Greg Schiano almost single-handedly lifted Rutgers from the basement of the college football world to a respected program in his 11-year tenure as head coach. His departure to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday -- less than a week from National Signing Day -- could have a devastating impact on the program that he built.
"This couldn't have happened at a worse time for Rutgers," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "Never in the history of Rutgers football have things been going so well. The team was coming off a nine-win season when they were expected to finish near the bottom of the Big East, recruiting was going better than it ever has and the state of New Jersey's top two players were set to commit by Signing Day. And then this."
National Signing Day is Feb. 1, and what could have been a Top 25 national class -- Rutgers' first since Rivals began its rankings in 2002 -- could now be in complete disarray.
"Big-name guys like J.J. Denman, Chris Muller, Leonte Carroo and Quanzell Lambert are all four-star guys who could pick up the phone and find a home pretty easily," Farrell said. "And now you have to wonder what happens with Devin Fuller, who was reportedly set to announce for Rutgers on Sunday night, and Darius Hamilton, who was expected to pick Rutgers on Tuesday night. It's very late in the process, but it could send some of these guys packing."
Denman and Muller are offensive linemen from Pennsylvania, and the former flipped from Wisconsin just last week. Denman hasn't commented, but his father reportedly said, "This changes everything."
Muller, the nation's No. 100 recruit, played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl alongside Carroo, Hamilton and Fuller.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," Muller said. "I've already received calls from Michigan, South Carolina and Virginia and I plan on getting together with a bunch of Rutgers commitments to figure this out."
He added, "I'm meeting with J.J. Denman, Blake Rankin, Mike Giacone, Brandon Arcidiacono and Desmon Peoples later tonight. Part of us wants to just stick together and say we're a family and forget about everything else...We've been put in a bad situation."
Denman and Muller, joined by Long Branch (N.J.) three-star lineman Ryan Brodie, were supposed to be the foundation of the Rutgers offensive line for years to come -- and open holes for running back Savon Huggins, the No. 58 recruit in the Class of 2011.
Carroo, out of Don Bosco Prep (N.J.), is a four-star receiver and No. 166 in Rivals 250. Though he committed to Rutgers in August, his coach, Greg Toal, told The Star-Ledger that Carroo is now "undecided."
Farrell likens the situation to another instance when a coach left a school so close to National Signing Day: When Butch Davis left Miami (Fla.) to coach the Cleveland Browns in 2001.
"Miami was Miami then," Farrell said. "They just found a new coach and reloaded. Rutgers will struggle doing that."
Farrell, however, does see one advantage to Schiano's late departure.
"The only good news for Rutgers is that it is so late in the process that many of the commitments could simply sign with Rutgers because other options dried up or they just don't want to restart the recruiting process so late."
Then again, Rutgers may need to hire a new coach before any recruits agree to sign on. And that might not be easy, especially given budgetary concerns.
According to a study by USA Today, Rutgers spent more than $115 million on athletic spending since 2006. Schiano's salary of $2.3 million, and the $102 million stadium expansion project, was subject to widespread criticism from academic interests and groups.
Despite that, Florida International coach Mario Cristobal would be a logical next target. He was Schiano's offensive line coach from 2001-03, and played a major role in reviving Rutgers by recruiting in South Florida. Another former assistant, Darren Rizzi, who left Rutgers to become head coach at Rhode Island and served as an assistant with the Miami Dolphins, could also be of interest.
On the current staff, offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and wide receivers coach P.J. Fleck have been mentioned as potential candidates. Delaware coach K.C. Keeler and Temple coach Steve Addazzio could also attract attention.
Whoever is hired will have a huge task at hand.
"I don't think things will go back to the way they were at Rutgers before Schiano," said Farrell, "but will they be able to keep moving forward with a new coach?"
Schiano departs with a 68-67 record, including a 5-1 mark in bowl games. While that might not seem overtly impressive, it's quite a turnaround from his 3-20 stretch in his first two seasons before he could fully rebuild the program.
"This is devastating to the program," Farrell said. "Schiano has become the face of Rutgers football, he brought Rutgers from life support to a program that has gone to and won bowl games, and he has made Rutgers more than respectable in the college football world."