By Michael Hill
It’s his first head coaching job. Forty-two-year-old Chris Ash is at the helm of Rutgers University football. As an Ohio State defensive coordinator, he helped the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2015.
He takes over the Scarlet Knight program after a disappointing four wins and eight losses last season.
How will he determine the success of this football season?
“Well, a lot of people will say in wins and losses. The biggest thing I’m looking for is do we have a competitive football team that plays extremely hard, that responds to events good and bad that happen on the field? This team is not a team that’s going to ever quit regardless of the circumstances. And I’m looking for a team that gets better as the season goes on you know do we play harder, do we play longer, do we play smarter as the season goes along? Are we fundamentally sound in everything that we do? Do they play faster? Do they understand the offense and defense better at the end of the year than at the beginning. I think the true measure of coach is if a team is playing its best at the end of the season and they got better as the season went on. If I can’t say that when the seasons over, I’ll be extremely disappointed. And if we can do that hopefully there are more successful Saturdays than there are losses.,” Ash said.
Ash is preparing his players for Saturday night’s intra-squad spring game as he looks for a starting quarterback.
“I think right now where we’re in spring, and the kind of way it’s gone back and forth with good days, bad days, it’s a competition that’s going to continue on through the summer and in to training camp, it’s not going to be something that will be settled here at the end of spring. Nobody has been playing consistently enough to say they would be deserving the right to be named the starting quarterback here at Rutgers. I really like their work ethic, I like where they’re at in terms of a competition standpoint. They show up every day to compete. They’re learning the offense. They’re running the offense a lot better than any of us thought they would be at this point. But it’s still not good enough and they know that. That competition will be an on-going one for a while.,” he said.
He says he’s evaluating players every day. He’s already reached out to part of the Scarlet Knight fan base by inviting students to come to practices in hopes of creating big, game-time crowds and excitement.
“I can’t say enough about the students that showed up in the bubble on Saturday to support our players, interacting in some of the stretching routines and drills that we did. We all know that the atmosphere that’s created on game day is largely apart of the student enthusiasm at the game and we can’t do enough to interact with them and make them feel that this is their football team and we hope that becomes an annual spring event that people really want to be a part of,” he said.
Ash says he’s fully aware of the concern over the sport’s capacity for violent collisions leading to head injuries.
“Our number one thing here is player safety. We’re never going to put a player in what we consider is an unsafe drill. Is there contact and collision that happens in the drill? Yes, but they’re very minimal. The distance between those contacts are very small it’s really offensive and defensive linemen every snap they go that same distance that same kind of contact every snap. Again player safety is number one if I thought that was a drill that we were putting our players and get to potentially get a concussion, I wouldn’t do it,” he said.
Ash seems equally aware of the opportunities ruined by some of the off-the-field antics last season.
“This team has been through a lot in the last year. In the last month, I’ve been able to watched team train and form bonds of trust with each other. They do everything we’ve asked them to do, they behave the right way, they go to class. And really excited about playing for each other. This spring game the atmosphere that is created in that stadium is really important not only for our players but for recruiting. We’ll have a number of top recruits here from the state and this region and as you guys know that any time they show up it’s important to have fan support and show a great environment and it helps in recruiting and I think it’s really important that our football team, the athletic department, the student body and the fans all work together to help us make a great environment for the team and the recruits wanting people to be apart of our program,” he said.
Ash knows he’s the new head football coach at Rutgers but he also knows he has another responsibility here direct culture change here.
What has he told his players about life, about competition, about things they need to do so that whatever they do off the field it’s not a distraction on the field so that they can focus on academics and athletics?
“Right now we talk to them alot about their habits that lead to success in all three areas: socially, academically and athletically. The people that you hang out with are big reflection of what type of person you are and whether you’re going to be successful. But, your actions off the field determine a lot about what you’re going to be like on the field. Are you a guy that’s going to make the right kind of decision socially and academically? Are you the kind of guy that can be trusted to do the right things away from the game? And if you are probably going to be a guy that is going to do the right things, then you’re probably the guy can be trusted on the field to do the same.,” he said.
Chris Ash — the Scarlet Knight football coach looking for winners at life.