Rutgers seeing progress in rebuilding

Mark Znidar
mznidar@dispatch.com
Rutgers coach Chris Ash got a spirited show of support from athletic director Pat Hobbs in August after a columnist said Ash's job was on the line. [Julio Cortez/The Associated Press]

Julie Hermann, then the Rutgers athletic director, was bold about the university beginning membership in the Big Ten while speaking before students and fans at the football stadium on July 1, 2014.

“It’s go time,” she said.

But the Scarlet Knights football team might as well be in the first quarter in the third year of a major rebuilding job by former Ohio State assistant Chris Ash.

Rutgers will be a 35-point underdog when it begins its fifth season of Big Ten play against Ohio State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

ESPN has predicted that the Knights, who defeated Texas State 35-7 in their opener on Saturday, will win three games. In early August, CBS Sports columnist Dennis Dodd wrote that Ash is one of five coaches whose job is on the line.

Dodd’s comment got current Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs responding on Twitter as fast as his fingers could type. He had extended Ash’s contract two years, through 2022, after the team doubled its victory total from two to four in 2017.

“Hey, CBS Sports! You can take my guy off your list,” he wrote.

In May, Hobbs was aware that eight football players were being investigated for credit card fraud. Six weeks ago, they were charged by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. Only safety K.J. Gray was projected to be a starter. Each has been dismissed from the team.

Senior tight end Jerome Washington, who is in his second season after transferring from the University of Miami, also is in Ash’s corner.

“I believe in Coach because he believed in me during the transfer process,” Washington said. “We’re focusing on ourselves and not concerned (about what others are saying). I definitely see good things happening. Every day we come out here we have to improve. That means we want to have a culture where everybody can compete against one another in practice, but also be there for one another. It’s always about getting better.”

Big things are happening with the football facilities. Boosters Greg and Anna Brown recently gave the university $4 million toward refurbishing the locker room. A new weight room was built during Ash’s first season and a practice complex opened last season.

“To be able to put that type of money into a locker room, that’s a much-, much-needed part of our facility master plan,” Ash said. “We needed the weight room. We needed the practice fields. We've been pushing to get the locker room and, really, the training room done. They have to get redone. It helps not only the experience that our current student-athletes have, but our ability to recruit talented players here in this region.”

Ash scored a coup by hiring John McNulty as offensive coordinator. He was an assistant at Rutgers from 2004 to ’08 when the team won three bowl games. His 25-year coaching resume includes time with six NFL teams, most recently the Los Angeles Chargers the previous two seasons.

McNulty was proud of true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski for taking a big hit against Texas State as he was for completing 20 of 30 passes for 205 yards and one touchdown.

“The hit to the head was a cheap shot and he got right back up,” McNulty said.

Ash said developing the proper culture is as basic as Sitkowski standing up to the pressure of the pass rush.

“There’s no magic formula (to winning),” he said. “We just have to compete, learn how to win. And that’s really the core of our program — we want competition.”

mznidar@dispatch.com

@markznidar

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