Interim head coach's tenure for Rutgers not measured in wins, losses
The significance of his contribution to the Rutgers football team cannot be calculated based upon wins and losses.
Norries Wilson took over the Scarlet Knights (2-3, 0-2) amid unprecedented controversy and chaos in the program.
Wilson went 1-2 in three games as head coach of the Knights. His tenure began with a 28-3 blowout loss to Penn State in Happy Valley Sept. 12 and ended with a near upset of then-No. 4 Michigan State last Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium, ultimately falling 31-24.
In between, Wilson became a YouTube sensation, his press conferences ascending to must-see status. With the official return for head coach Kyle Flood to take place against Indiana in Bloomington on Saturday, the Knights head man took time at his first press conference back at the helm to thank his assistant head coach and running backs coach for the job he did.
“I would also like to take a moment and thank Norries Wilson, somebody who accepted the responsibility of being the interim head coach when I was unable to be there,” Flood said. “I thought he did an excellent job.”
After Rutgers’ loss to the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium, Wilson conducted his postgame press conference like a professor at the University would conduct his or her lecture on the first day of classes.
“What’s your name,” Wilson asked each reporter who fired a question in his direction. “Who are you with? What do you wanna ask me?”
It was as fascinating as it was bizarre — entertaining, but puzzling. And in his final press conference of the season after the narrow defeat to the Spartans last Saturday, Wilson wore his heart on his sleeve.
After the Knights played a virtually clean game, establishing momentum and building confidence against one of the top teams in the Big Ten Conference, it all ended with a thud — sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano’s ill-advised spike of the football on Rutgers' last offensive play.
But Wilson shouldered the burden for the blunder.
“The clock management is 100 percent on the guy in charge,” Wilson said after the loss to MSU. “And I'm the guy in charge. So I mismanaged the situation.”
Players immediately rushed to the interim head coach’s defense, saying the final score was not determined by the final play, but came as a result of their performance on the field.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s Coach Wilson’s fault,” said junior linebacker Steve Longa.
The Knights leading tackler expanded on his response.
“He didn’t lose that game, we lost that game as a team. Coach Wilson was being hard on himself but I know that we lost the game, all of us, together.”
This was a common thread among Rutgers players in their replies to the experience playing under Wilson. They seemed to revere him, not just as a coach, but as a man.
Junior linebacker and team captain Quentin Gause spoke of Wilson in glowing terms, both on and off the field.
“I interact with him a lot,” Gause said. “He’s a down to earth guy, a family man. I have the utmost respect for Coach Wilson. He’s definitely a great leader.”
The on-field leadership of the first African American head coach in Ivy League history can be discerned on a statistical basis, despite his overall record.
Wilson took a Rutgers team to State College that was reeling after a tumultuous two weeks that saw six players dismissed from the program, its best player and offensive captain Leonte Carroo suspended and of course, the University’s suspension of Flood.
“It’s just one of those things,” said junior defensive tackle Julian Pinnix-Odrick. “I mean, it’s football. It wouldn’t be right if it was easy. It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t have to face adversity. it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t get knocked down and have to build our way back up.”
Wilson took a team from a minus-nine turnover ratio after the loss to the Lions, down to minus-six after the loss to MSU.
The Knights committed eight penalties at Penn State. Last Saturday against the Spartans, they were penalized just three times. Rutgers went from looking hapless in Happy Valley to nearly knocking off a top-five Spartans team at High Point.
To measure Wilson’s impact as the interim leader of the program, go no further than the praise heaped upon his team by former two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year Mark Dantonio.
The Spartans head coach has an 81-31 record in his eight years in East Lansing and his resume speaks for itself.
“I want to congratulate Rutgers,” Dantonio said postgame. “They played with a lot of conviction, a lot of energy and when you let people hang around, they get stronger and stronger.”
At his final post practice press conference on Oct. 8, Wilson took time to reflect on his relationship with the media while speaking directly to them.
“You all have been very good to me. You’ve done honest reporting and I can’t ask any more than that,” Wilson said.
And when asked if he would miss the writers responsible for criticizing his coaching tenure, Wilson remained jovial.
“Well, I’m not gonna lie to you,” he said.
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