The new infrastructure includes a refurbished 42,000-seat stadium, a $12 million face-lift for training facilities that will be finished next June and a more competent athletic administration. But many on campus remain pessimistic about the program. Last spring a professor asked quarterback Ryan Hart, now a sophomore, "When are you going to take expository writing?"
"Probably over the summer," Hart replied.
"A very good idea," said the professor, "because if you took it in the fall, you'd be so demoralized [by your team's losses that] you wouldn't do well." She was joking, but clearly Rutgers football needs what Mulcahy calls a "change of culture."
That is precisely the goal of two men at Rutgers who bristle with idealism, even if their ideals are antithetical. One is Schiano, the coach. The other is William C. Dowling, a professor of English who has led the fifth column that wants the school out of the sports business. They have never met, which is not surprising. It is amazing they share the same planet, let alone the same campus.
On a muggy Monday in June, a man with the compact build of a small-college linebacker and an open face accentuated by the gap between his front teeth gazes out picture windows to the home stands at Rutgers Stadium. Greg Schiano imagines how this charming midsized stadium might someday expand—rows of seats rising out of the corner where there's now a hillock, and another deck where there's nothing but air. He envisions the large stadium advertising signs being replaced by luxury suites.
When you've left the University of Miami to become, at 37, the youngest Division I-A head coach, when you've rebuffed subsequent offers to be an NFL defensive coordinator and signed a two-year extension of your original five-year contract—all to be at Rutgers—you are either clairvoyant or delusional. "When we go to the Sugar Bowl in 2005," Schiano says, "maybe we could spend some of that [bowl] money on a new training table and a players' lounge." Schiano, a Wyckoff, N.J., native and former Hurricanes defensive coordinator, was hired in December 2000. Though he has yet to win his first Big East game, he has made some progress in turning the Scarlet Knights around. "Self-esteem was absolutely horrible in this program," he says. "Negativity. Sarcasm. One of our kids told me that before practice, one of our receivers asked for a pair of gloves. An equipment guy who's no longer with us told him, 'What the hell do you need gloves for? You can't catch anything anyway' That attitude is something we've changed."
Another area of improvement has been recruiting. When his hiring was announced, Schiano proclaimed New Jersey the "State of Rutgers" and vowed to put "a wall" around it to keep the high school football talent at home. Of course, walls are not built overnight—of the 23 scholarship players in his third recruiting class, which enters this fall, only nine are homegrown—but the Scarlet Knights are signing a growing number of good Jersey players and may have landed their biggest blue-chipper yet in July, when quarterback Mike Teel of Don Bosco Prep, the state's top-ranked high school, made an oral commitment for 2004.
"Everywhere I've gone in New Jersey recently, Rutgers has been there," says Penn State assistant head coach Fran Ganter, who's been on the Nittany Lions' staff for 34 years. "I go to a clinic, and I'm the representative from Penn State. I run into [Notre Dame assistant] Bob Simmons, and we turn around and there are five red sweaters in the crowd—Greg's got five guys from Rutgers at that one clinic. You go to a clinic the next night in Central Jersey, and there's six or seven guys from Rutgers. They don't care if the kid has offers from Notre Dame, Penn State, Texas and Tennessee. They're battling for him."
The potential payoff is huge in a state that has traditionally been picked clean by outsiders. "You walk into other states, and there's some school there that really dominates," says Purdue coach Joe Tiller, who has seven New Jersey players on his roster. "In Ohio they all want to go to Ohio State. In Michigan they all want to go to Michigan or Michigan State. In Indiana they all want to go to Notre Dame. In New Jersey they don't necessarily want to go to Rutgers. If they could keep those kids in state, Rutgers would be as good as anybody in the Big East."
Schiano started his tenure with glitz-commercials with Sopranos star James Gandolfini ( Rutgers '83), billboards in South Florida (long a recruiting hotbed for the school) and more than 100 speeches in six months—but has since consolidated his efforts to nurture the tepid relationship between Rutgers and the 347 football-playing New Jersey high schools. Although Schiano's predecessor, Terry Shea, was 1998 Big East coach of the year after a 5-6 season (a measure of how low the bar is at Rutgers), he is not remembered fondly in the state. Shea was a Californian who'd coached at San Jose State and Stanford, among other places, and Hoboken High coach Ed Stinson jokes that Shea's staff didn't even know where the Jersey Turnpike was.