For the first time in 11 years, the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights will have a new football coach when their season begins Saturday. Kyle Flood took over the head coaching duties in January after Greg Schiano's abrupt departure to become the head coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Flood had been a college assistant coach for 16 years, the past seven at Rutgers. He discusses his new job and continuing a recent winning tradition at the school, which has gone to bowl games six of the past seven seasons.
Rutgers football was pretty bad before Greg Schiano got here. What's the most important thing you have to do to continue what he started?
I'm very fortunate to take over a football program that went to six bowl games in seven years and won five bowl games in a row. To me, the most important thing I can do is take what's already a really good program and just make it a little bit better.
Q: What needs to happen for you to be a top-25 team this year?
A: Well, you've got to win football games. It's no more complicated than that. It's hard to win Division I football games. If you go out there and you win enough of them, you'll be in the top 25. If you go out there and win enough conference games, you'll win the Big East Conference. But the reality is you'd better focus on them one at a time.
I think everybody in the program's aware we want to win the national championship. Well, to get the opportunity to do that, you need to be 12-0. If you're not, then you're leaving it in somebody else's hands. And you don't want to do that. But we're not focused on anything as a program right now beyond the Tulane game (8 p.m. Saturday).
Q: Under Schiano, Rutgers made an effort to market a lot in South Jersey. They had a billboard of Atlantic City's Jack Corcoran on the Atlantic City Expressway. How important is South Jersey to you?
A: I think it's critical. It's our home state. We don't refer to it as North Jersey, South Jersey. Those are just distinctions for recruiting areas more than anything. To us it's the state of New Jersey and beyond that the state of Rutgers.
But South Jersey geographically is always going to be really important to us. We've gotten some really fine players from there in the past. Guys like Kordell Young (West Deptford High School), George Johnson (Glassboro), Jack Corcoran (St. Joseph), Ryan D'Imperio (Washington Township), and on and on and on.
And even today on this current team, we've got some really good ones, some fine players, some of them younger than others. Guys like Ka'Lial Glaud (Winslow Township), Brandon Jones (Winslow Township), Logan Ryan (Eastern), some younger guys like Tejay Johnson (Egg Harbor Township), Jamil Pollard (West Deptford). So it's a football team that I think will be very well-represented by South Jersey.
Q: From the southeastern part of the state, you talked about Tejay Johnson and you have Ben Martin from Absegami, but would you like to have more of a presence from the southeastern part of the state?
A: We don't think of it in those terms. Every year we go out and recruit and the first thing we try to establish is to say, OK, as we watch the film, who are the players that are out there that ultimately we think can help us win a national championship. And then everything beyond that is just finding the right people for Rutgers. And I think some years there'll be more people maybe in that geographical area. Some years there may not be as many people. But we don't go into any particular area, whether it's South Jersey, North Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, northeastern New York, we don't go into any particular area any one year and say, 'We need to take three kids out of this area.' For us, it's always about finding the right players for our program.
Q: We have several guys down there who go to Penn State still, such as Glenn Carson, who plays linebacker for them, and Brandon Bell at Oakcrest. Would you like to get to the point where all the top guys from down there are going to Rutgers?
A: I think when you talk about recruiting with anybody, whether it's Rutgers in New Jersey, a school like Texas in the state of Texas, or USC out in California, I think what you find is nobody has all the players that are ranked in the top stay at home. It's just not the reality of college football. And sometimes it's because the player may be looking for something different, may be looking to get away, but sometimes it's because the university decides that, "You know, I'm just not sure if that guy's the right fit for us." So again, I don't know if anybody will ever be at the point where every top player in the rankings comes to any one school. Again for us, the most important thing of all is to make sure we find the right players for Rutgers, because the ones that come to Rutgers are the only ones that we get to develop.
Q: You spent three years as an assistant at Delaware, but for the most part you've been a New York guy - born in Bayside, high school in Queens, college at Iona, coached at Hofstra and CW Post. How familiar are you with South Jersey?
A: I'm like the statistical anomaly of coaching. If you look at coaches and their resumes, you see even some of the gentlemen on my staff, you see guys that have had to move across the country multiple times to ultimately get to a place where they really want to be and hopefully can stay for a long time. I've never had to do that, and I've always tried to be very careful about the jobs I would take and the places I would go.
