PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Hung on the wall to the far right of where Greg Schiano stood at Rutgers University Wednesday were side-by-side pictures of two brothers who were on this campus back in the mid 2000s. One, wearing a white No. 21 jersey, is cradling a football in the crook of his right elbow, no doubt one of the many interceptions he snared as an undergrad. The other, in a red No. 25 jersey, is staring through his facemask with such intensity that you can practically feel the heat from across the room.
These are the McCourty brothers, twins Devin and Jason, two of the most distinguished players in the history of a program that had a founding role in a sport that just turned 150 years old. Of course, they’re better known as members of the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots, winning alongside each other last February in Atlanta.
Just weeks after that gritty win over the Rams, it seemed the two defensive backs were set for a reunion with their college coach, as Schiano joined Bill Belichick’s staff as defensive coordinator.
But Schiano changed his mind only a few weeks later, issuing a statement as he left the job, and the game, for his foreseeable future. And though it’s been anything but a straight line from there to here, now we know why.
Schiano wasn’t ready to commit to a long-term Patriots future because his heart is in the college game, in molding young men like Devin and Jason through their formative years, teaching not only lessons in the game of football but the game of life. As Jason said upon news of Schiano’s rehiring at Rutgers, which became official Wednesday, this is what he does best.
“I am fired up to see what’s to come at Rutgers,” Jason said earlier this week. “Schiano had a lot of success his first run there, and I got to witness firsthand the lessons he taught as a head coach.
“I’m a fan of his. I’ll never sugar-coat it: He was tough as hell to play for in your time there. But a lot of us laugh and joke now that a lot of his sayings he used to say to us when we were there, we use them all the time as adults.”
Schiano’s first foray into the NFL was with Tampa Bay, the job he left Rutgers for after the 2011 season. That didn’t go very well, with Schiano struggling to mesh his college-style approach with professionals who were not inclined to receive such rah-rah-style messaging. His abbreviated second try, with New England last February/March, was much more fun — he called it “the best six weeks of my football life” — but still wasn’t quite what he was searching for.
He talked Wednesday about the journey from those days to this one, which was such a big deal in New Jersey that the state’s governor (who helped broker a deal that had fallen apart only 10 days ago) attended the press conference.
“Since I left here 10 years ago, a lot has happened and some of that has been in pro football,” Schiano said. “I learned a ton. I’ve been humbled.
“I loved working there in New England. I just felt — coaching is a very selfish business, and like I said earlier, my wife Christie, she raised our kids and I just tried to jump in when I could. I just felt like it had been about me for 30 years and it was time to step back, to work on myself a little bit, and spend time with my children and my wife. It was the best eight months that I’ve had.
“And you know what? I had a boss in Bill Belichick who is a true friend. He was awesome. He understood, gave me his blessing, and that’s really what made it easier to do. I’ll always cherish those memories.
“But as I reflected over those eight months, I realized what I’ve been put on earth [for], what I’ve been blessed to do, is not only coach the game of football but use it as a platform to take young men and turn them into grown men.”
We all know how many of those men have made a stop in New England, from the McCourtys to Duron Harmon to Mohamed Sanu, all on the current roster, to past Patriots such as Logan Ryan, Tiquan Underwood, Kenny Britt, or Alex Silvestro.
But Schiano’s players ended up all over the league. One of them, former Jaguars safety Courtney Greene (a seventh-round draft pick in 2009), hit Schiano with a text just this week. It included a picture of the two of them together on the Rutgers field.
As Greene wrote to his coach, “I was 18 to 21 [years old] and I thought you were crazy. And now I get it. You were teaching us life.”
The pros? They know plenty about life. They just want to be taught football. But for the pros in New England who learned a lot about both from Greg Schiano, ones who for a brief couple of weeks thought they’d be doing both again, this day made perfect sense.
“It’s just awesome to have Schiano back in New Jersey,” Devin said earlier this week. “It’s great for Rutgers and for New Jersey.”
Maybe for Belichick, too. We all know how much he likes that Rutgers/Schiano pipeline. Maybe now it starts flowing anew.