Undefeated Rutgers has one
man to thank: Bob Mulcahy

Nov 14, 2006 6:02 AM

When 44,000 hysterical fans left the stands at Rutgers Stadium in New Jersey last week, after Rutgers defeated Louisville in a nationally televised battle of two undefeated teams, the crush completely covered the entire field, leaving 111 still sitting in the stands. Rushing the playing field and obscuring it from goal line to goal line, they had three names in mind.

One was Jeremy Ito, the field goal kicker who went from villain to hero in less than a minute, after he missed a field goal and then made it on a second try by penalty to send Rutgers to victory in a battle between two teams not accustomed to perfection after almost a full season of play. The swarming crowd hoisted Ito high above them and paraded him around the impressive stadium.

The second name on their minds was Ray Rice, who looked every inch of his 5-9 as one of America’s best running backs against Louisville.

The third name was Greg Schiano, a coach whose name was largely unknown at the beginning of this season, and who came from high school coaching obscurity to the national limelight with his cool and confident guidance of a very good, and very underrated, football team. Down 18 points, he never lost his imperturbable, unruffled demeanor, and when it was all over he said calmly, "You don’t come back like we did tonight unless you have believers."

Despite the heroics of all three of those stars of the Scarlet Knights, the record Rutgers crowd had the wrong names in mind.

Ito, Rice and Schiano won the game, along with their believing teammates, but the man who made the night possible was never mentioned in the post game accounts.

He was Bob Mulcahy, Rutgers’ director of athletics, and the incredible night belonged to him. It was his ultimate victory.

I happen to know Mulcahy well. He was mayor of a neighboring little Revolutionary War town called Mendham in New Jersey when I first met him, and he then became one of my many bosses as chief executive of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which runs one of the nation’s largest sports complexes including Giants Stadium, Continental Arena and the Meadowlands Race Track.

My relationship came at the racetrack, and I saw Mulcahy in operation firsthand.

He is a natural politican, savvy and personable, strong and smart and smooth.

When he left the Sports Complex for Rutgers, 35 miles or so down the road, I knew it was only a matter of time before Rutgers emerged from the shadows of being a bad joke in football to a success. I did not envision the success of this year, but it came as no surprise.

Rutgers is one of America’s oldest universities, established 10 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Only seven are older, and it is not a little school. It is the state university of New Jersey, and its campuses stretch from Camden in the west to Newark in the east, and it is highly ranked academically.

That did not protect it from the jokesters, and one of them still was having fun even after the huge victory last Thursday night. Peter Mehlman, a west coast television and film writer, described Rutgers as "a sudden football powerhouse," and added, "On the surface, it seems like a nice thing. Below the surface, it is as if someone opened a bait-and-tackle shop next to Bergdorf’s."

When Mulcahy picked him out and hired him in December of 2000, Schiano was 34, the youngest coach in the Big 12 conference. Mulcahy said he never was concerned with Schiano’s inexperience as a head collegiate coach. Schiano had been a linebacker at Bucknell; a coach at New Jersey’s Ramapo high school, where he was a star in the 1980s; a graduate assistant at Rutgers in 1989 before assistantships at Penn State, the Chicago Bears and the University of Miami.

When he took the job Schiano said, "There will be love in the program, and the players will know that."

They do now. There is love for all of them, and they and Greg Schiano and New Jersey’s adoring thousands can thank the man responsible. This is Bob Mulcahy’s team.