Schiano leaves Rutgers in a lurch, but not for the long run

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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Eric LeGrand was enjoying a program on Animal Planet Thursday morning when his mother came running into his room.

"It's being reported that Coach Schiano is going to the Tampa Bay Bucs," she said.

LeGrand was stunned.

Greg Schiano, the man who LeGrand said has been like a father to him and had done everything humanly possible since LeGrand was paralyzed on Oct. 16, 2010, to make sure he got the best care, the best nurses, the best everything to make his life more comfortable, was leaving.

After 11 seasons as head coach at Rutgers, Schiano was headed for the NFL.

"I'm not mad," LeGrand told me. "I know he has reasons. I don't agree with it, but it's not my decision. It's his decision. I'm happy for him. I didn't want him to go. He's doing what's best for him and his family."

LeGrand's reaction is admirable. However, it's unlikely Rutgers' fans will be as forgiving -- and, if so, that's unfortunate.

Before Schiano, Rutgers football was, well, I'm not sure exactly what it was, but it wasn't much to brag about. Ever since Rutgers defeated Princeton 6-4 in college football's first-ever game in 1869, the Scarlet Knights' program had been on a downslide.

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B.S. -- Before Schiano -- Rutgers had played 135 seasons and been to exactly one bowl game. Schiano leaves the school after taking the Scarlet Knights to bowls in six of the last seven seasons.

When Schiano arrived at Rutgers after a two-year stint as defensive coordinator with the Miami Hurricanes, he took over a program that had not enjoyed a winning season in nine years. Five years after Schiano's arrival, the Scarlet Knights went to a bowl game. In 2006, they climbed as high as No. 7 in the Associated Press poll and were ranked No. 10 during the 2007 season.

In the last few years, Schiano turned down opportunities to leave Rutgers for jobs at Miami and Michigan. From 1996-98 Schiano was a defensive assistant with the Chicago Bears and, to me, he always seemed like more of an NFL coach.

The NFL is different than the college game. Much different. Just ask Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino and Lane Kiffin. They're all pretty decent college coaches that didn't enjoy the same success -- OK, they enjoyed almost no success -- in the NFL.

Schiano will be faced with the same challenge.

"He's been a role model for all of us, turning boys to men," LeGrand said. "I guess it will be different in the NFL. He will have a different mentality."

The timing of Schiano's departure couldn't have been worse, leaving just a few days before National Signing Day. The last college coach to bolt this close to signing day for the NFL was Butch Davis, who left the Miami Hurricanes for the Cleveland Browns in 2001.

Ironically, Wednesday's signing day was shaping up as the best in Rutgers history as Schiano had lined up the program's most impressive group of recruits. Those commitments are non-binding, however, and CBSSports.com recruiting expert Tom Lemming predicted this would "absolutely destroy" Rutgers' recruiting class.

Whether Rutgers' class is officially classified as "destroyed" depends on how quickly a replacement can be brought in and what they can salvage. Also, can Rutgers lure another college coach to Jersey literally hours before signing day? Miami's Al Golden is a Jersey boy, but it's doubtful he would drop down from an ACC school to take over a Big East school. The more realistic candidates for Rutgers are Temple's Steve Addazio or FIU's Mario Cristobal.

Schiano will be crucified for leaving this close to signing day, but remember Oregon's Chip Kelly nearly did the same thing a few days ago before doing a 180 and turning down the Bucs to stay at Oregon.

Is there ever a good time to leave if you're a college football coach? Probably not. In fact the only way this could have been worse timing is if Schiano stepped to the podium at Rutgers on Wednesday to discuss the Scarlet Knights' signing class and instead announced he was headed to the NFL.

How will Schiano fare in Tampa? I know the intentional fan reaction throughout town is about how the Bucs were this past season -- not good. CBSSports.com National NFL Insider Mike Freeman even called it "one of the worst coaching moves of the past 10 years, if not longer."

Schiano was 56-33 in his last seven years at Rutgers. True, he never won a Big East title at Rutgers, but he did something tougher. He built a program from literally nothing.

"He laid a foundation, he changed the culture of Rutgers football," LeGrand said. "You think of Rutgers and you think of Coach Schiano.'Keep chopping,' that's been the motto. I guess it's going to be different now."

It will be different at Rutgers. And as much as you hate to admit it, it also will be better in the long run, thanks to Schiano.

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