Rutgers put Chris Ash out his misery Sunday, firing the fourth-year football coach after a 52-0 drubbing at Michigan the day before.
Ash went 8-32 in four seasons along the banks of the Raritan River, and his Rutgers teams struggled even more within the conference, going 3-26 in Big Ten games. All three of those conference wins came in 2017. Rutgers has been outscored 82-0 in its first two Big Ten games this season, and its loss against Michigan was its 14th straight in conference play.
It’s fair to question whether the problem is bigger than Ash. When Ash was hired, he inherited a team on NCAA probation. Rutgers also was behind the rest of the Big Ten when it came to football facilities. The school is starting to invest its Big Ten Network money wisely, having spent $12.5 million in 2017 to expand the Hale Center, improving the weight room and locker rooms inside the stand-alone football building.
An Iowa native, Ash seemed an odd fit in New Jersey as well. He tried to recruit nationally, sprinkling in players from Florida, Texas, California and Ohio. But from a size and speed standpoint, Rutgers remained overmatched compared to the rest of the league.
Rutgers has floundered in both football and men’s basketball since making the transition to the Big Ten in 2014, but there is thought the right coach could spark a turnaround. There’s plenty of high school football talent within the state of New Jersey, Exhibit A being Wisconsin running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor, who is from Salem, N.J.
The key for the next coach will be to identify that talent and keep players from leaving the Garden State.
Some candidates mentioned as possible successors to Ash include former Tennessee coach Butch Jones, Army coach Jeff Monken, Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead and former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who is taking a year off from coaching after serving as Ohio State defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer from 2016-18.
If Rutgers wanted to take a risk and hire someone without head coaching experience, it could turn to former NFL safety and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who is doing a masterful job with the Badgers defense this season. Leonhard, who turns 37 on Oct. 26, would need to be paired with a strong offensive coordinator but is a bright defensive mind who is young and can relate to today’s college athletes.
Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs said in a Monday news conference a search committee will be used, and he hopes to have a coach in place by the end of the regular season to kick start recruiting. Hobbs has no financial restrictions, and he’s looking for a coach capable of winning Big Ten Championships.
“I want to go to the Rose Bowl,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs feels, given the recent improvements to facilities, the job is attractive.
“Is it an easy job? No, it’s not an easy job,” Hobbs said. “Is it a great job? Absolutely, it’s a great job, and I think we’re going to get a lot of interest around the country.”
ON THE MARK
In another weekend of big-time play by Big Ten quarterbacks, two in particular stood out due to their accuracy.
Minnesota sophomore Tanner Morgan went 21-of-22 for 396 yards and four TDs in Minnesota’s 38-31 win over Purdue. Morgan completed 16 straight pass attempts to start the game, and his completion percentage of .955 was the best single-game mark in conference history for any quarterback attempting 13 or more passes.
Indiana freshman Michael Penix Jr. completed 20 straight passes during IU’s 40-31 loss at Michigan State, a school record and the second longest streak in Big Ten history behind Chuck Long, who completed 22 straight passes for Iowa in 1986.
Penix finished the game 33-of-42 for 286 yards and three TDs to earn Big Ten freshman of the week honors. Morgan earned co-Big Ten offensive player of the week honors with Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, who threw for 398 yards and three TDs in Penn State’s 59-0 rout of Maryland.
BEST OFFENSE, A GOOD DEFENSE
Wisconsin put together another dominant defensive effort in its 24-15 win over Northwestern. Not only did the Badgers hold the Wildcats to 255 total yards and 5-of-20 on third-down conversions, Wisconsin’s defense outscored its own offense as well with two touchdowns.
The first came when Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson was sacked in the end zone and fumbled, with Wisconsin defensive end Matt Henningsen recovering the loose ball for a TD. The second came when Northwestern backup quarterback Aidan Smith, who replaced Johnson, threw a pass under pressure that was intercepted by linebacker Noah Burks, who returned it 68 yards for a touchdown.
Wisconsin ranks tied for second in the country with Arkansas in defensive touchdowns with three. The Badgers also rank first in the country in scoring defense (7.3 ppg allowed) and total defense (192.3 yards allowed per game).