Something happened at Rutgers last season. One could say there was a massive fire that not even a flood could put out, but eventually certain forces did in fact help it go out, so now we have ash... Alright I'm done. Behold, the Scarlet Knights coaching staff that will poke the sleeping giant in the hopes of awakening it.
Head Coach: Chris Ash
Ash is new to the head coaching game and for that reason, it's important to show his trajectory between now and when his football coaching career began.
Ash hails from Iowa (see Iowa fans? You've just got to love Rutgers) and his football career commenced at Drake University where he played as a defensive back for the Bulldogs. Ash has a mind for defense and he then began his coaching career at his alma mater as a grad assistant and then as defensive coordinator. He later moved on to the Iowa State Cyclones (nevermind Iowa fans) where he was a defensive backs coach. Eventually, after a few other stops here and there, Ash made his way to working as defensive coordinator under Bret Bielema at Wisconsin. This was his first Big Ten job and in 2011, Ash helped the Badgers lead the Big Ten in total defense and pass defense efficiency, ranking fourth nationally in fewest passing yards allowed. The Badgers defense ranked 15th nationally in total defense in 2012. Ash then followed Bielema to Arkansas where, in one season, he helped improve the Razorback pass defense from 113th to 72nd nationally in passing yards allowed. That is a massive jump.
His next gig is the one he became known for and the one that helped him lock in hist first head coaching position. Ash served as co-defensive coordinator for the Ohio State Buckeyes for two seasons and his defense helped the Buckeyes make it to, and win, the first ever College Football Playoff against Alabama in 2014, and the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame in 2015. Ash clearly has the mind for defense and his meticulous, thorough, hard-working nature indicates that he will be a very sound head coach, one that Rutgers fans would like to help lead our team to the next level.
Ash also knows how to create and maintain relationships with players. He showed great loyalty to those he coached by coaching OSU in the Fiesta Bowl while being head coach of Rutgers. Just yesterday, Ash was spotted talking to recent OSU Giants draftee Eli Apple. Ash was also present at the draft to support the players he coached. That loyalty and character will speak volumes to Rutgers recruits.
Offensive Coordinator: Drew Mehringer
This is Mehringer's first ever stint at the position of offensive coordinator at an FBS school. Fresh off the Tom Hermann coaching tree, Mehringer was the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at Houston for the 2015 season where the Cougars won the American Athletic Conference and finished with a 13-1 record. Ash clearly felt that Mehringer had talent of his own and enough exposure to Tom Hermann's offensive style to bring him on board to create an offense to compete with the best in the country. He is young, he recruits well, and he connects with the players. These are certainly things that will carry Coach Mehringer far. Mehringer's football career started at Rice where he played quarterback, but sadly suffered a career-ending injury. He then served as a student assistant with the quarterbacks with Herman for three seasons. He graduated in 2010 with a degree in political science and earned his master's degree in sports management at Ohio State in 2013.
Defensive Coordinator: Jay Niemann
Coach Niemann has twenty five years of coaching experience and is coming to Rutgers as defensive coordinator after holding the same position at Northern Illinois. NIU's defense held teams to incredibly low scoring outputs (including keeping Ohio State to its second lowest score of the past season. The Buckeyes beat NIU 20-13). In the 2015 season, the NIU Huskies were ranked 8th in the nation in turnovers gained, with 29, and fourth in interceptions, with 22. Niemann and Ash go back over twenty years where Coach Niemann was DC when Ash played at Drake University. Ash brought Niemann, his college coach, on board to his coaching staff because he taught him much of what he knows about defense and both believe in a defense "built on effort, fundamentals, execution and toughness." (Chris Ash). Very eager to see a raw, focused defense like never before brought about by Niemann. He certainly has the coaching talent to make Rutgers a defense school again.
Special Teams Coordinator: Vince Okruch
Okruch comes to Rutgers as special teams coordinator after spending the last two seasons at Ohio State assisting with quality control for the kicking game and defense. He has 35 years of coaching experience with much of that spent working under coaching greats, including Lou Holtz, Bill McCartney, Gary Barnett, and Urban Meyer. He was the defensive coordinator for the University of Colorado for five seasons under Gary Barnett. 15 years out of his 35 were spent in the Big Ten at Minnesota, Northwestern, and Illinois.
