Rutgers hires Chris Ash as next head football coach
As soon as Chris Ash took the podium, it was easy to see why University President Robert L. Barchi and Athletic Director Patrick Hobbs hired the energetic 41-year-old co-defensive coordinator from Ohio State as the next head football coach at Rutgers.
With a jam-packed team room at the Hale Center flooded with journalists, cameras and other onlookers waiting for the Scarlet Knights' next head coach to speak, Ash might have very well won his opening press conference from the moment he took the podium.
"I'm gonna try to lighten this room up a little bit," he said after thanking Hobbs for introducing him. "There's a lot of serious looks in here and we've gotta get some smiles going here at Rutgers right now."
If his first impression was any indication, Ash could be the one to turn the Rutgers football community's frowns upside-down.
After his Memorandum of Agreement was signed in an approval meeting with the Board of Governors on Old Queens Campus in New Brunswick, Ash arrived at the football program's training facility at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway and made a splash in his introductory press conference.
His contract will pay him a base salary of $2 million annually over the next five years, with a $100,000 increase in each year starting March 1, 2017, to headline other incentives of the deal.
He takes over after Kyle Flood's four-year tenure where he went 27-24 with three bowl appearances, but with hopes of getting the Knights back on track after a tumultuous 2015 season where they regressed in a 4-8 season with a 1-7 record in their second year in the Big Ten Conference.
Even more so, Rutgers aims for Ash to straighten up a program that saw seven players arrested over the course of the season with two investigations — one where the head coach, Flood, was suspended for three games with a $50,000 fine for impermissible contact with a faculty member.
But Barchi, who placed his trust in his newly-appointed athletic director to make the best decision for the future of the football program, knew all along that Ash was the perfect fit.
"Over the course of the last week, I've had the chance to spend a fair amount of time with Chris (Ash) and I have to say that I have come to the firm belief that he is the right person for this job," Barchi said. "He has an intense and passionate commitment to excellence and integrity on the field, and he has that same level of commitment to see excellence and integrity in his players, both in their daily lives and in the classroom."
After a controversial tenure from former athletic director Julie Hermann came to an end last Sunday on the same day where Barchi fired Flood, Hobbs is a part of the clean-house initiative by Rutgers to progress as it grows through its time with the academic and athletic elite in the Big Ten.
And Hobbs, who kept the entire process under wraps as speculation grew during the past week regarding which route the former Dean Emeritus of Seton Hall University School of Law would take in his first step as an athletic director since serving as the interim for the Pirates from 2010-11, managed to find his fit the right way.
With the help of a search firm and assisting input from the likes of Board of Governors chairman and alumni donor Greg Brown, who works as Chief Executive Officer of Motorola Solutions, it became obvious to Hobbs that Ash was the man for the job.
"I will tell you (that) it just became clear very early in that process that Chris Ash was the right person," Hobbs said. "In 25 years in higher education, it's the single best interview I've ever had with any other individual."
Ash was a front-runner for the head coaching vacancy for Syracuse before ultimately withdrawing his name from consideration last week. As the interest from both sides progressed, Ash continued to receive phone calls from Barchi and Hobbs before meeting with the two and ultimately arriving on campus at Rutgers on Sunday night.
"When I started my coaching journey back in 1995, this was a dream that I set out to try to achieve — to someday have an opportunity to lead my own program," Ash said. "I am extremely excited and thrilled to be the next head football coach of this state's university here at Rutgers."
While Ash won't completely immerse himself in the role of the head football coach at Rutgers just yet — he chose to honor his commitment to Ohio State as the Buckeyes prepare for a New Year's six bowl game at the Fiesta Bowl with Notre Dame — that hasn't stopped him from getting started.
Ash has already begun to keep the 2016 recruiting class at Rutgers — and field more — as he splits time between both jobs over the course of the next month.
But when Jan. 1 does come and go and his return to Piscataway becomes as concrete as his signature on the dotted line of his five-year contract, Ash has one message to send along to the Rutgers community.
"Moving forward, I have a message for fans, supporters, administrators, players — basically anybody that loves this program," Ash said. "We need to create some positive energy around this program. It's going to take an extreme amount of work. It's gonna take a lot of the right people going in the same direction ... Everybody is going to have a role, and I ask that everybody be the best that they can be at whatever job that (you) have to do for us and this program to reach our goals of being one of the best football teams in a great conference here in the Big Ten."
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.