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Greg Schiano says Rutgers Football will be built on love

Weeks prior to his hiring, Greg Schiano made a pit stop in the Garden State. During a trip to Williamstown, Massachusetts to see his twin sons Matt and John play their final collegiate football game for Amherst, he and his wife Christy opted to make a transfer at Newark airport. 

In the chance a deal to secure his return to Rutgers came to fruition, he wanted to get a glimpse at what he’d be returning to. A drive across Raritan Avenue from Piscataway to New Brunswick exposed Schiano to a campus that had seen eight years of change. 

“I got a hat and glasses … so no one would [recognize] me, and I came down and drove around the Livingston Campus and I didn’t even know where I was … when we used to recruit we didn’t even tell them there was a Livingston Campus,” Schiano said. “Then I said ‘let’s go down to College Ave’ … It was a Friday night and there was action and there was energy and I turned to Christy and said, ‘Oh I hope this works.’”

It was a far cry from where he last came from. Schiano’s most recent opportunity at head coaching ended in a detesting rejection. He was shunned from a community that had never known him, on accusations that had never been confirmed. The uprising against his hiring at Tennessee two years ago left Schiano and his family as cast offs. 

So he came home. 

Two years after being belligerently driven out of Tennessee without a chance, Schiano was welcomed back to his home state by a fan base ready to embrace him. Now, that journey has given him a new vision to lead the Scarlet Knights into the next decade: Love.

Love is what brought Schiano back to Rutgers. A fan base and program that had been punished by the Big Ten since its induction, made the memories of Schiano’s triumphs in the previous decade that much more endearing. 

The fan base showed its love for Schiano throughout the head coaching search, so much so, that the love manifested in outrage when he and the University failed to originally come to terms on a contract. It was their love for Schiano, and many angry calls to the governor’s office, that forced athletics director Pat Hobbs to renegotiate Schiano’s hiring and make the promises necessary to bring him back to the fans.

“Love is sacrifice. Love isn’t a feeling, it’s an action,” Schiano said at his introductory press conference. “When you have that feeling, you get exponential growth.”

Where in this program can love generate exponential growth exactly?

For Rutgers, there is an urgent need for that love to generate exponential growth in attendance and sales. During his introductory press conference, Schiano issued a call to action to the people of New Jersey, to rally behind Rutgers football regardless of circumstance. 

It is the first example of the fiscal value of Schiano’s likeness. Students and tax-payers will be paying for the bulk of Schiano’s eight-year $32 million contract until, if and when, the program starts to see financial returns. 

Schiano’s love campaign will have to be what stops the bleeding in terms of the program’s annually declining ticket sales. Fans will have to fall back in love with Rutgers football in masses in order for Rutgers to reclaim any sense of legitimacy in the Big Ten.

The hiring of Schiano was not just a hire to lead Rutgers back to a path of winning, it might not have even been the primary purpose of his hiring. The hiring was a high-priced move to make the program relevant. 

In the aftermath of his introductory press conference, it seems to have worked. Schiano’s return has become a national storyline, while his message to the fans has sparked a wave of enthusiasm across social media. 

But will it last?

If the Knights start winning, then the program might see that exponential growth that Schiano promised. That is “if.” 

Last time, it took Schiano four years to get Rutgers to a winning record, and this time he’s going to have to do it in the Big Ten. It is a circumstance that will bring attention and challenges comparable to his brief stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Unless the Knights pull of a miraculous first-year turnaround under Schiano, he will be depending on an emotion that is often reserved for close family members and significant others, to fuel support for one of the most expensive losing seasons ever.

The Rutgers athletic department already operates at the largest deficit in the conference. Schiano’s contract, combined with the remaining three years of former head coach Chris Ash’s contract and plans for constructing new football facilities, will only add to that deficit. 

Love can be a dangerous emotion. Love can lead some to be taken advantage of with irreversible consequences. Schiano’s vision of building the program on love may signify a shift in his coaching philosophy to a more player’s-coach oriented approach. It might just be a marketing buzzword to keep season ticket holders paying for a sub-par product. And while love may be the bind that cures all ills and leads some to endure hardship, the one certainty about love is that it can’t be spent. 

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