Over the weekend it was reported that Stony Brook men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell would be named to the same post at Rutgers. With the news that Rutgers would be holding a press conference to announce the new head coach on Tuesday morning, it is clear Pikiell is indeed the choice.
It is the second major hire for new athletic director Patrick Hobbs, and it may be even more important than the football hire in some ways. With Rutgers stuck in the East division with heavyweights like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, its football program is going to have a major uphill climb every season.
However, on the basketball court is where Rutgers could get some semblance of acceptance as a real member of the Big Ten. So far, the Scarlet Knights have yet to really scare anyone in any sport that anyone pays real attention to in the league.
Even the once-proud women’s basketball program has been down since coming from the Big East to the Big Ten.
The point being, if Rutgers ever wants to feel like a real part of the conference and not just a media market grab, finding a way to be relevant in one of the major sports is a good way to go.
Hobbs’ hiring of Pikiell signals the athletic department at least knows what it needs to become relevant. Rutgers simply needs a man with credibility in the Northeast recruiting region, understands doing more with less and can build a program virtually from the ground up.
When he was hired at Stony Brook, the program was still trying to find its footing as a newer D1 program. Today, it is a 3-time America East champion and finished in the top 2 in the league in six of the last seven seasons.
From 4-24 in year one to 26-6 in 2015-16, clearly the man knows what it takes to build a program from the ground up.
While Pikiell’s overall record of 192–156 (.552) may not seem amazing, what he did with a program in building mode is simply remarkable.
Given his reputation, what exactly is the measure of success at Rutgers?
Is it winning a Big Ten championship? While every coach will tell you it’s on the least of goals for every season, let’s be realistic — Rutgers hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 25 years, the same year it last won a conference championship.
This is a program with just five conference titles and six NCAA tournament appearances in its history. Rutgers simply needs to start to learn to crawl before it can walk its way to a Big Ten championship.
Part of that is a head coach knowing he’s going to be working with less than his peers in terms of facilities and monetary support. Unless Rutgers’ new direction under Hobbs includes a major investment in facilities and a new arena for its team to play in, Pikiell is going to be fighting an uphill battle from day one.
Is success becoming a mid-level Big Ten team?
Striving for mediocrity may not be the wisest of ideas for any coach, but becoming a consistent threat to win games in the Big Ten certainly would be a great starting point for the Scarlet Knights. Given a bare-bones roster with very little Big Ten-caliber talent, getting to the point of being a competitive team night in and night out is certainly one step on the ladder of success.
One this is clear with this hire, Hobbs is telling the Rutgers fans, players and administrators that patience is going to be needed and stability is the real ultimate goal. Having a head coach in place for more than a few years at a time, building a solid recruiting base, getting the support back behind the team on campus and in the boosters eyes and showing progress quickly is exactly what success is going to be about for Pikiell.
Hit those benchmarks and the rest should take care of itself.
The only question is if the program is ready to take itself seriously for the first time in a long time. If the players and administrators buy in, this team could become dangerous in a few short years.