New Rutgers coach Chris Ash already has made it clear that he doesn’t intend to be “buddy-buddy” with his players. Ash is taking over a program that lacked discipline last season and he has already sent a message that things are going to change.
A demanding offseason workout program will set the tone, as Ash tries to instill toughness and discipline in the team. But Ash understands that as he’s pushing players to the limit, he needs to build relationships with them to generate the best results.
“As a coach, you’ve got to have great character,” Ash said in an interview with NJ Advance Media. “The players want to know that they can trust you. And if they trust you, you can coach them really hard. They want to know that you can build a connection and that you care about them. If you show the players that they can trust you and you care about them and you’ve got competence in your job, you can coach them extremely hard and you can push them to the level of that trust.”
Ash hasn’t had much of an opportunity to start building relationships with his new players. He held a team meeting on Dec. 7 before his introductory press conference, but otherwise he has spent most of the past two weeks on the road recruiting or back at Ohio State, where he will remain as co-defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes’ bowl game on Jan. 1.
Ash will fly to Rutgers on Monday after Ohio State’s morning practice. He’ll spend a few days in his new office in the Hale Center and he hopes to meet with some players face-to-face, although most will be home for winter break.
“That’s part of a new coaching job,” said Ash, who has spoken to some players on the phone. “Every new coach in the country is going through the same process. And the ones that can get that connection faster will be the ones that have the chance for success sooner.”
Rutgers fans can hope Tom Herman will provide a road map for Ash’s first-year as a head coach. Herman was hired as Houston’s head coach last December but remained as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator though the team’s national championship run.
Herman brought a similar mindset to rebuilding Houston’s culture, and the result was a 12-1 record and an American Athletic Conference championship in his first season. Obviously, it will be more challenging for Ash to have a similar level of success in the loaded Big Ten East Division, but he’ll take the same approach as Herman.
“His ability and his staff’s ability to build a connection with those players in that program and get them to buy into the way they’re going to do business allowed them to have success a lot faster,” Ash said. “It’s going to be no different for us at Rutgers.”
One of Ash’s most important tasks will be establishing a culture for the program
Ash had the same no-nonsense approach as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, but that didn’t prevent him from developing close relationships with players there.
“He’s a grinder and he loves his players. He loves to get them better each week,” Ohio State safety Vonn Bell said. “I know he’s going to do well.”
Ash is confident he’ll develop the same relationships with his players at Rutgers.
“The stronger the trust and the higher the connection, the harder you can push them,” Ash said. “That’s the challenge. We want to push them extremely hard, but to do that, we’ve got to make sure we build relationships on trust and that players know that we’re going to care about them. If we do that, they’ll respond the right way.”