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Rutgers AD predicts post-Schiano success

Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti expressed confidence Thursday that his football program will continue to have success and even improve, in the wake of the sudden departure of head coach Greg Schiano.

“As much as we appreciate everything Greg has done, and while it’s a bittersweet day on that front, this thing that’s been built is bigger than any one individual,” Pernetti said at a late-afternoon news conference on campus.

Schiano, 45, agreed to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier Thursday, a move that stunned many football fans and media members around the country. Pernetti said he was not blindsided by the news, but became aware of the possibility “about a week” ago. “I’ve been in the know on this from the beginning,” Pernetti said. “In my mind, it was absolutely handled in the right way by Coach [Schiano] and the people he was working with.”

Schiano met with his now-former players and coaching staff just prior to Pernetti’s news conference, and a couple players spoke to the media afterward.

“I could see how much he cared because he was crying and a lot of guys were crying,” said cornerback Brandon Jones. “It was emotional.”

“Some [took it] tougher than others,” said linebacker Khaseem Greene. “The young guys took it the toughest, but we all understand. ... Whether it’s a business aspect or an opportunity that you can’t pass up, we understand and respect that.”

Schiano will be officially introduced in Tampa Bay on Friday.

As for Rutgers, it needs to move quickly to install a new head coach, with National Signing Day only six days away. Schiano was in the process of securing arguably Rutgers’ most talented recruiting class in history, and much work needs to be done to convince those players to still play for the Scarlet Knights.

“The search is already under way,” Pernetti said. “As you can imagine, these things move very, very quickly. I know I have to move quickly here given the timing, but much like we did in other instances I’m gonna take the time I need to make the absolute right decision for our program.

“Best case scenario, it would be great for incoming recruits to know who their head coach is gonna be before Signing Day, but I’m not making any guarantees on that. Because if it takes a little bit more time to try to give ourselves a level of comfort we need that we’re finding the right person, then we’re gonna take the time to do that.”

Pernetti also indicated that he had some potential coaches in mind prior to Schiano’s decision to leave. “Any AD worth whatever the university pays him has a list in his pocket all the time,” Pernetti said. “While in my mind, I think, and a lot of people’s minds that are affiliated with Rutgers, there was a hope and an expectation that we would be able to keep Coach Schiano here for a long time, I knew that at any moment that could change and I’ve had myself ready for this moment since I walked on this campus.”

In the meantime, offensive line coach Kyle Flood has been promoted to interim head coach. Pernetti has also taken the unusual step of adding himself to the football coaching staff, “so I can communicate directly with recruits and their families and explain what we’re gonna be doing here at Rutgers as part of our program. And we’re gonna do whatever it takes.”

In 2000, Schiano took over a Rutgers team that had gone 11-44 the previous four seasons under Terry Shea, including 4-24 in the Big East. After a rebuilding process, Schiano led the Scarlet Knights to six bowl games in the past seven seasons, including five bowl wins in a row -- the longest current streak in the country.

But he never won a Big East championship, something he set as a primary goal when he took over.

Pernetti was asked about Schiano’s legacy on Thursday, and whether he had failed to deliver, at least in some regard.

“It’s easy for me to say because it’s my alma mater and I don’t mind taking the shot -- I think this was the worst program in college football 11 years ago,” Pernetti said. “And I think what Coach [Schiano] has done, to put it to the point where this is a high-profile, attractive job in a BCS conference in the No. 1 media market in the country, has a lot to do with all that work that was done. And I’m not gonna speak for him, but those championships are down the road.

“Putting timelines on championships is dangerous business. But those championships are ahead of us. I’ve never been more certain on that.”