An Open Letter to President Richard L. McCormick and the Board of Governors:
Let me begin by apologizing for jumping straight to a public forum with my request that the university administration refrain from hiring a new football coach until the next president of the university is in place. Under normal circumstances, going public would be the last step in a process where all other private channels had been exhausted. In this case, though, with the news of Coach Schiano’s abrupt resignation announced this past Thursday, the only word the university community at large has heard about next steps is Athletic Director Tim Pernetti’s declaration that his goal is to have Schiano’s replacement selected by this Wednesday.
Though Pernetti insisted that this timeline was “very achievable” at his Thursday press conference and assured those present that “the program is priced to move in every way,” the urgency he feels to replace the football coach shouldn’t be allowed to take precedence over the next administration’s plans for the athletic program as a whole. I understand why acting quickly is important to Pernetti: with Schiano resigning less than a week before signing day, the Scarlet Knights look to have its best recruiting class of the past decade slip through its fingers.
Rather than argue whether anything can be done about the timing of Schiano’s announcement at this late date, though, I think it more important to consider the consequences for the university as a whole if the Athletic Director is not made to suspend his search until the next president has been selected. It is fair to say that the most significant hire of President McCormick’s tenure, in terms of influencing the overall direction of the university, was a hire made by his predecessor, President Fran Lawrence. Lawrence and then AD Bob Mulcahy hired Coach Schiano in 2000. President McCormick then inherited both the coach and Mulcahy’s vision for Rutgers football when he arrived in 2003. It would be a mistake to say the rest is history, since the explosion in the university’s subsidies for the athletic program and the cost of the stadium expansion are present realities that will define what initiatives the university can afford to pursue for the next decade at least.
Pernetti’s doing his job; I don’t blame him for that. But the job of the senior leadership is to think the bigger picture—and that bigger picture is about what is best for the university as a whole. Right now, the number one priority for the university has to be recruiting the best possible candidate to assume the position as our next president. No candidate worth considering would request that the hiring of the next football coach be concluded prior to his or her arrival. Since the Board of Governors has to approve any salary over $300,000 (a requirement that came into existence in the wake of the scandal surrounding Schiano’s contract negotiations after the Cinderella season of 2006), it is clear that Pernetti cannot proceed with his plans without the Board’s consent.
What’s the best way forward? Pernetti’s already solved the immediate problem. He has appointed an interim coach, Kyle Flood. Mr. Flood’s credentials are good enough to have earned him an interview for the permanent position. Surely, Mr. Flood can remain at the helm until the next president is installed this summer; indeed, one could argue that the strongest signal of stability that could be sent at this point is that Mr. Flood will serve as the interim coach for the 2011-2012 season. Any other solution sends a signal to the public at large—and to the candidates for the RU presidency–that the Athletic Director calls the shots here. And that, I’m sure you agree, is not an accurate representation of the university’s current or future chain of command.
Richard E. Miller
The Plangere Writing Center
(Submitted to the Daily Targum on January 30th for publication on January 31st. The news broke on the evening of January 30th that RU was in negotiations with Mario Cristobal of Florida International, then that the negotiations had fallen through, and then that Flood, as assistant coach for 19 years, was going to get the nod. Given these developments, my recommendations became moot and the letter was not published.)