Greg Schiano looks to use coronavirus hiatus to Rutgers’ advantage

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Greg Schiano has waited nine years to coach another Rutgers football game.

What’s an extra five months? Or 13 months? It can be an opportunity.

At Rutgers, the initial disappointment of a canceled Big Ten fall season because of safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic quickly was replaced by embracing the bonus time to improve a program with 21 straight conference losses.

“We are going to find competitive advantages in this,” Schiano said.

The Big Ten is hoping to play a modified winter/spring season to mitigate the possibility of a $1 billion revenue loss, but Schiano would not speculate on the likelihood. He returned to Rutgers — site of his greatest coaching feats from 2001-11 — in December 2019 but might not be on the sideline until at least September 2021.

“We are not going to be at the bottom very long,” Schiano said. “We have to make sure every step of the way we stay safe. That’s been my No. 1 priority. We certainly have a plan to get better. I’m excited to coach this team however it is, whether training or practices or games. I know it’s going to be a process, but I’d like to accelerate the process as much as we can.”

Here are three other takeaways from Schiano’s first interview since the Big Ten acted:

— Rutgers shut down voluntary summer workouts after an outbreak that New Jersey health officials mentioned with others caused by party-going. Schiano cited about 30 infected players, including two who remain quarantined.

“They all seem to be feeling well,” Schiano said. “Of those 30, probably half of them were asymptomatic. They never felt anything. They just tested positive.”

In light of growing concerns about long-term heart issues, including myocarditis, in athletes impacted by COVID-19, Rutgers is performing “a full cardiac work-up” on anyone who tests positive, Schiano said.

“I think what you would say is the worst of our guys had a pretty bad flu,” Schiano said. “Sweat through the sheets, that kind of stuff.”

— No football season is an estimated $50 million loss for Rutgers.

Schiano, who has an eight-year, $32 million contract, is extending the 10 percent salary reduction he took in conjunction with other top athletics employees through the end of the calendar year. Furloughs already have hit the department and more expense-slashing is coming.

It’s not clear what that means for the commitment to facility upgrades made to close the deal with Schiano. It is estimated the project will cost about $150 million, half covered by fundraising and half by the school. Rutgers is expected to begin receiving a full-share $65 million annual membership payout from the Big Ten in 2027.

“We certainly have a financial responsibility,” Schiano said. “Sometimes you have to look at things and say, ‘What can we press pause on and what can we move on very methodically? Certainly I’m a hard-charging guy, but I also understand reality. Long-term we’ll be fine, but we have to find a way to really fight through this.”

— Many of Rutgers’ traditional rivals remain scheduled to play in the fall, which could sound enticing to players considering transferring or recruits considering flipping a commitment.

“Our program is unique and you either want to be part of it or you don’t,” Schiano said. “If not playing is the reason you wouldn’t come then you probably weren’t going to last very long here, anyway.”

Rutgers signed 32 recruits in 2020 who are “our kind of guys,” Schiano said. In other words, they relish facing adversity and take pride in staying close to home.

“The concept of coming in and poaching players,” Schiano said, “we talk openly and honestly with our guys. I tell them, ‘You guys who are the best players on the team, people are going to reach out. They are not allowed to legally, but there are going to be intermediaries. If this is what you want to be part of, don’t even go there.’”

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