Offensive Line Coach: AJ Blazek
THIS GUY has energy. I'll never forget when the band was playing outside for Student Appreciation Day and this wild man comes out of the indoor facility yelling "WOOO BAND!" and gave every single one of us high fives. Our band director asked, "who was that??" "AJ Blazek," I said, still with a smile of what just happened. Blazek was a football player at Iowa and started his coaching career there as a student assistant and then graduate assistant. In his time with the Hawkeyes, they won two Big Ten titles. Blazek is also plucked directly from the FCS where he spent the past three seasons at Western Illinois as offensive line coach and run game coordinator. In 2015, WIU earned an at-large bid in the FCS playoffs and advanced to the second round. The team averaged nearly 400 yards of total offense per game and finished the season ranked No. 8 in the nation in fewest tackles for loss allowed. Offensive line was a weak point for Rutgers, so here's hoping he can do some good.
Defensive Line Coach: Shane Burnham
Coach Burnham, a Florida native, comes to Rutgers as defensive line coach from Iowa State. He spent the last season working with the Cyclones' inside linebackers, and the six season prior with defensive tackles . He is noted to be good at developing defensive players and he helped mentor several Iowa State defensive tackles into players that helped Iowa make it to three bowl games. Jake McDonough was coached by Burnham and was an All-Big 12 first team performer. McDonough signed an NFL contract. Coach Burnham started his football career at South Carolina where he was a four year letterwinner at linebacker. Eager to see how he develops the players in Rutgers' defensive line.
Defensive Backs Coach: Bill Busch
Busch is also an Ohio State transplant where he, like Okruch, handled the quality control on defense for the 2015 season. Coach Busch is a Big Ten veteran and before his season at Ohio State, he worked at Wisconsin as safeties coach and assisted with the special teams unit. In 2013, Busch's first season at Wisconsin, he helped lead a defensive backfield that was the 17th ranked in passing defense and tied for 13th in passing yards per attempt. His other Big Ten stop was with the Huskers and served as both a graduate assistant (1990-1993), and several years later (2004) went back to coach outside linebackers and was special teams coordinator. Other notable stops for Busch include being at Utah where he coached the secondary under Urban Meyer from 2001-2003, and and Utah State where he was DC from 2009-2010, then safeties and special teams coach in 2011-12. Here he also became assistant head coach. Busch has the resume to build Rutgers' secondary to compete in the B1G.
Running Backs Coach: Zak Kuhr
Another up and coming, FCS transplant coach, Coach Kuhr is charged with managing a deep, talented stable of running backs. Starting off as the wide receivers coach, he shifted back to the coaching position he's been focused on for the past few years. Very closely aligned with offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer, Kuhr took over as co-offensive coordinator at James Madison University after Mehringer left to join Tom Herman at Houston. James Madison finished with a 9-3 record, and advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs in 2015. As co-OC at JMU, the Dukes had some very impressive stats, including leading the country in third down conversion percentage, second in scoring offense, third in total offense, third in first down offense, seventh in rushing offense, and ninth in red zone offense. One thing that is notable with Kuhr is his astronomic rise up the ranks. Going from graduating college in 2013 (University of Florida) to competing in college football's most competitive division in a mere 3 years. Hopefully the shine of the big stage won't be too much for the level-headed position coach. Let's see if his work at JMU can translate to the toughest conference in college football.
Wide Receivers Coach: Jafar Williams
This guy might seem familiar to Purdue fans. That's right Boilermakers, a coach at your school left your school for what was initially the same position at the Big Ten newbie school (he swapped being running backs coach to being wide receivers coach with Zak Kuhr). The Philly native wanted to be back on the East Coast. His record seems to indicate that he is good at helping talented players shine. In 2015, Williams helped develop Purdue's Markell Jones who broke the freshman rushing record and finished eighth overall in the Big Ten. He also helped develop Akeem Hunt, who, in 2014, tallied 949 yards on the ground to also placed eighth in the league and went on to sign an NFL contract with the Houston Texans. Prior to Purdue, Williams coached running backs at Kent State where, under his coaching, running back duo Dri Archer and Traylon Durham combined to rush for 2,745 yards and 30 touchdowns in 14 games. Now that he's the wide receivers coach, I'm very eager to see what he'll do with our wide receivers and how goes about filling the Carroo void.