Rutgers introduces Steve Pikiell as next head men's basketball coach
For the first time in a decade, Piscataway had a buzz. And it all correlated back to center court of the Rutgers Athletic Center.
But contrary to the ordinary expectancies of two-hand slams and game-winning shots, the reason for it was the man standing at the podium on the stage that sat on top of the block "R" logo at the RAC.
Standing there was Steve Pikiell, 48, who officially became the next Rutgers head men's basketball coach on Tuesday afternoon.
"I don't think I've slept in four days. This has been quite a whirlwind for me," Pikiell said. "But this has always been a dream job for me. I drove up and down the New Jersey Turnpike for years recruiting ... I would drive by that sign and I would say, 'That's the job I want.' I'm humbled and very appreciative, and I'm very thankful for this opportunity."
Days after reports initially broke on Saturday morning citing that the 11-year Stony Brook University head coach had been tabbed as the successor to former three-year Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan, it all finally became real for Pikiell at his introductory press conference.
The Board of Governors approved Pikiell's Memorandum of Agreement earlier on Tuesday morning. Pikiell will make an annual base salary of $550,000, with an additional guaranteed compensation of $850,000 for his first year.
That additional guaranteed compensation increases by $100,000 in each year of his contract, which runs from March 21, 2016, to March 31, 2021.
University President Robert L. Barchi said he gave Athletic Director Patrick Hobbs the platform to make the right decision in the hiring process.
"In the last three months, we've really pretty much taken a new look at sports here at Rutgers, with hiring Pat Hobbs as our AD, hiring a new head football coach and finishing the trifecta today with a new basketball coach," Barchi said. "... I have to say that the hiring of the basketball coach is 100 percent the job of the AD. It's his expertise that made this happen and his hard work in the several past weeks that have gotten us to this point. All I did was to lay down a few requirements."
Hobbs, who took over in late November and hired Chris Ash as the head football coach in December, said he knew he had the right fit in his second major coaching hire as soon as he met Pikiell.
"In every search, you want that moment. You want that moment where you know you are sitting across the table from that person," Hobbs said. "They're talking and you have that feeling that starts to well up when you say, 'This is the person, this is the right fit, this is the person who I want to lead our student-athletes' ... Three months ago I found that person in Chris Ash. On Saturday morning, sitting in New York City, I found that person in Steve Pikiell."
Pikiell spent the last 11 seasons at Stony Brook, guiding the Seawolves to a 192-156 overall mark and the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance.
Stony Brook transitioned from Division III to Division I in 1999 and the leap was not easy as Pikiell settled in with the Seawolves in 2005, but he helped build the mid-major program into a competitor in the America East Conference.
Pikiell led Stony Brook to 22 wins or more in seven of the last eight seasons, compiling a 119-48 mark in the last five years.
But as he enters Rutgers, his greatest challenge awaits.
The Scarlet Knights have not had a winning season since 2005-06, which also marks the beginning of the coaching carousel that has led to Pikiell being the fourth men's basketball coach at Rutgers in the last 10 years.
But in his debut, Pikiell sent a message to the Rutgers community on the direction of the program as he settles in.
"We will make this a destination for athletes in this state and in other states, worldwide, across the ocean," he said. "I have a little saying: In order to achieve, you must believe. I believe in President Barchi. I believe in Pat Hobbs. I believe in myself. I have a humbleness, but a confidence, that you will see. I believe in Rutgers. I believe that they gave me a chance. I don't let people down. I believe we will dance."