When laying out his plan for the next head coach of the Rutgers football team, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti stressed someone with local ties. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti can lay claim to a few.
Cignetti spent two seasons in the same capacity at Pittsburgh, which attempted to make inroads into New Jersey and New York. The pair of running backs in his pro-style system there hailed from Elizabeth, N.J., and Albany, N.Y.
And he developed a special relationship at Pitt with a high school quarterback from Elmwood Park, N.J.
“It’s the same guys,” said sophomore Gary Nova, who Cignetti courted at Pitt before arriving at Rutgers. “It’s hard to convince someone to commit to a school without a head coach right now. But you just have to tell them to fight through, and [National] Signing Day is Wednesday.”
Cignetti has a pedigree for developing quarterbacks like Nova.
Auburn and Tulane noticed.
The former national champion Tigers reportedly interviewed Cignetti as a finalist in the same capacity, The Green Wave interviewed him their head-coaching job in the offseason.
But Cignetti remained in Piscataway for a second season.
He aided former Pitt quarterback Bill Stull in throwing for 21 touchdowns as a senior. At California, he guided the Golden Bears’ offense to 33 points per game. He also spent a season working with former NFL No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers.
Cignetti’s hiring would also keep in tact most of the coaching staff currently in place — unlikely with an outside hire.
“I’ve told every prospective head coach or head coach we’ve hired that I think it’s important to have a good, hard look at the people we have on our staff,” Pernetti said. “Having said that, especially in the higher-profile sports, head coaches are inclined to surround themselves with … people they work with.”
With Cignetti calling plays, the Scarlet Knights ranked fourth in the Big East in scoring with 26.4 points per game. Cignetti’s pass offense finished third, but the struggling run game finished dead last.