Expectations were low at Rutgers for first-year head coach Kyle Flood, even with a talented and deep team that boasted one of the nation's top secondary units and some big-time talent at wide receiver.
Flood was replacing Greg Schiano, who left just days before National Signing Day to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Schiano turned the perpetual laughingstock of a program around — a program that in 2004 had whispers of being dropped to the FCS — and led the Scarlet Knights to five bowl games since 2005, when remarkably they had only one postseason appearance prior to that.
Schiano had turned Rutgers into a program that convinced New Jersey kids to stay home rather than leave for the likes of Notre Dame and Michigan or USC or Penn State. Schiano's departure was going to change everything.
His departure was supposed to be the end of the program.
Then in stepped Flood, the team's offensive line coach since 2005, and also Rutgers' assistant head coach. He's affable and always has a smile, a stark departure to the often grim Schiano. He certainly has the Scarlet Knight faithful smiling. Rutgers hasn't missed a beat since he took over, already bowl eligible for the seventh time in eight years at 6-0 and currently No. 15 in this week's BCS standings.
The Scarlet Knights' start is their best since 2006, and they have an eye towards their first-ever Big East championship.
"I think to me, it's really day‑to‑day, making sure I touch base with every part of the program. That's the biggest adjustment when you go from being really not a coordinator but being a position coach like I was as the offensive line coach," Flood said.
"Now being the assistant head coach, I had other things that I did that encompassed the whole team, but not really on a day‑to‑day basis the way I do it now. That's the biggest difference, instead of being in one room with one group of players every day, now I really need to touch base with every room in this building every day."
In Schiano, Rutgers had a mastermind who behind closed doors was a bit of a control freak. Nearly every part of the program was under his thumb with one program source telling Yahoo! Sports that, "At the time Greg came in, Rutgers needed someone like him. They had to learn how to practice, learn how to travel. They needed that control freak mentality. He literally had to build this thing from the bottom up." Since Schiano had raised the team's talent level to a point where it could compete for a Big East title and reach the Top 25, Flood was the perfect fit to take over.
Flood was named interim head coach in the hours after Schiano's shocking decision to bolt for the NFL, a move no one saw coming. He frantically worked the phones and talked with coaches and parents as he tried to hold together a recruiting class that Schiano had pieced together, one that was ranked in the top 25 in the nation according to Rivals.com. It was his finest hour. The program lost just one player in the days leading up to National Signing Day and since then, the interim label was ripped away and he was given the job full time.
Now he hopes to deliver the program's first-ever Big East title. In 2006 and again last year, Rutgers has gone into the final game of the season with a shot at the conference title and lost. This year Flood has his sights on taking Rutgers to a BCS bowl game, especially with the revamped Big East on its way. This Saturday Rutgers travels to Temple to face head coach Steve Addazio's 3-2 Owls — an especially interesting game since Addazio was among the finalists for the Rutgers job.
"There are other teams around the country that have talented players and good coaches. But this team -- maybe because of some of the things that have happened in the past, some of the times where we've been close to what we've wanted and ultimately it's gotten away from us, is maybe just a little more focused than we've been. That would be the only thing I can attribute it to," Flood said after his team's 23-15 win over Syracuse last Saturday.
"There is no magic wand. This team works very hard. The coaches prepare very hard. They work diligently to learn the game plan. I couldn't be more excited to see them have the success on the field because I think it only serves to tell them that what they're doing is the right thing to do."
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Follow Yahoo! Sports' Kristian R. Dyer via Twitter @KristianRDyer.
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