Greg Schiano leads rebuilding Rutgers football program in return to Ohio State

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
In Greg Schiano's first game back as Rutgers coach since his tenure from 2001-11, the Scarlet Knights upended Michigan State to end a 21-game losing streak in Big Ten games.

Greg Schiano knew there was a lot of ground to make up.

When he began his first coaching stint at Rutgers in 2001, he inherited a program that was stuck at the bottom of the Big East Conference, staring at a wide gulf between last place and a powerhouse in Miami that was oozing with NFL talent.

The situation mirrors his second tenure with the Scarlet Knights, who have been cellar dwellers in the Big Ten in recent seasons and far behind a humming Ohio State juggernaut.

On Saturday night, Schiano leads Rutgers into Ohio Stadium to face the Buckeyes, who open as more than five-touchdown favorites.

“It gives you a great measuring stick, right?” Schiano said. “Ohio State's one of the best in the country, if not the best. Miami at the time was unparalleled.”

The matchups against the Hurricanes were often lopsided and ugly for Schiano’s early teams. In their first meeting, they were shut out by the eventual national champions, 61-0, then lost by 25 points and 24 points in the next two seasons.

Miami joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004, removing one obstacle for Schiano as he built Rutgers into a consistent bowl-eligible program.  

The Buckeyes, though, are going nowhere, looming large as the Scarlet Knights look to make inroads in the Big Ten’s East Division.

Through two weeks, there are signs of progress in New Jersey.

The Scarlet Knights opened their season at Michigan State, forcing seven turnovers to leave with a 38-27 win. It was their first conference victory since 2017, ending a 21-game losing streak against Big Ten teams.

They lost last Saturday against Indiana, but even a 37-21 defeat seemed markedly better than last season when they dropped every conference game by 21 points or more.

“The best part that I enjoy is watching how hard guys play, how hard they work,” Schiano said. “The culture is growing by the day.”

A measurement against Ohio State is also a personal trip for Schiano, as he spent 2016-18 as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator. He was not retained by coach Ryan Day, who took over for Urban Meyer last year and kept only one defensive assistant.

The Buckeyes allowed 25.5 points per game during Schiano’s final season, the most in their history.

Asked to reflect on his tenure during a conference call with reporters, Schiano recalled it as a great experience, but did not reflect on the Buckeyes’ on-field performance.

“My family and myself made some dear friends,” Schiano said. “Urban was a good friend before, but I met a lot of really fine people. From Gene Smith, the athletic director, to Kerry Coombs, who's a dear friend. Ryan Day, Mickey Marotti, there's so many guys. Luke Fickell, I only got to work with him for a year, but another stand-up guy. There's a lot of really good people that I had the chance to work with at Ohio State that will be lifelong friends.”

Guiding Rutgers to a 1-1 start in his return to the school, he benefited from some of the previous ties to Ohio State.

One of the team's leading tacklers is Brendon White, a former safety for the Buckeyes who transferred last winter.

Schiano had coached White for two seasons, including when he was the defensive MVP of the 2019 Rose Bowl, and said they had a great relationship. White has 17 tackles in two games.

“From the day he got here, he was a leader on our football team,” Schiano said. “He works extremely hard, he's extremely focused on being the best player that he can be and helping others around him be that and then I think he's played well on the field the last two weeks.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman