PISCATAWAY - Inside the team meeting room in the Hale Center, Greg Schiano addressed his team one final time. The players sat in the plush black leather seats with red block Rs embroidered on them, waiting to hear from his mouth what they all already knew.
He would no longer be their football coach.
Fighting through tears, the 11-year head coach addressed his “100 sons” for 25 minutes, telling them how much he loved them and how difficult of a decision this was.
His shell-shocked team sent him off with a standing ovation as he leaves them to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It’s mixed emotions,” cornerback Brandon Jones said when asked how the team felt about Schiano’s sudden departure. “We’re very happy for him to be put in that prestigious position, but at the same time you kind of looked at coach as a father figure and for him to leave you is kind of saddening.”
When Jones first heard of the decision — thanks to a Facebook status update and a call from linebacker Ka'lial Glaud telling him to turn on ESPN — he immediately texted Schiano. With the decision not yet finalized, he wanted to let his head coach know he was behind him no matter what he chose.
“I told him I love him and whatever he decided to do was going to be a great decision for him and his family. Told him not to worry about what’s going to happen here because everything is going to be fine,” Jones said. “The senior leadership will take care of everything.”
And they’ll need to.
With signing day this Wednesday, it will be up to the current players to convince the high school seniors to stick with Rutgers.
Several recruiting sites have said that the incoming class is the tops in school history, so it will be up to Jones and his teammates to make sure it stays that way.
Needless to say, many of the recruits are wavering in their decision with the departure of Schiano. As are some players already in the program who could seek a tranfer.
And Jones is not naive to what Schiano has done for Rutgers football.
“What he’s done is kind of overlooked,” Jones said. “Everyone should know who Greg Schiano is and what he’s done for this program. It’s amazing.”
So Jones knows the immediate future won’t be easy as it is filled with uncertainty, but that doesn’t concern him.
“Coach Schiano was the face of the program and he did so much for this program, but at the same time he built leaders within this program. Our senior leadership will carry this team to a great season this year,” Jones said. "There’s something here that’s more than coach Schiano. It’s a foundation that’s going to last for a long time.”
A foundation that is filled with talented players. And if this year's recruiting class stays intact, there will be a whole new crop of them.
“At the end of the day it’s about the players,” Khaseem Greene said.
But it was Schiano who got those players there, selling them on a vision of taking Rutgers from a laughing stock and building them into a national power.
While he didn’t accomplish all the goals he laid out for himself, Schiano did more than anyone ever expected when he was hired in 2001.
“He knows that what he left here is going to last a long time, and he did what he needed to do at this program,” Jones said. “I love him for that.”