Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2020 season and beyond.
Who: Sean Gleeson, Rutgers
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: Oklahoma State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2019)
Why he’s important: After a one-year detour to Stillwater, Okla., Sean Gleeson is back in his native New Jersey. A Glen Ridge, N.J., native, Gleeson began his coaching career in 2007 as an assistant at Delbarton School, a college prep school in Morristown, then became the offensive coordinator at Division III Farleigh Dickinson-Florham. That was enough to land Gleeson the running backs job at Princeton in 2013, and in 2017 he became the Tigers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Already one of college football’s most creative and potent attacks, Gleeson took it to another level in his two seasons calling plays, peaking with a 2018 season that saw Princeton post its first undefeated season in more than 60 years. That 2018 team led FCS in scoring (47 points per game) and ranked second in total offense (536.8 yards per game).
If all of this sounds familiar, it should. Gleeson appeared on this list a year ago, back when he left Princeton for Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State’s scoring average dropped six points a game in Gleeson’s one season, but much of that can be attributed to moving from fifth-year senior Taylor Cornelius at quarterback to a redshirt freshman in Spencer Sanders and, when he went down with injury, graduate transfer Dru Brown. Still, with uncertainty at quarterback, Gleeson leaned on running back Chuba Hubbard to the tune of 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns — the most in the country. (As a point of reference, Hubbard rushed for 740 yards in 2018.)
Rather than return to run a loaded Cowboy offense, Gleeson took a generous offer from Greg Schiano to become, it’s fair to say, the most important assistant coach in the history of Rutgers football.
Considering the resources Rutgers is pouring into the Schiano 2.0 Era, this has to work. Otherwise, Rutgers may just write off football — or, at least the attempt to be competitive in football — forever.
So, with that said, it’s worth taking stock in what Gleeson inherits…
… or perhaps not. Rutgers finished 14th in the Big Ten in total offense, scoring and first downs, and 13th in passing, passing efficiency, yards per play, yards per carry and yards per attempt.
On the plus side, there’s nowhere to go but up. Schiano went to work mining transfer market since immediately after his hiring, landing nine transfers since Schiano’s hiring (five of them from Power 5 schools), including quarterback Noah Vedral.
The 2020 season will mark a new era for Rutgers, in every way imaginable.
“In regards to fast, we want to be a fast, no-huddle offense,” Gleeson told NJ.com. “If you could envision the best press basketball team you’ve ever watched, that’s kind of how we want to do our business. We’ll be operating primarily out of the shotgun. You’ll see an aggressiveness in the way our guys line up and address the next snap that should be different. It should be something like, ‘Wow, these guys are going at a pretty good clip.’
“We want to snap the ball around every 15 seconds. That’s kind of our timestamp for no-huddle football. The no-huddle operation is the first layer of fast. The second would be we literally want fast people.”
Pace is another facet where Rutgers has — how do we say this politely? — room for improvement. The Scarlet Knights ran 735 plays in 2019, the fewest in the Big Ten and third-fewest in the entire country. Ohio State ran more plays in Big Ten games alone than Rutgers did all season, so it would stand to reason the Knights’ numbers figure to improve just from snapping the ball more quickly.
But speed is more than just a means to an end for Rutgers now. That, along with physicality and ball control, are the new pillars of the program’s offensive identity. (Among Big Ten teams, only Michigan State and Northwestern coughed up more turnovers than Rutgers in 2019.)
“Every guy that comes to practice and visits will see us tackling,” he said. “They’ll see the way our guys block on the perimeter. They’ll see the way we finish the ball at running back. The old adage is the guys that don’t fumble are the ones that finish their runs the best. It should be their guys going backward and our guys going forward consistently.”
Considering where Rutgers finished in 2019, it may be a while before Gleeson pulls out the good stuff from the Princeton days, and that’s okay. If he can get the Knights out of the double digits in each and every Big Ten offensive category, it’ll be a great sign for 2021 and beyond.