointed because of what they've done in the past, where they're from, what age they are. The guys better come in ready to compete, they better buy into what we're doing, buy into our culture, do the things we want them to do or it's not going to be the right place for them.
With that, guys, I would like to bring up the offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer. I knew him for quite some time. We crossed paths at Iowa State several years ago. He was at Ohio State going out as I was coming in at Ohio State. He has been mentored and groomed by one of my really good friends, Tom Herman, head coach at Houston. I think Drew is an outstanding coach, a rising star in his profession. He was one of the first targets I had in mind when I got this job.
I'd like to introduce Drew Mehringer.null