Dave Hannigan: Public clamour forces Rutgers to play ball with Schiano
University agrees to coach’s exorbitant demands in an effort to revive the glory days
Greg Schiano: American football coach signed an eight-year $32 million deal last weekend despite Rutgers University’s athletics department showing a budget deficit of $192.2 million since 2012. Photograph: Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Early last month, Rutgers University sat down with Greg Schiano to talk about returning as head grid-iron coach to the campus where he made his name nearly a decade ago. Their opening offer was a hefty six-year $24 million contract.
He countered by asking for two more seasons at the same rate, plus $7.7 million for his assistants’ annual salaries, a golf club membership, $100,000 in relocation fees, unlimited use of a private plane, and regular six-figure bonuses if he didn’t leave and ticket sales went up. For a taxpayer funded public university, the litany of expensive extras was deemed a little too rich for their blood so Rutgers walked away.
What happened next was merely the latest example of how NCAA football may well be the most rancid place in all of American sport. When news of the breakdown in negotiations became public, replete with the eye-watering detail of his exorbitant demands, the Rutgers alumni went berserk. Not at the coach who refuses to fly commercial but towards athletic director Pat Hobbs for refusing to give the 53-year-old everything he asked for.
Vilified on social media, there was a vicious campaign calling for Hobbs’ dismissal with plenty demented alumni promising to stop donating to the school and to make sure their children never went there.
The whole farrago culminated in Hobbs caving to public pressure and Schiano signing an eight-year $32 million deal last weekend. To put that figure in some context, Rutgers University’s athletics department has shown a budget deficit of $192.2 million since 2012, throwing good money after bad, year on year, in an attempt to become competitive in the Big 10 Conference, a regional grouping of some of the biggest names in collegiate sport.
That Schiano will be just the 10th highest-paid coach in that particular competition tells its own story of the money being made off all those so-called student-athletes not getting paid a dime for their talents.
Despite an impressive history dating back to before the American Revolution, Rutgers is gambling that a successful football team will enhance its national profile, attracting more students and investment while simultaneously earning lucrative paydays from Big 10 television contracts. Never mind that its academic standing has dropped during its most recent, ill-fated pursuit of sporting success, they are paying big money for Schiano because he is the most successful coach in their history and will bring back the glory days. Simple.
Between 2001 and 2011, after a rough start, he eventually led Rutgers to six winning seasons out of seven, earning trips to end of season college bowl games. Of course, that was achieved in the somewhat less choppy waters of the Big East Conference.
The Big Ten is a huge step up from that level and Schiano’s resume since his heyday in Jersey persuaded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to bring him to the NFL has been rather chequered. Over two seasons in the pros, he won just 11 games out of 32 with a martinet management style one player compared to living under a communist regime.
Gaining a reputation for classless behaviour and dirty play, he once instructed his linemen to go after New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning during a (traditionally uncontested) kneel-down play at the end of a match. He was also accused of leaking information about a player being in a substance abuse treatment programme, and presiding over a toxic locker-room culture.
The collateral damage to his credibility was so extensive his next job came coaching at high school level, from where Ohio State hired him as their defensive co-ordinator.
At one of the blue-chip football schools, with some of the best players in the country available to him, his record there was not as impressive as might have been expected yet it was still enough to garner the attention of the University of Tennessee who seemed bent on making him their head coach in 2017.
At least until their fans remarked upon a troubling detail from court documents pertaining to the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State. Mike McQueary testified in one deposition that he was told Schiano, then defensive backs coach at the college, witnessed Sandusky engaging inappropriately with a young boy in the early 1990s.
Like so many myopic others who worked at Penn State at that time, Schiano claims he never saw anything untoward but his proximity to that scandal was enough to prompt Tennessee to look elsewhere.
His next career stop was a bizarre interlude as defensive co-ordinator with the New England Patriots earlier this year, resigning after just one month citing a desire to spend more time with “his faith and family”. It was later reported that the real reason may have been more prosaic. Schiano departed after admitting to Bill Belichick, he would leave the club if the Rutgers’ job ever became available.
Shortly after the University of Oklahoma won their first national championship in the 1950s, Dr George L. Cross, president of the college, was tasked with going to the state legislature to ask for an increase in budget from public money. After an hour unsuccessfully outlining a heavyweight case that more funds were needed to attain substantial academic improvements, he finally framed his appeal in language the politicians could understand: “We want to build a university our football team can be proud of.”
A world with seriously skewed priorities. Then. And now.