PISCATAWAY, N.J. — A door from a strength-and-conditioning room inside the Rutgers football headquarters swung out unexpectedly, and a man walking by needed fast footwork to avoid the door slamming into him.
The man was the governor of New Jersey.
The very fact that fast-footed Gov. Phil Murphy decided this was the place to be tells you more than a little about the popularity of Wednesday’s announcement at Rutgers.
Technically, this was the formal introduction of Greg Schiano’s return as Rutgers football coach. It was merely disguised as an Up with Jersey rally.
“When we really had it cranking here, there was no division," Schiano said after being introduced for his second term as Rutgers football coach. Schiano noted that, yes, the state is bordered by two major cities, that there are Jets and Giants fans in the north and Eagles fans in the South. “There’s one thing that’s all about just us.”
He could have gone further. This move, bringing Schiano back, isn’t about North or South Jersey, Eagles or Giants fans, Democrats or Republicans. Let’s presume the governor got involved to get negotiations back on track last week because it was a politically sensible thing to do.
Murphy proclaimed that a resurgence in Rutgers football under Schiano will attract not just quality football players, but also more students. Murphy even said, “More people to New Jersey as a whole.”
No pressure there, Coach.
In fact, Schiano already knows the stakes. He also saw what helped drive his return to the finish line.
“The incredible show of support, the show of passion — that was awesome," Schiano said. “That’s what New Jersey is about.”
Schiano understood he wasn’t really talking to the room, or even the players watching in another room. He’d already met with the players.
“You can’t say anymore [that] Rutgers isn’t all in," Schiano said. “Rutgers is all in. Now, it’s our turn. It starts with me. Our players. Our fans. Our boosters. Everybody’s got to go all in. Because here’s the problem. We entered the Big Ten Conference … the teams we’re looking up at right now, they’re not waiting for Rutgers — hey, guys, c’mon, catch up.
“Nah, that ain’t happening. They’re moving. I used to say we’re chasing ‘em. Now I’m going to say it this way: We’ve got to pass a moving target, and those are big targets.”
He started talking about the passion needed.
“We don’t need it," Schiano said. “With all due respect, we don’t need it when we’re seventh in the country, fifth in the country, first in the country. We need it right now. Not the beginning of the season. We need it right now. When you’re around the coffee machine or the water cooler at work, we need you promoting Rutgers football. Those block 'R' magnets, they’ve got to be on your car. We have to create the importance, every single one of us.”
Chasing big dudes.
“No, we’re passing,’’ Schiano said. “That’s got to happen. The real beauty of this thing, the people in New Jersey, they know how to work.”
Up with Jersey. Yes, tremendous expenditures are being put out. A nice lyrical number of $333,333.33 per month for Schiano, plus all sorts of performance bonuses, term of employment from Nov. 30 — so, last Saturday — to Feb. 28, 2028.
Schiano’s pool for staff salaries “will be initially set at $7,700,000, such amount to increase by not less than 3% annually,’’ according to Schiano’s contract.
Maybe most crucially, the contract itself stipulates the funding commitments for a “new football operations center and adjoining multisport indoor practice facility,” and how Schiano will help raise money for 50% of it before Rutgers starts the process of kicking in the rest.
Yes, this is all silly money. Yet Schiano’s salary would have put him tied for 10th among his Big Ten brethren this year. The Power 5 schools are all spending like this, building like this, with less than half of the Power 5 actually making money. According to 2017-18 figures compiled by USA Today, Rutgers was 12th in the Big Ten in athletics revenue.
So never mind what Schiano can make. His success or failure will be greatly impacted by how much he can raise. The standings often correlate.
That Schiano is more equipped to be the CEO of a Big Ten football program than anybody else that Rutgers could attract doesn’t mean all Rutgers’ dreams will suddenly come true. Just that Schiano gives the school the best chance for a return on investment. In the Big Ten, there is at least a chance for a return, given the revenues produced, starting with the Big Ten Network.
The governor wasn’t the only one in the building with political skills. Schiano was asked about Chris Christie’s taking some shots at him over his financial demands.
“Chris and I, we go back a long way, and we’re fine,’’ Schiano said of the former governor. “I know he wants what’s best for New Jersey. We’re fine.”
On this day, they were all fine.
“Can’t tell you how grateful I am that you’re here,’’ Schiano said toward Murphy. “To have a governor this involved is incredible.”
“We’re both born under a similar star,’’ Murphy had said. “We both know that everything Rutgers needs to compete in the Big Ten is right here in the state of New Jersey.”