The Verdict Is In
As it had been reported that Miami was going to contact Schiano after the end of the regular season there was plenty of media on hand for the conference. The standard start time of 12:30 p.m. had been set for the press conference, but without a head coach at the podium as the clock struck 1:20 p.m. speculation began to swirl around the room.
Was he late because he was inking a deal with Miami? It had been reported that he had in fact arrived at the building, but had not left his car immediately.
Was he discussing the offer with his family on his cell phone?
When the elevator chimed and the head coach finally entered the conference room he was not dressed in his standard red Rutgers windbreaker, but a nondescript oxford shirt and sport coat.
Was this perhaps the foreshadowing of a news breaking announcement? Yes!
"I apologize for keeping you waiting. Purpose of today's press conference is to talk about the Texas Bowl, but before we do that I want to address one situation," said Schiano as he leaned back and took a deep breath. "For the last six weeks, the Miami job has been something that has been asked of me often and I've been consistent with what I've said about my situation here at Rutgers. Yesterday, (or last evening I guess) Paul Dee talked to Bob Mulcahy and asked for (well, told him), that he was going to talk to me today. Out of respect for Paul, we did speak today. And during those conversations he inquired if I would want to be considered as a candidate for the head job at Miami," after another brief pause he continued with a grin on his face. "Rutgers is where I'm going to be and Rutgers is the place where I want to be. So I am NOT a candidate for that job and I won't be a candidate for that job."
We Now Return You To Your Regularly Scheduled Program
One day many of us may look back on this as "the program that Schiano built." Those Sports Illustrated special edition books may find themselves sporting scarlet sometime in the near future and tell of this story of a program left for dead that could only be resurrected by its native son. The program will continue to progress under his watchful eye, as he continues to find ways to get the best of New Jersey to play for New Jersey. "These seniors have laid the foundation for really, really big things. We've recruited great young guys in this program. This is home. This is my state. This is where I grew up," said Schiano.
Losing at West Virginia, having given full measure against the Mountaineers and being so close to Rutgers' first BCS bowl game, the Scarlet Knights had nothing to be ashamed of. The players left nothing on that field and everyone watching the game could see the future of Rutgers football on display. The team was still smarting from that loss over the weekend and without an upcoming football game this weekend it left them with time to think more about it. The team moral was "Very, very down. Very, very hurt. [We] Got together in the evening; start to pull it back together," said Schiano. "I think our guys will bounce back strong. We talked and we have an opportunity to win eleven games, go to back-to-back bowl games, and win our first bowl game." Not to mention, this is the first bowl game that won't be against the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Everything's Big In Texas
The Scarlet Knights will head to Houston to face the Kansas State Wildcats on December 28th a game currently set to be televised on the NFL Network. Unfortunately for most people living in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area the NFL Network is unavailable through their local cable provider. Schiano mentioned that there are talks currently going on between the Big East and the NFL to see if there will be a way to televise the game locally. Schiano himself doesn't have the NFL Network at his house, but he does at his office and he joked about allowing the reporters to have a big party to watch the game.
With this being the inaugural game of the Texas Bowl there is no standard set of events and facilities for the team to use that week. "We already sent our people down (first flight) this morning. Our guys are down there setting it all up; practice facility the whole deal," said Schiano as the questions about Miami finally died down. Houston is an area that the staff generally doesn't have a lot of experience with, but they plan to take in as much as they can. "A bowl game is a reward to the players. We're going to work very hard when it's time to work, but when the work is over it's their free time. I want them to enjoy Houston; I want them to enjoy the time together. Those are special times for those guys."
Honoring Those That Built Their House Upon The Rock
Many fans have complained about the Big East's bowl connections citing the huge drop off in prestige between the top bowl, the Gator or Sun Bowl and the others. The contracts were written up before the season when many bowl committees were not certain if the Big East was a solid enough conference as it had been seemingly left for dead. Schiano feels confident that the Big East has shown it is a top conference, "I think the league is quickly establishing itself as one of the best football conferences out there. When this current group of bowl contracts changes over I think it will be more competitive ..I think the Big East will be a much more sought after conference when the bowl contracts come up again." But the parody within the conference this year led Schiano to draw parallels between the Big Ten Conference and the Big East Conference, "it reminds me of when I was a kid growing up. The Big Ten teams always had a loss or two, because they'd always beat each other up in the league schedule. It's kind of what it reminds me of now with the Big East."
Despite not winning the Big East title this season and a BCS bowl, Schiano believes that the Rutgers faithful should make the bowl trip to Houston with the team. There are several reasons to go to the bowl, for many it is the second opportunity to see the Scarlet Knights in a bowl game and Houston has a wonderful cultural flavor. But Schiano had a better reason, "How about these seniors that have done what they have done for Rutgers and the state of New Jersey. They deserve our support and I fully expect our fans to show up in great numbers and we're going to put on a great show. It's going to be worth coming down there." It will be the last time to see the Leonard Leap in a Rutgers jersey, or Clark Harris catch another pass over the middle, or Joe Radigan put one over the returner's head, or Brandon Renkart get a blindside sack. These guys have worked to build this program to what it is today. The BCS five years ago was a myth, and now fans have come to expect it, not because the fans believed five years ago, but because the players believed five years ago.
Progressing Both On and Off the Field
Schiano knows that his team is focused on winning the bowl game and not concerned with what bowl game they are headed to. The program is taking the steps to become a championship team and that means moving from a winning season, to a bowl game, to winning a bowl game and then head to the conference championship and the BCS. But he isn't just building his program to compete on the field, but in the classroom as well. In last years Academic Progress Rating which rates all Division-I bowl teams on their ability to graduate their players and, "if there were a National Championship game based on the APR rates, Navy and Rutgers would have played." Schiano is giving his team more than a chance to play football; he is making sure that each one leaves with a degree in his hand.
Last year they scored a 980 on the APR with schools scoring as low as 864 it is a testament to the philosophy that Schiano has instituted here for football athletes. This year's report which the coaches already have seen has Rutgers rated even higher than it is now. Rutgers finished number two last year to the Naval Academy who had a score of 992. "When I and my assistant coaches go into a living room or the kitchen with a recruit's family and say 'look, not every kid on our team is valedictorian of their class, but they come here and they do well academically. They work at it, and we make them work at it, and they learn some habits that are going to help them in life'."
Nobody deserves to enjoy their time more than the fifth year seniors who took
a chance on coming to Rutgers to build a program that could become a national
power. By going to Houston, an area that Rutgers doesn't recruit, it is an opportunity
for Rutgers to make a name for itself in another pocket of a talent rich state.
"You never know whose eye you might catch when you are down there. The
way we play is exciting both offensively and defensively. So you may catch a
guy's eye who's looking for a great education and maybe we'll get an inquiry
after the game," said Schiano. He has a contact in the Houston area from
his days as a recruiter for Penn State who might turn up some talented kids