By David Cruz
Most of the press was kept away from football practice today. The security guard told us only beat reporters and no cameras were allowed to watch. If the team and the university are circling the wagons amid the latest controversy surrounding Rutgers athletics, Head Football Coach Kyle Flood was careful to stay on message.
“We’ve already released a statement on the Jevon Tyree situation,” said the coach. “I’m not gonna comment further on that.”
That statement — released Friday afternoon — says Tyree’s parents spoke with Athletic Director Julie Hermann twice about the incident, which originally occurred in April, but Tyree’s parents say they’ve never spoken with Hermann. We wanted to ask Hermann about it, but Rutgers said she was unavailable today. The Tyree case comes as the football team struggles to overcome defections from high school recruits and current players. The team is coming off a 52-17 loss to Cincinnati in which they looked dispirited, but Flood said no one should think his program is on the ropes.
“I can’t speak for the university or the athletic department,” added Flood. “I can only speak for the football program and I know that the future of our program is moving in the right direction. And I know the players in that locker room are excited about the future of our program, and the players that we’ve recruited and committed to us right now are really excited about the future of our program.”
Players, too, said their focus was on the field, downplaying the Tyree incident. Team captains met with the media individually after Flood’s press conference.
“Adversity’s going to come whether in a game or just in life, so this is nothing new,” said Captain Jamal Merrell. “I feel as if everybody’s mindset is 100 percent focused on our game plan.”
Outside Linebacker Kevin Snyder was quick to point out differences between the university’s two major sports programs.
“We don’t have bullying in our program. We’re not in the basketball program. This is the football program,” he said. “We don’t do that. You know, the coaches coach and the players play; that’s it. There’s obviously stern talking; there’s yelling, but there’s no bullying aspect to any of what’s going on here, so we’re just playing football and moving on.”
Rutgers is 2-3 in the American Athletic Conference this season and faces conference leader the University of Central Florida on Thursday. Next year, Rutgers is set to join the Big 10, a conference with powerhouses like Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska, which have a longer tradition of winning and handling national exposure, good and bad.
Coach Flood said that his team is focused on its next game and that he has full confidence in his defensive coordinator, but after dismal defeat on the field and a still growing sports scandal off the field, some are questioning whether the state’s largest university is really ready for the big time.