Chris Ash is a defensive guru, but upon his hire as head coach of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights one hire was going to matter more than any other — offensive coordinator.
Over the weekend that hire was made known, and it was extremely telling as to the direction Ash wants the Rutgers program going in. His choice of Houston wide receivers coach Drew Mehringer speaks volumes because he plucked an assistant from the Urban Meyer and Tom Herman tree.
That means one can expect to see the Scarlet Knights look a lot like what we’ve seen in the past from Ohio State and from Herman himself.
Hiring the 28-year old Mehringer also means Ash is going all-in on the recruiting trail, as the young coach has a great reputation as a recruiter in the Midwest and the state of Texas.
Most importantly though, is the endorsement of a mind like Herman. The Houston head coach called Mehringer “the brightest young coach in America,” per Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated.
Rutgers hiring UH's Drew Mehringer, 28, as OC. Tom Herman says he's "the brightest young coach in America." https://t.co/w8CK8vCAri
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) December 13, 2015
Will that mean a power-based offense or the more pass-happy version that Herman and Co. have run at the likes of Iowa State and Houston? Personnel may dictate that the transition is slower early on, as there is no run-first type of quarterback on the Rutgers offense.
The two things that will help are a stable of experienced and somewhat productive running backs and an offensive line designed for a power run game. Rutgers was sixth in the Big Ten with 169.2 yards per game and had two sophomores (Robert Martin and Josh Hicks) at the top of the rushing charts.
It’s a good starting point for Mehringer to being to build around. Still, there is little doubt that there is going to be a transition needed for this team heading forward.
Yet, there’s a bigger question at hand — can Rutgers win with the same blueprint that is working so well in Columbus?
A lot of that will depend on winning major recruiting battles for the best players in the state of New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights have long been a pro-style offense, and the level of athlete it takes to be successful in a much more wide open offense are of a very different variety.
That’s where the hire of Mehringer comes in handy. He’s got the youthful energy to help turn this team around on the recruiting trail and he knows exactly what kind of player will make his offense tick best.
New Jersey is full of talented players, but Rutgers has to be the No. 1 option for the best athletes the state high school programs have to offer. That simply isn’t the case right now, meaning Ash and Mehringer have their work cut out for them if they want to get things turned around quickly on offense.
Win battles for bigger targets and suddenly the transition may be far less difficult. But, that’s a tall order with Penn State, Ohio State and other big schools having long-established roots in at some of the biggest programs in the state.
One thing is for sure, you can expect a lot more shotgun and a lot more read-option out of this offense going forward. Oh, and you can expect Mehringer to lead the way on the social media front as well — a tool one can’t underestimate in today’s world of recruiting.
If Rutgers can become “cool” with the top offensive athletes in New Jersey, Mehringer and Ash just may be able to clone the success that Ohio State has had on offense. If not, Ash may not last long in Piscataway.
Just remember this though — Ash isn’t afraid to come in and swing for the fence. This hire is certainly an indication of that.
Early 2018-19 Big Ten Basketball Outlook: Will it be a breakout year for Rutgers basketball?
Rutgers suffered through another brutal season in Big Ten play, but things seem to be trending upward for the Scarlet Knights and Steve Pikiell.
The 2017-18 season may still be going on for some teams (we’re looking at you Michigan and Purdue), but for the rest of the Big Ten it is time to look forward. What was done this season is done, it’s time for lessons to be learned and new season’s to begin.
For 12 of the 14 programs the offseason and attention to next season begins now. So, we’ll do the same here with a series looking ahead to 2018-19 and what each program looks like heading in to the offseason and what we believe you can expect from them in the coming year.
Up first is the team that has seemingly occupied the No. 14 spot in the Big Ten standings since it joined the conference a few short years ago — Rutgers.
After coming off back-to-back three-win seasons in Big Ten play, what will year three of the Steve Pikiell era have in store for everyone?
