When he was down and out after being fired by Tampa Bay, Urban Meyer hired Rutgers’ Greg Schiano as associate head coach and defensive coordinator so he could resuscitate his career.
Columbus – It appeared that Ryan Day was sticking a stiletto between Greg Schiano’s shoulder blades and twisting the blade when he hired Jeff Hafley away from the San Francisco 49ers to become his defensive coordinator at Ohio State in 2019.
Schiano had just been voted the Big Ten Recruiter of the Year for 2018, and his work helped the Buckeyes win the Rose Bowl that season as a going away present for Urban Meyer.
Then it was was Schiano’s experience as a former head coach that helped Day go 3-0 at the beginning of the season when Meyer was suspended without pay for his poor handling of the Zach Smith spousal abuse scandal.
The biggest victory came against TCU in a national television game that at the time was considered a vital chip to get Ohio State into the College Football Playoff.
Another man might have felt slighted not being named interim coach, but Schiano was the quintessential team player.
“What Greg Schiano has done for me in the last month is something I’ll never forget,’’ Day said at the time. “He is the classiest person I’ve ever been around in the coaching profession. The way he’s handled himself, helping me along the way, counseling me on day-to-day stuff.”
Weeks before the decision was made to swap Hafley for Schiano, Schiano said that Day had every right to choose his staff.
The coaching profession, whether it’s the NCAA or NFL, is full of men who change jobs like bees do flowers.
Schiano had coached for a high school, Penn State, the Chicago Bears, the University of Miami, Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before he came to the Buckeyes.
Day made stops at New Hampshire, Boston College, Florida, Temple, the Philadelphia Eagles and 49ers before being hired by Meyer, and he had yet to turn 40.
It was just part of doing business in the big business world of Division I football. Day and Hafley went back to their time in San Francisco.
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium, Day and Schiano will be trying to beat each other when third-ranked Ohio State plays Rutgers.
But, no, there won’t be a trace of animosity on either sideline. After all, Schiano is getting his shot at being a head coach again.
Schiano will coach against players he directly recruited such as offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, tight end Jeremy Ruckert, defensive back Josh Proctor and defensive linemen Tyler Friday and Javontae Jean-Baptiste.
In a major way, Ohio State helped Schiano resuscitate his coaching career after he was fired by Tampa Bay.
“I got to be part of that (success) for three great years, enjoyed the time there, great people, great friends, and Ryan is one of those friends,” Schiano said during a Zoom teleconference. “Ryan is a standup guy. He’s an excellent coach. I actually knew that before he got there. But when Urban told me he was going to hire him, I said, ‘Man, that’s going to be a great hire.’ And sure enough you could tell the day he got there he was a rising star. He’s doing a tremendous job with the program, taking it over from Urban and putting his own stamp on it (keeping) a lot of things. We’re close. He’s an excellent football coach. He and his family are great people, and when we go compete we compete but otherwise we’re friends.”
Meyer always wanted to have former head coaches on his staff so they could serve as cross-checkers in telling him the truth about how he was operating.
In 2016, he made Schiano an associate head coach and defensive coordinator. The team was voted into the College Football Playoff the first season and won Big Ten championships in 2017 and 2018.
It was understood by Meyer that Schiano wanted to become a head coach again and that he could leave the program at any time.
That almost happened when Tennessee had an agreement with Schiano in November of 2017, but backed out because alumni, boosters and fans were in an uproar. They didn’t like the fact he was implicated by Mike McQueary in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal and that he wasn’t the big name they thought they deserved.
Then it looked as though Schiano would be hired as New England Patriots defensive coordinator, but he chose to stay put.
Present defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs worked under Schiano as defensive backs coach in 2016 and 2017 and had nothing but praise for him.
“I really like Greg,’’ Coombs said. “I think he’s an outstanding football coach, but a better man. He’s a good husband and a good father. I learned a lot of football from Greg when he was here at Ohio State. I got a chance to compete against Greg way back in the old Big East and learned to dislike him when he was coaching the other team.’’
Rutgers was in ruins when Schiano was hired last December 1, but the Scarlet Knights’ improvement already could be seen in a 38-27 upset of Michigan State opening day and a 37-21 loss to Indiana last Saturday.
It will take years to turn the team around, but Coombs is seeing great progress on video. He thinks Rutgers got the man it needed in Schiano.
“The stamp that you see already on that program is those kids are playing hard now,’’ Coombs said. “They are playing hard and with discipline. He has done a remarkable job.’’
Day rattled off the reasons he valued Schiano. He watched him and listened to him even though he coached on the other side of the ball.
“First off, when we first got here, just a lot of respect for the way he went about his business every day,’’ he said. “And then when everything went down that summer (the Zach Smith deal), leading into taking over for those first three games in the preseason, he was a huge help to me — just a great resource. Really helped me, just in terms of navigating through the preseason and the first three games. So forever in debt for him for that. And then just watching the way he really just coached the coaches, he does a great (job).’’
Schiano, Day said, is a tireless recruiter and a great communicator once those players get to campus. He said he can sense issues “coming down the road.’’
“There’s a lot to learn from (him),’’ Day said. “You can already see how well things are going at Rutgers, how that team looks and I think he’s going to build something really good there.”
Alumni, boosters and fans wouldn’t stop pleading with Rutgers to bring Schiano back. The bottom dropped out of the program since his departure to Tampa Bay. He was helping coach Berkeley Prep in Tampa.
Ohio State, Schiano said, helped polish his brand and get him an interview. He had good things to say about Meyer, athletic director Gene Smith, Day and many others, calling them “lifetime friends.’’
When Schiano was hired by Rutgers the first time in 2001, the team had not been to a bowl since 1978 and had four winning seasons since 1980.
The Knights went 2-9, 1-11, 5-7 and 4-7 his first four season. Then came seasons of 7-5, 11-2, 8-5, 8-5 and 9-4 and four bowl victories in five tries playing in a Big East that was stout at the time with Florida State, Miami, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
There’s a lot of lifting to do again this time around, but Schiano is seeing positive signs.
“We’re so young at this stage of the program that we have to work on everything,’’ he said. “The culture is growing by the day.’’
Former Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany continues to take flak for bringing Rutgers into the conference because its facilities are poor, it’s fan base doesn’t compare with member teams and it is cashed strapped.
Schiano was one of the forward-thinkers who said the Knights needed to change conferences.
“In 2002 I started working on the Big Ten,’’ he said. “I thought that’s where we belonged.’’
But the Knights probably won’t belong on the same field as the 37-point favorite Buckeyes. Since 2014 they have been outscored 327-48.
Here’s another really awful statistic: Rutgers has lost 29 straight games against Top 25 opponents.
HAUBEIL OUT WITH GROIN INJURY
Place-kicker Blake Haubeil, a senior, will not play because of a groin injury. He missed a 20-yard field goal in the second quarter against Penn State and did not return.
Junior Dominic DiMaccio, a walk-on, came on and converted a 22-yard field goal and missed a 23-yarder.
There’s no guarantee Dimaccio will do the kicking.
True freshman Jake Seibert of Cincinnati La Salle High School is a “gray shirt’’ in that he is paying his own way this year. But he was the No. 2 rated kicker by 247Sports as a high school senior for making 9 of 12 field goals with a long of 48 yards. Forty-five of his 56 kickoffs were touchbacks.
“Jake’s definitely an option,” Day said. “He came here for a reason. Especially now with the rule where this year really doesn’t count (against a player’s eligibility), he’s definitely an option.”
When he committed, Seifert boldly told Eleven Warriors that he wanted to be better than former Ohio State All-American Mike Nugent.