Chris Ash Q&A: 'There is absolutely a ton of potential here'
Chris Ash isn’t afraid of a challenge. That’s why he’s at Rutgers. Ash knows the potential of this program. The Scarlet Knights have won before. And, they can win again.
Ash embarks on Year Two looking to make progress after a sobering debut that saw RU finish 2-10. After a 2-1 start, the Scarlet Knights finished the season with nine losses in a row. RU got shutout four times. In the last eight games, Rutgers yielded 24 or more points each time out, getting ripped for 78, 58 and 49 points on three occasions.
Now, the Scarlet Knights are turning the page and looking for progress. And they will do so with an altered staff. After offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer bolted to join Tom Herman at Texas, Ash brought in former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill to run the offense. Kill is the eighth offensive coordinator in the past eight years under three head coaches at Rutgers. Another coaching move: defensive backs coach Bill Busch has added co-defensive coordinator duties to join Jay Niemann in running the defense.
I checked in with Ash as he was coming off his second spring football.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between this year and last year?
A: Knowing the players is the biggest thing. We have made progress in all areas. The physical development of our players. The chemistry has improved. The leadership is better, along with the buy-in to our standards. Those things have all improved from Year One to Year Two.
Q: Why did you decide to hire Jerry Kill as offensive coordinator?
A: It’s not about Xs and Ox, it’s about leadership. I looked at our first year, who was coming back, our staff … evaluating what we needed. We needed a leader on the offensive side of the ball, to earn the trust of the staff and to hold the staff accountable, have credibility with the players. I thought Jerry did all of that. I looked at how we wanted to look like and how we could play complementary football with each other. Jerry being a former head coach looks at it and gets it. That’s what I like about Jerry. And we talk about program building; he has built programs. Our blueprint here is very similar to what he has done in the past. We could tell it would be a good fit.
Q: Did you know him?
A: I knew of him, but I didn’t know him before hiring him. I had met him at clinics and in recruiting, but that was about it.
Q: How important is it to get stability at the quarterback slot?
A: It is everything. It’s the program. You can’t win without a quarterback. It doesn’t matter where you are at. We have to get our quarterback spot taken care of and get some production and leadership and consistency out of that spot.
Q: Does incoming freshman Jonathan Lewis have a legit shot to win the QB job?
A: Absolutely. It’s an open competition in the fall. We may have as many as three guys in the mix.
Q: Is the secondary the strength of the defense?
A: I thought our secondary was pretty good last year. We made huge improvements in our pass defense a year ago. The average person would say it was because we couldn’t stop the run. That’s not true. You look at the number of attempts thrown against us and how we defended the pass, we were pretty good. We have a lot of guys coming back. I think our two corners (Isaiah Wharton and Blessaun Austin) had a tremendous spring. They are playing with a high level of confidence and belief.
Q: What’s the strongest part of the offense?
A: When it’s all said and done, the receivers. I think in our spring game, we had five receivers who will be here in the fall that didn’t play. We will have some depth and talent at receiver that we didn’t have in the spring for various reasons. I think our offensive line possibly could be good, too. I really like four of our five positions. We need to solidify the right guard spot. I think the line has done a nice job in the offseason developing.
Q: Did you ever get discouraged last year?
A: Anytime you go 2-10, you get discouraged. But I had to constantly remind myself that there was a chance that could happen. It is what it is. We went through it. I can tell you that we are a lot better as a program because we went through those experiences.
Q: How much potential is there for this program?
A: There is absolutely a ton of potential here. That is why I came. This program until the last couple of years had had a ton of success, went to a lot of bowls. I know it wasn’t in the Big Ten, but it was good. There are a lot of players in this region, the Tri-State area, New York, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. You don’t necessarily have to get the best ones to build a good program. There has been a history of some really good players who have come here that weren’t highly recruited that ended up being NFL draft picks and having pretty successful careers. There is a ton of potential and each day we move forward.
Q: How are the facilities?
A: Our athletic director has done a great job identify our facility needs. We aren’t a fully funded Big Ten team now, but he has gone crazy in fundraising and done an outstanding job getting private donations to improve our facilities across the athletic department. It will help in recruiting and player development. We are excited about what we are doing with facilities.
Q: Will Rutgers get to a bowl this season?
A: I am not going to make any predictions. The only thing we are worried about is getting better each day. If we do that, we’ll get to our postseason goal. When will that be? I don’t know. Hopefully it’s this year. It might be another. I don’t know. We have a great environment in this building, great team chemistry, the guys are working extremely hard and I am really excited about what we are doing. We have to keep doing that, recruiting and developing players. There will be better days ahead for us. This isn’t my first rodeo going through this type of deal. It’s never easy. But we feel good about what we are doing and how we are doing it.