Less than a week before Rutgers was expected to lock up a highly touted recruiting class, Schiano accepted an offer to become coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday.
There is, however, no doubt that Schiano leaves Rutgers football in better shape than he found it when he was hired to coach the Scarlet Knights in 2000. The New Jersey native had six winning seasons in the last seven years and guided the Knights to a 5-1 record in bowl games. Rutgers had been to one bowl in its history before Schiano arrived.
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 9-4 season and have most of their key players back next year to make a run at a Big East title.
“This program is not a rebuild,” athletic director Tim Pernetti said at a news conference on campus in Piscataway, N.J. “This program is priced to move in every way.”
Pernetti, a former Rutgers football player who was coached by Schiano in high school, said he was not blindsided by his friend’s decision. He’d known of Tampa Bay’s interest in Schiano for about a week, but it picked up earlier this week. Pernetti said he was in constant communication with Schiano throughout the process.
Schiano met Thursday with the team, including paralyzed former player Eric LeGrand, and said goodbye.
“He’s got to do what’s best for his family,” said LeGrand, who injured his spinal cord while making a tackle during a game in 2010. “Who could argue with him?”
Still, it’s an awkward time to be looking for a coach.
Wednesday is national signing day, the first day high school recruits can sign a national letter of intent with a school. Rutgers was in position to sign a recruiting class rated by analysts as its best under Schiano.
“The message is this is the same program it was two days ago,” he said.
He added that he could not guarantee hiring a permanent coach by signing day, but did say it is “doable.”
“Any AD worth what they’re paying him has a list (of coaching candidates) in his pocket,” he said.
Assistant head coach and offensive line coach Kyle Flood was promoted to interim coach, though offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti would seem to be the most likely candidate if Pernetti hires from within.