Rutgers administrators are literally going out of their way to embarrass themselves now. They called Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed playing football for Rutgers in 2010 and has inspired thousands with his upbeat attitude, and asked him to give the school's commencement speech. Then they pulled the offer (on Tuesday afternoon the school released a statement that said LeGrand would be one of the speakers after all). I can't wait until next week, when Rutgers will hold a press conference to remind people that although Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in New Jersey, he was born in Ohio.
We should not be surprised. The Rutgers public-relations machine is a debacle buried inside a poop sandwich. This is the only school in America that makes you think, "You know, they would be a lot better off if Mark Emmert were in charge."
In just the last few years, Rutgers ...
1. Kept men's basketball coach Mike Rice after video surfaced of him abusing his players and uttering slurs in practice. School president Robert Barchi did not even watch the tape.
2. Fired Rice months later, after ESPN aired the tape. Really, why would Rutgers think that an embarrassing video would get leaked to a media outlet? That never happens.
3. Forced out well-liked athletic director Tim Pernetti for botching the Rice scandal, then hired Julie Hermann, whose former volleyball players at Tennessee describe her as their sport's Mike Rice: abusive and intimidating. Hermann has since ingratiated herself to people by saying she wants the state's largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger, to go out of business, and by ripping the school's NFL players for not helping enough.
4. Hired Eddie Jordan to replace Rice, only to discover Jordan never graduated from college. This is the kind of thing that perhaps Rutgers could have discovered before hiring Jordan, since, you know, Jordan WENT TO RUTGERS.
5. Hired Kyle Flood as football coach. Flood went 6-7 last season, with six of the losses coming by double digits. He also lost recruits at an alarming rate.
Despite all this, Rutgers landed a spot in the Big Ten, proof that in modern college sports, as in real estate, what really matters is location, location, location. The Big Ten adds the New York market. The Scarlet Knights will make a lot of money and get a lot of attention for being in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, they also have to play Big Ten schools, and that's a problem.
Rutgers has seven commitments for its next football recruiting class, according to Rivals.com. Five of them are two-star recruits, and the other two are three-stars. Maybe Flood can coach 'em up and lead Rutgers to a Big Ten title. Yes. Right. I'm sure Urban Meyer is terrified.
This brings us to the one man who can, should and perhaps even will ride into New Brunswick, N.J., on his white horse-robot and save the school's athletic department.
Hey, Greg Schiano.
How are ya, buddy? Do you still have your RU gear?
Schiano, the former Rutgers football coach, is unemployed at the moment because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided, in the parlance of our times, to "go in another direction." OK, they ran in another direction. Any other direction. But Schiano was the right fit for Rutgers three years ago, before he left for Tampa, and he is an even better fit now.
Rutgers needs somebody who can recruit the East Coast, connect with former players, restore discipline and sanity to the program, deal with the school's internal politics and give Rutgers football some credibility. That is Schiano. If anything, he will be a better coach for Rutgers now than he was before, because he (presumably) learned from his NFL experience, and he can sell it to recruits who want to turn pro. Schiano is only 47, in his coaching prime, still driven.
This doesn't mean Flood should be fired now. The LeGrand fiasco is not his fault. Heck, it's May. There is no rush. Let Flood get pummeled by the Big Ten for a year. In the meantime, mend whatever fences were burned when Schiano left and welcome him back to the program. Then hire Schiano as head coach. Put him in living rooms, recruiting against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, and ... well, I don't know what would happen. But he is Rutgers' best shot.
What alternative does the school have? What big name coach would want this job? The Rutgers athletic department is so toxic, it could scare away a cockroach. And do you really want a bright, inexperienced coach trying to navigate his way through that place right now?
Look, I'm not a Schiano honk. When the Buccaneers hired him two years ago, I wrote a column about how foolish it was.
He is not a good enough tactician to be an NFL head coach. I still believe that was the root of his problem in Tampa. Schiano took a lot of hits in his two years there for being a callous jerk and not caring about his players, but those were not fair. Football players will put up with a lot if they think their coach knows how to win. When the Bucs questioned Schiano's ability, they questioned everything. They could have lived with the silly rules and micromanagement if he knew how to use Darrelle Revis.
Schiano is a much better person than he appeared to be in Tampa. He had a well-earned reputation at Rutgers for caring about his players, emphasizing academics and building a program from the ground up -- qualities that don't bring success in the NFL, but are integral to the college game.
In the NFL, people mocked him for idolizing his friend Bill Belichick. At Rutgers, that relationship can be a strength.
There are precedents for this. Mike Riley left Oregon State for the San Diego Chargers, then went back to Oregon State. Going way back: Lou Carnesecca left St. John's for the old American Basketball Association, then returned to St. John's.
In those cases, like this one, the coach and school realized they were the right fit. Schiano can try to get another NFL head-coaching job, but he probably won't get one, and if he does, he will get fired there, too. He can try to be an NFL coordinator, but what micromanager wants to coach under somebody else? He can land another college job, but why start over somewhere new when he go back to a familiar environment? He knows Rutgers, and the school would give him more time to win than another school, because he built the program.
Schiano belongs at Rutgers. Rutgers needs Schiano. Nothing else makes as much sense as this. He probably wouldn't bring Rutgers a Big Ten title, but he would bring two things that the school desperately needs: credibility and hope.