I did grow up in New York City, I went to high school there, I went to college a little north of the city in New Rochelle, the same high school that (former Rutgers star) Ray Rice came from. Actually, New Rochelle High School and Iona College are right across the street from each other, ironically enough, and we got here the same year. And then I got out, straight into work at CW Post in Long Island and then Hofstra, and then three years at the University of Delaware, where it was a great experience for me. But when I got the opportunity to come here and work for Rutgers, it was a dream come true because it put me at the highest level of college football and it also brought me closer to home. Two things that very rarely happen in my profession.
You asked about my relationships, or my working knowledge of South Jersey, to me, recruiting is about relationships. We have some very strong relationships down there - guys like (Eastern assistant) Rick Brown, (Absegami coach) Dennis Scuderi, who worked in our office, I've been able to build a very strong relationship with Rob Hinson at Timber Creek. And I think that relationship is going to go a long way for us. We have a very good relationship with West Deptford High School - the same school that produced Kordell Young and then ultimately brought Jamil Pollard to us - it wasn't a direct route (via Penn State), but at the end of the day the most important thing to me is that he's here with us in our program and is going to be with us for four to five years.
And I think over time, now as I get out there recruiting, one of the differences between being an assistant coach and being a head coach is as an assistant coach you always recruit a certain area. ... And you don't cross over very much, unless it's for your specific position. But now as the head coach that's going to be my job as we build the program to continue to develop the relationships that have been very good to us down there.
Q: You talked about staying close to home being very important to you. The last guy who had your job, obviously, is in Florida now. Should your desire to be close to home be comforting to Rutgers fans who are hoping that you're here to stay no matter what?
A: I would hope so. I would hope they would feel good about it. I said that when I first got hired. Greg was here for 11 years. You look around college or pro football, and it's hard to find anyone that would stay anywhere for 11 years. So it's a combination of somebody wanting to be somewhere and also having the success that allows you to stay. And I would like to think that I bring both of those to this job as well. I certainly have a desire to be here. My parents still live in the house I grew up in, and my wife's parents still live in the house she grew up in, about an hour and 20 minutes from here. So it's really important to me to be close to them as my children get older.
Q: You mentioned Tejay Johnson before. What specifically do you expect from him this season?
A: Tejay's playing corner for us, and we've certainly got some really fine players at that position, South Jersey guys like Logan Ryan and Brandon Jones. Also we have some other guys like Marcus Cooper, and Tejay is really pushing those guys to break into the lineup. You're going to see Tejay Johnson play a lot of football for us this year. Ultimately it may be as a starter. But certainly in the sub-packages he's going to be on the field for us. He's a special athlete.
Q: How about Ben Martin from Absegami? What do you expect from him?
A: Ben came here as a running back, and then we tried him at corner. We wanted to see if maybe he would get on the field a little bit quicker there. That was not really the right fit for him. So about a week ago we moved him back to running back, and I'm really pleased with what I've seen so far. I think this year we're hoping he can help us on special teams and hopefully if the opportunity presents itself we know he can do a good job for us at running back.
Q: Let's talk about the string of events that led to you taking over as head coach. How surprising was it to you how everything happened?
A: Certainly coach Schiano taking the job in Tampa was a surprise to everybody on the staff. It seemed like every year there would be offers out there for him and he would turn them down and he would stay. And as an assistant, you figure after he turns down a certain amount of schools, and good places in their own right, you just figure he's not going to say yes. So when he did say yes to Tampa, it certainly was a little bit of a surprise to us. I was actually at a high school with four other coaches on our staff at the time. And when it happened, the phone started buzzing, so you can only imagine what kind of interesting occurrences happened at that point. But yeah, we got out of there.
But after that, none of what happened surprised me. Because I always felt that if Greg did move on, that I would have an opportunity to be the head football coach here. And that given the opportunity to be the head football coach here, that I would be the head football coach here. So that was kind of how I approached it and that's really what I did in talking to the recruits and the recruits' parents and even Tim Pernetti, our athletic director. I said to him, "I know that I'm the best person for this job." And what I told the recruits was, "I'm the interim head coach right now. When I get named head coach in a couple days, all the reasons why you committed to Rutgers in the first place, they're going to be here for you. And I think that's why we were able to keep, really, 17 of the 18 commitments that we had verbally.