Reason to be Optimistic: The Right Track
Sometimes the feeling you get from a re-building program matters more than the results at first. Such is the case with Rutgers, which was left in shambles due to scandal, administrative issues and incompetence of the highest order. Pikiell’s hire as head coach seems to be the right one. He’s gotten the program playing hard, playing together and most importantly believing in itself once again. A win over in-state rival Seton Hall in December was a huge milestone, while making a run to the Big Ten quarterfinals was also a positive sign of change for the Scarlet Knights.
Recruiting has been getting better and Pikiell has brought stability to the program overall. Just how much do others believe in what he’s done in two years at Rutgers? There are rumors of his name being associated with the opening at former national powerhouse UConn.
We doubt Pikiell jumps at that opportunity or in the seriousness of UConn’s interest, so don’t be afraid Rutgers fans, you’ll have the guy there to see the plan through a third year. Oh, and there’s something about the little $5 million buyout that Pikiell has in his new contract that was signed in January of this year. We’re pretty sure Pat Hobbs knows what he has and took steps to keep Pikiell in place for a while longer.
Reason to Worry: Life Without Corey Sanders?
As bad as the records have been the last two years, can you imagine where Rutgers would have been without the most underrated player in the Big Ten — Corey Sanders? It’s a frightening thought, and one that could be a reality as Sanders explores his NBA options for a second offseason. It would be a miracle if he came back for his senior season if you ask me.
That would mean replacing 15.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and over 40% shooting from the field, not to mention the leadership that he provided. Watching him literally will Rutgers to a win over Minnesota late in the season was a thing of beauty. Rutgers simply doesn’t have a replacement for him in the wings, and that is reason to worry about a program that couldn’t win much even with Sanders in the fold.
Player to Watch: Geo Baker
If life after Corey Sanders isn’t as bad as the pundits make it out to be, look no further than Geo Baker to be the reason for that. Baker’s debut season for Rutgers was a huge success, averaging 10.8 points per game and starting 29 of 31 games on the season. The 6-4 guard led the team with 54 made three-pointers and shot a good 36.1 percent from beyond the arc overall. He took the second-most shots on the team, and will need to improve his overall shooting this offseason though. Shooting at a 38 percent clip from the field isn’t going to cut it when you don’t have Sanders to help you out on the perimeter and being able to slash to the basket.
If you need any more proof that Pikiell is on the right track, just look at the 2018 recruiting class that is being brought in. Sanders may be leaving, but Pikiell targeted and got 4-star shooting guard Montez Mathis in the fold.
He also added the No. 7 ranked JUCO player in the country in 6-9 power forward Shaq Carter and New Jersey native Ronald Harper out of powerhouse Don Bosco Prep.
It appears that Pikiell is making great strides in the talent-rich state of New Jersey and most importantly outside of the state. This could be a class that helps change the perception of the program and could make an early impact.
Yes, Steve Pikiell’s teams have finished with the exact same three-win seasons in Big Ten play during his first two years in Piscataway, but something felt different in 2017-18. Rutgers was more competitive overall and played much better as a team. Baker showed plenty of promise in his first season, but is the only returning double-digit scorer on the team. Given the slow growth of this team, don’t be surprised to see others step up to the challenge next season thanks to the foundation that was laid over these last two years.
The good news is there are strong building blocks in place for a long-suffering basketball program. Will year three be the big turnaround year? It’s unlikely we’re going to see the Scarlet Knights post a winning Big Ten record, but there’s certainly the pieces for more than three wins in B1G play. Don’t be surprised to see Rutgers competing to get off the bottom of the conference barrel for the first time in the Pikiell era.
What is Rutgers offense identity with John McNulty hire?
Rutgers welcomes back John McNulty as offensive coordinator, does it signal more changes to the style of this version of Scarlet Knights football?
John McNulty should be a familiar face for a large portion of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights fanbase. After all, this will be his second stint at the school as offensive coordinator as NJ.com reports his hire on Thursday afternoon.
But, that was a decade ago and that was the beginning of an offensive revolution that has seen spread offenses take over the college football world. He last was seen coaching Rutgers during the 2008 season and since then has moved up to the NFL with various stops as a position coach up until this past season when he was the tight ends coach with the Los Angeles Chargers.
