Rutgers football coach Chris Ash: We are on 'The Hunt'
With progress comes change – at least that’s what they hope at Rutgers, as Chris Ash embarks on his first season in Piscataway. Ash has work to do after arriving from a successful gig as defensive coordinator at Ohio State.
Good thing his area of specialty is defense because the Scarlet Knights need a lot of help on that side of the ball. Rutgers ranked No. 13 in the Big Ten in total defense in 2015 (462.0 yards per game) and 12th in scoring (34.9 points per game). The back seven needs a lot of work, as the linebacking corps is being rebuilt and a young secondary needs to mature.
The offense will be undergoing a scheme change. One of the biggest position battles will come at quarterback between Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig. RU will use a “power spread” scheme that is similar to what Ohio State operates. The line loses big left tackle Keith Lumpkin, but four other starters are back up front to offer stability. And there are some playmakers returning at wideout and running back, but stud receiver Leonte Carroo will be missed.
Ash spent this spring familiarizing himself with the personnel, installing schemes and trying to change attitudes. Ash knows he has work to do. But he also knows the potential of Rutgers. And, that’s what excites him.
I caught with Ash this week to get his thoughts on the first few months of his tenure.
Q: What areas of the team still need work?
A: If I went over the list of areas that need work, we’d be here for a while. We have a long list of things we still need to do. What we did this offseason and spring was establish the culture we wanted. We built a foundation on how we wanted to train, how we wanted to practice. We got our offense, defense and special teams philosophies installed and get a decent amount of stuff put in. We also got guys bigger, stronger, leaner. We had a lot of guys lose weight. That was a huge emphasis for us. And we put them through a lot of mental training, challenging events. We wanted to test them mentally and build chemistry through shared suffering to bring guys closer together.
Q: How is the leadership?
A: We developed a leadership council voted on by players. That gave us a sense of our leadership based on our players’ opinions. We met with the council weekly in the offseason to talk about the program. We wanted to explain why we were doing certain things and the benefits of it, and they could communicate that to teammates. That was really important to do every step of the way. That was really valuable for us.
Q: Was there a discipline problem at Rutgers before you arrived?
A: I think with the select few of the players who were dismissed last year there was, but they are gone now. I think there was a real negative representation of this program, that it was a bunch of renegades. But that was not the case. The thing I was most pleasantly surprised by the most was the type of players we have. We have really good kids that want to be successful and to be coached. To say there was a discipline issue here, there was a select group of guys that had problems. It has been well-documented. That group no longer is in the program. The guys who remain have a lot of character that want to do well.
Q: A big theme for your program is “The Hunt.” Explain what that means.
A: We are at the bottom of the Big Ten looking up. We are on “The Hunt,” we are chasing the other teams. Each day we show up, we have to come to work, we have to chase, we have to work harder than others because we are below a lot of them. That is our mind-set. We aren’t a team or a program that people respect. How do we get that? We have to come, work and hunt and chase those teams each day.
Q: What is on your facility wish list?
A: When I got here, the two criteria I was looking at was, No. 1, does it help our players develop their potential? No. 2, does it help us in recruiting? We can’t blow up everything. But what immediate changes can we make to help us recruit and develop players. The first place I looked was the weight room, which is where our players spend the most time. And do recruits walk into it and say “wow”? We are re-doing it right now. It will be done at the end of May. The second thing I wanted was to change the type of food our players eat, nutrition and hydration and what they put in their bodies each day. We hired a nutritionist that we didn’t have before. We have completely changed the food we eat here. We have seen tremendous gains from weight loss and weight gain. Down the road, we need a new training room. Ours won’t support the activities we want our players to participate in from a recovery standpoint.
Q: How much potential is at Rutgers?
A: I didn’t hesitate a lot when I got the phone call. I did a bunch of research after I got the call. It is new to the Big Ten, so I think its best days are ahead. It is a state loaded with high school talent. Ohio leads the Big Ten footprint states in most three- four- and five-star recruits. New Jersey is typically second. We can get in our car and get the majority of our class. That is exciting. So, you have a Big Ten school in a state loaded with talent, I think the future is extremely bright for Rutgers. You could not have said that four years ago. Kids don’t have to leave to play at the highest level now.
Q: Did you talk to Greg Schiano before taking this job?
A: I have become really good friends with him. He came to visit several times when we were at Ohio State and is there now as a coach. I talked to him a lot about Rutgers, the goods, bads and challenges. This is a different Rutgers than when he took over. He got it to this point. There was nothing when he got here. We have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the Big Ten. If Greg had not done what he did to lift this program, I honestly probably wouldn’t have taken the job. There is a good foundation to build a program because of his work here.
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