The mantra is simple, direct and keeps the focus exactly where it needs to be for Rutgers.
There’s nothing to be gained by dwelling on last year’s record so that conversation is over. The Scarlet Knights can’t improve by wasting time worrying about what other teams might have that they don’t so those discussions have been eliminated. And there’s no sense at all in spending a second looking for sympathy just because Rutgers happens to reside in the most difficult division in college football.
But just in case there’s a temptation within the locker room or on the practice field this spring, Chris Ash has a four-word weapon that can be unleashed in a hurry to snap anybody back to attention.
“No comparisons, no complaints,” Ash said. “We could complain about the division we’re in or the fact that we have to play this team and that team, they’ve got this or they’ve got that. That’s not going to do anything but waste time and energy. Right now, it’s about focusing on what we can control, focus on what we have, go recruit, go develop and go coach our tails off.
“We can just sit here and complain, but it’s not going to do any good. I’m not going to do that, and nobody else in the organization is going to either. We’re here to build a program. We’re here to compete against the best. We’re here to find a way to win games.”
A successful formula for doing it proved elusive in Ash’s first year at Rutgers. And if he wanted to, there would be a few excuses he could easily provide for the 2-10 record and the winless run through the Big Ten schedule.
Ash was well aware of the challenge he inherited when he left his post as a co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State last year to rebuild Rutgers in the daunting East Division. But the roster was perhaps a bit more deficient than even he imagined in some spots, the schedule didn’t do him any favors, his quarterback situation wasn’t ideal and injury luck also worked against the Scarlet Knights with game-changing athlete Janarion Grant lost for the season after a productive four-game stretch to open the year.
There were some silver linings for the future mixed in for the Scarlet Knights, though. Ash was able to get a handful of true freshmen early experience. His recruiting efforts produced three four-star signees as a step in the right direction. And before dealing with a nagging injury, quarterback Giovanni Rescigno showed flashes that he might be the answer at the most important position on the field. But even those discussions are largely off the table at the moment for Ash, save for an occasional mention of last year’s record if an extra jolt of motivation to get through a workout is required.
“It’s not something I’m going to keep bringing up, I’m not going to keep harping on the negative all the time,” Ash said. “It’s been used, it happened, we discussed it, but we’ve moved on. We’re focused on getting better.
“Anytime you go 2-10, it’s tough on everybody. That’s not what you set out as a goal. That’s not what you work hard for, to go 2-10. There’s no doubt about it, can’t hide that, can’t deny that it was tough for everybody involved. But that’s part of our process. We’re trying to build the program a certain way and that’s part of the process. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to bounce back up, and we did.”
Just how high the Scarlet Knights are capable of bouncing remains to be seen, and there’s plenty of work to be done before the season kicks off in September. Fresh off an appearance in the College Football Playoff, Washington looms to offer a stiff test right off the bat for a program that will have no shortage of them with East Division heavyweights Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan all on the docket.
Phase Two in Ash’s Rutgers Rebuild isn’t likely to include contending for a championship this early. But that’s not a conversation the Scarlet Knights would be likely to have anyway, since it would take some comparisons outside of the program to have an idea how they measure up -- and the focus right now is locked in on themselves.
“Some of it can change in a year, and some of it’s going to take a little bit of time because you have to recruit,” Ash said. “Can you develop players in one year? Yeah, you can. Can you coach better and do things based off your personnel has for strengths and weaknesses? Yeah, you can. But to create a competitive roster at certain spots, that takes some time to recruit to it.
“I feel a lot better about our football team than I did a year ago. We’re more developed physically, our guys understand our offense, defense and special teams a lot better, our practices are just a lot cleaner and crisper and faster. I just feel a lot better about where we’re at right now.”
Obviously, no complaining is allowed anyway. But the fact that Ash doesn’t even have a reason to do it now is even better.