Q: Can you talk about your first couple days on the job and what that was like being a head coach for the first time?
A: Maybe the best way to describe it would be awake, because I didn't really sleep much my first couple of days on the job. And really it involved more than anything thanking the team for having their support through the process and then finishing the recruiting class - which is what I said to the team. I said, "I will be here if you need me. You have my number if you need to call me or come up to my office." I said, "What I'm going to do over the next couple of days is make sure that those of you that are going to be here beyond this year are going to have the best teammates you can have to help us win a national championship at Rutgers." So I started really those first couple days finishing up the recruiting, and then immediately into the organization of the program.
Q: So where you are now, what's been the biggest adjustment?
A: The biggest adjustment to me is really touching base with every department in the building every day. I think as a head coach that's what you have to do. As an assistant coach, that's not your job. When you're an offensive line coach, you coach the offensive line. You certainly have interaction with other areas as the assistant head coach for four years. There were other things you could do, but it's nothing even near the scope of what you have to do as the head football coach.
Q: You talked about recruiting a little bit earlier. Being a head coach isn't just about coaching the team on the field; it's a lot about recruiting and being the public face of the team. How would you characterize yourself as a recruiter?
A: I think you'd probably be better off asking the recruits. What I do tell the recruits is, "Rutgers is a unique place. And maybe we're not the only school that would have this type of attitude, but this is the attitude we have at Rutgers: We're not looking to be a football factory, nor do I think Rutgers University will ever be a football factory."
When we recruit players, it's critical that the academic side of it is just as important as the football side. We don't weigh one over the other in Rutgers football. Rutgers football and the academic education they're going to get at Rutgers University are one and one, and everything else is three. And that's how we approach recruiting. We're not a hard sell program. We're not a back-slapping, used-car salesperson type of program. That's not how we recruit. We're going to build strong relationships. ... We go to every school in New Jersey every May. So every high school coach will see a Rutgers coach in May every year. And that allows us to get the best information, build the strongest relationships and ultimately make the best decisions.
Q: In what ways are you different than coach Schiano?
A: A lot of people ask me that question. I don't know. What I do know is we have the same core values. One of the things in my first team meeting, I said, "The core values of Rutgers football are much bigger than any one person." And you see them all over the walls, all over the building, things like family, which we equate to sacrifice. The word "chop." You build your focus on the task at hand. TBA: Trust, belief, accountability. Those are the core values of Rutgers football. Those don't come and go with any one person, with any one coach. Those are embodied in our team.
Q: A lot of people nationally are pretty high on Rutgers in terms of contending in the Big East. How much pressure does that put on you in your first season?
A: I think coaches put pressure on themselves every day. I don't know that you can get to this level as a head football coach or an assistant coach without applying a lot of pressure to yourself. We have very high expectations for this program. We've proven that we can win bowl championships. It's important to me now - you asked me before what is my job being a head coach - it's my job to make it a little bit better. Well, if we do that, then not only are we going to win bowl championships, but we'll win Big East championships and national championships. So we have very high standards and expectations in the program, (but) I don't know that any of that pressure comes externally.
Q: The Big East Conference. What, in your opinion, is the future of the conference? Do you think Rutgers should stay in the conference, or do you think you guys should be open to moving to the ACC or the Big Ten?
A: We're excited about the Big East Conference. Anything beyond that is really in Tim Pernetti's ballpark. Those aren't decisions that I get involved with, nor do I want to get involved with them. What I do know is that we're in the Big East Conference for the next two years. The Big East Conference for the next two years has an automatic bid to the BCS. So you win the Big East, you're going to the BCS. For me, I'm excited about what the new Big East is going to be. We're focused on 2012, but if you look at it big picture, the ability to bring in schools like Houston, to bring in schools like Boise State, that makes for a very exciting schedule, for sure.
Hometown: Bayside, N.Y.
Title: Head coach of the Rutgers University football team
Duties: Oversees the 143-year-old program known as "The Birthplace of College Football."
Professional background: Worked as an assistant coach, specializing in offensive line, for 16 years at C.W. Post, Hofstra, Delaware and then Rutgers before taking over as the Scarlet Knights' head coach this year.
Education: Graduated in 1993 from Iona College (N.Y.)