Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s connection with the Rutgers football program and former head coach Greg Schiano has been well-documented, so it was no surprise to see that Belichick was throwing his support behind Schiano after Tennessee decided not to hire him to be the next coach for the Volunteers.
The school and Schiano were close to an agreement on Sunday, but the deal fell apart after widespread backlash that included a protest on campus and complaints on social media from fans, state representatives, and gubernatorial candidates.
Their complaints stemmed from Schiano’s background as an assistant at Penn State during Jerry Sandusky’s tenure as the Nittany Lions’ defensive coordinator. Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for his conviction on 45 counts of sexual abuse.
Court documents released last year of a deposition in a case related to the Sandusky scandal suggested Schiano might have been aware of Sandusky’s sexual abuse against children, though Schiano says he had no knowledge of what was happening at the time.
Before the deal fell through, Belichick offered a lengthy response when he was asked about Schiano, who is the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, after the Patriots defeated the Dolphins Sunday.
“Yeah, I think Greg’s a tremendous coach. I’ve learned an awful lot from him and had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with him when he was at Rutgers,’’ said Belichick. “He’s one of the very best coaches I think in our profession. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Greg and the way he runs his program and the job that he does.’’
Last season, three members of the Patriots secondary — Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon — had all played for Schiano at Rutgers. (McCourty and Harmon are still with the Patriots, while Ryan signed with Tennessee in the offseason). Former Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny also played for Schiano at Rutgers. Additionally, Belichick’s son Stephen, now a member of the Patriots coaching staff, attended Rutgers and was a long-snapper while Schiano was the coach.
“I would say the most impressive thing for me is the way that our players, which we’ve had a lot of Rutgers players come through here, the loyalty and I would say love of the program, the college program that they were in at Rutgers when he was there, how they maintained that for years and years after they had left,’’ Belichick said. “Not taking anything away from any other school, but I would just say that it’s extremely strong.
“I think the relationship that he has with his kids, with his players and how well prepared his players are to come into this league is exceptional. He’s a great coach. I’m sure he’ll be a great head coach. Again, he’s done an awful lot. He’s helped me in a lot of different ways and I have a lot of respect for him.’’
Belichick stood by his comments Monday morning and was asked if he would vouch for Schiano.
“100 percent. Yes, 100 percent,’’ Belichick said on a conference call with reporters.
“I think I said it pretty thoroughly yesterday. I have great respect and think he’s a great football coach. I’m not really involved in any other situation, but speaking about him as a coach and a person, [I have] the utmost respect and zero reservations. Zero.’’
Other have also offered their support for Schiano, including former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed while playing for the Scarlett Knights while Schiano was coach.
“I’m with you coach, I’ll never forget how you have always kept your word with me back to when you recruited me in high school,’’ LeGrand tweeted.
I’m with you coach, i’ll never forget how you have always kept your word with me back to when you recruited me in high school pic.twitter.com/3BLlIPxPQr— Eric LeGrand (@EricLeGrand52) November 27, 2017