Associated Press, April 24, 2016

(AP) Whenever Julian Pinnix-Odrick sees Chris Ash in the hallways of Rutgers' football center, the fifth-year senior tells his first-year coach that it's OK to smile.

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Ash has cracked a few smiles in wrapping up his first spring practice on Saturday night in front of 14,177 fans.

His focus, though, is overhauling a program derailed by an academic scandal and player arrests and providing structure for the future.

"When it's grind time he makes sure that we're in line and ready to grind," Pinnix-Odrick said.

There were way too many distractions last season.

Former coach Kyle Flood was suspended three games last season for making inappropriate contact with a professor regarding a player's academics. Seven players were arrested in August and September, though charges were dropped against star receiver Leonte Carroo, who had been accused of throwing a woman during a domestic dispute. The arrests included those for a home invasion by two players.

"Four and eight is a pretty bad feeling," offensive lineman Derrick Nelson said of last season's record. "And when coach Flood got fired, we were looking for guidance. Coach Ash really helped with that."

Ash has put an emphasis on off-the-field behavior.

"The message is daily," Ash said. "How we're going to behave, the decisions we're going to have to make, the people we're going to hang with, the areas you're going to go to hang out in, that message is every single day. It's like being a parent. When do you stop being a parent and try to educate your kid? You don't. When do you stop educating these guys on making the right decisions? You don't."

Similarly, the former Ohio State defensive coordinator hasn't stopped working since he took over Rutgers on Dec. 7.

"Coach Ash is going above and beyond right now to get this program to where it's never been. … And it's not a facade. It's not fake. … I hope people can see how hard he's actually working," Pinnix-Odrick said. "But we'll prove it on the field come fall."

For now, all the proving ground has been to the new coach. And through his first on-the-field practices with the team, Ash is pleased with what he's seen.

From the new-look power-spread offense, to a code of ethics of how the players must conduct themselves, and everything in between, Ash is pleased with what he's seen so far.

"The players have bought into everything we've asked them to do," Ash said, adding, "The improvements that we made in 3 1/2 months on and off the field, we have to make the same improvement and more in the next few months before we get ready for training camp."

Much of that will be on the players, as the coach's on-the-field interaction with the team will be limited until training camp. But it is a group of Scarlet Knights focused on building on the foundation Ash has laid down.

"People are just tired of being underestimated here," defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said. "People are tired of letting our fans down and we want to turn things around here."