It’s an interesting move for the Rutgers program and a name that many didn’t have in their heads when thinking about where Chris Ash would turn after Jerry Kill decided to call it quits due to health concerns this past month.
But, Ash gets a chance to link to the past and get a coach with some loyalty to the Rutgers program too. At least that has to be the hope, but there are serious questions about just what kind of offense the Scarlet Knights will use under McNulty.
Ash has been adamant that he wants a power spread game in place and has been building recruiting classes in that direction. But, McNulty isn’t a coach well-versed in that world, although he does have some spread ideas from his days in the NFL.
On the one hand, he’s got a bit of spread offense experience after being the quarterback coach for the Tennessee Titans with Marcus Mariota in the fold. On the other hand, he also is well-versed in pro-style offenses and ran that while at Rutgers the last time he was in town and did so in record-breaking fashion.
So, who will the Scarlet Knights be under McNulty?
It’s likely that the answer to the identity of the Scarlet Knights offense rides on the players on the roster and what can be most effective in winning them games. Will it be straight spread or straight pro-style offense? We’re likely to see a mix and a lot of the answer to that mix may come from whom McNulty chooses as quarterback.
No question looms larger than if the prize get of the 2018 recruiting class, quarterback Artur Sitkowski, is ready to go or not.
Rutgers hasn’t found a quarterback that is wholly capable of running a spread attack since Ash arrived and it has stunted the offensive production in a big way. John Lewis had a big struggle as anything but a running quarterback in limited action, but with Giovanni Resicgno graduating there will be a new quarterback in the fold no matter what.
One has to believe that McNulty will know how to maximize a quarterback like the 6-5, 220-pound Sitkowski. He’s well-versed in multiple offensive looks, having run an option offense first in high school and then transitioning to a more spread look after transferring to IMG Academy in Florida prior to his junior season.
Sitkowski comes in as the No. 11 ranked pro-style quarterback in the 247Sports composite rankings, the type of recruit at QB that could transform a program like Rutgers if the projections are correct. But, does that mean Sitkowski is the immediate answer?
It will be interesting because McNulty’s offenses in Piscataway were some of the most explosive in the history of Rutgers football, but they were based solely on a strong run game and a complimentary pass attack out of a pro-style look. Names like quarterback Mike Teel, running back Ray Rice and wide receiver Tim Brown were stars under McNulty’s tutelage back in the day.
What McNulty sees from Sitkowski and the other quarterbacks in the room will likely dictate what his offense is built around this season and going forward. The good news is that this appears to be a fresh start for everyone involved in Rutgers’ offense.
Rutgers betting big on Pikiell with contract extension
Rutgers set to make Steve Pikiell one of the Big Ten’s highest paid head basketball coaches as they extend his contract to the 2023-24 season.
Steve Pikiell came in to the Rutgers men’s basketball head coaching position in the middle of interesting times for the basketball program. Just two years later and he is now receiving a contract extension and getting paid rather handsomely in the process.
Rutgers announced a new contract extension for Pikiell on Wednesday afternoon, one that will see him extended until the end of the 2023-24 season. It’ll also see him reach a guaranteed compensation package of $15.05 million over the course of the next five seasons. There are also performance bonuses that could bring this total even higher.
“Steve is doing a fantastic job and it’s our intent to do everything we can to keep him at Rutgers for a very long time,” said Director of Athletics Pat Hobbs. “There is incredible excitement around our program. We are going to compete with the very best because of Steve’s leadership. Our program could not be in better hands.”
Rutgers apparently decided it was also going to compete at the top of the Big Ten coaching pay scale too. The new contract means Pikiell is going to average nearly $3 million per season guaranteed over the next five seasons. However, much of the contract is back-loaded as Rutgers will pay big salaries to Pikiell following it getting it’s full-share as a member of the Big Ten conference for the first time.
To put that in perspective, his average salary would nearly the same as John Beilien at Michigan and just around $500,000 less than Tom Izzo is making at Michigan State. Yes, that same Tom Izzo who has a national championship and plenty of Final Four banners hanging in the rafters of the Breslin Center.
