PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Greg Schiano has been long gone from Rutgers, but as he returned as defensive coordinator of Ohio State on Saturday night for the first time since 2011, the signs of the reconstruction period he directed for the Scarlet Knights were everywhere.
That’s why he knew going in it wasn’t going to be just another trip.
“I’m not a big sentimentalist, but being from New Jersey, it was neat to be able to go there and do what we did,” he said of his 11-year run from 2001 to ’11 in which Rutgers went 68-67, including 56-33 in the last seven, six of them winning seasons before he was named coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“My four kids spent the majority of their childhood there … So it will always have a special place in my heart. But now it’s all eyes forward.”
It was hard not to look back a little, though, considering that since 1984, he is one of only two Rutgers coaches (out of seven) to have a winning record. Current Rutgers coach Chris Ash, in his second season after serving as Ohio State’s defensive co-coordinator, was 3-12 going into the game.
Schiano’s successor, Kyle Flood, went 24-16, but Flood also was relieved of duty late in the 2015 season for improprieties that led to the program being put on two years of probation by the NCAA.
Schiano, 51, remains the icon.
“People said I was crazy to go there when I did,” said Schiano, defensive coordinator at the University of Miami when he got the call. “But I’m born and raised there, my whole family lives there, so at the time it was a dream of mine, which is a weird dream, to make college football in New Jersey like it is in so many other great states.”
The signs Saturday night of his success were plentiful, including:
• 52,454-seat High Point Solutions Stadium, not much more than a glorified high school venue before he arrived, got a $100 million upgrade in 2009 riding the crest of his 11-2 season — the best in school history — in 2006.
• The Big Ten logo on the field signifying Rutgers as a fourth-year member of the league, something it likely would not have gained without the football cachet of Schiano’s run.
• The autographed photo of Schiano still hanging behind the counter at Alfredo’s Restaurant at the corner of Easton Ave. and Cedar Grove Rd.
“He used to stop in as a regular back in the day when he was coach at Rutgers,” Alfredo’s manager Brian Coffman said. The photo remains in a place of prominence because “it’s Rutgers, it’s New Jersey, it’s Somerset County. We’re Rutgers everything around here.”
And “back in the day,” Schiano gave folks such as Coffman reason to cheer. On Saturday night? Not so much.