Just to put this in to perspective, Pikiell’s new deal would make him the fifth highest paid head coach in the Big Ten according to the latest numbers by USA Today and contracts for the newest coaches in the Big Ten. That would put him behind Izzo, Beilein and newcomers Archie Miller at Indiana and Chris Holtmann at Ohio State respectively.
All of it for a coach who is 26-24 overall and has the Scarlet Knights sitting 11-6 on the 2017-18 season.
The investment certainly indicates a Rutgers athletic department willing to go all-in on a coach who has at least made the Scarlet Knights competitive after years as the also-ran of the Big Ten and Big East before that. It also indicates a program that knows it needs to pay to keep a good coach around to build something worthwhile in Piscataway.
The announcement came on the heels of Rutgers’ big win this weekend over Wisconsin to snap a bad three-game losing streak that included losses to Rider and Stony Brook. But, hope also springs up thanks to a big win prior to that three-game losing streak, as Rutgers beat No. 13 Seton Hall in the battle of New Jersey.
Something is brewing in Piscataway, and the Scarlet Knights brass are going all-in that Pikiell is the long-term answer.
It’s a gamble, but one that Rutgers likely needed to show to the outside world as much as anything. For once, the Scarlet Knights are taking all athletics seriously and putting their money where their mouths are.
But, as with all gambles like this, it needs to pay off and that jury is still way out on whether or not that will happen.
Ash needs to get things right on offense, whether Kill stays or goes
Jerry Kill’s health-related decision could put Rutgers in a really awkward situation for the ninth straight year.
News broke on Tuesday that Rutgers offensive coordinator Jerry Kill was mulling over a decision to stay or go as the OC.
According to the report, Kill is having some health issues related to his epilepsy and may wish to move on to a different challenge.
The 56-year-old former Big Ten Coach of the Year is evaluating his options and is expected to make a health-related decision in the coming days, multiple sources told NJ Advance Media.
No one is going to begrudge Kill should he leave – his personal healthy and well-being trump anything on the football field to say the least.
But, this could be a huge blow to a Rutgers program looking for some stability on offense for the first time in nearly a decade.
Should Kill leave, it would mean the ninth different offensive coordinator in the last nine seasons for the Scarlet Knights. That’s not good news, especially when we’ve seen different styles trying to be blended together, recruited to and then abandoned in quick order.
The question that Ash and Co. need to answer is if the direction they were going in in 2017 was the right one? The results on the field weren’t all that spectacular — Rutgers finished 2017 ranked 10th in rushing offense, 14th in passing offense (115.6 yards per game) and total offense (262.7), as well as 13th in scoring offense (18 points per game).
Those were not bright numbers, but this was the season where things were supposed to be built from, not the end-game of the re-design of decades of pro-style offense in Piscataway.
So, perhaps the future tells us as much as we can gleam about the vision of Ash and Co. on offense. That’s where the good news comes in.
What we do know is that there is a growing sentiment that things are moving in the right direction.
Getting 4-star quarterback Artur Sitkowski to abandon a commitment to the Miami (FL) Hurricanes in order to stay home and build something says a lot about the coaching staff and direction of the program.
Sitkowski’s commitment led to a talented 3-star receiver and teammate at IMG Academy, Jalen Jordan, to commit to the Scarlet Knights as well. He’s the No. 88 ranked wide receiver in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings and is the second-highest rated player Rutgers has a commitment from.
Even more telling, Rutgers’ top four players on the board are all skill position players on offense and eight of the top 10 players on Rutgers commitment list are offensive players in general.
That is the kind of recognition of who you are and who you want to be as a program. Rutgers sees the need to upgrade and is doing everything in its power to do just that.
No matter what Kill’s decision is, Ash and Co. have got to have a long-term plan in place to keep the offense stable. So far, that plan appears in place.
So, even if Kill decides to move on, Ash is likely to find someone who fits the philosophy that has begun to be built. While the instability of a new face for the ninth-straight year may not be good, the vision for what needs to be in place on offense is there from the top and that is what should matter now.
After a season of defensive improvement, can Rutgers offense manage the same thing? That may be the question that gets answered most by what happens to the offensive coordinator position this offseason.