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Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Jordan gives Rutgers a dash of hope

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

Rutgers did not get its first choice.

Rutgers did, however, make the right choice.

That the school did not make the right choice before speaks only to the morass that currently exists at the State University of New Jersey, but that is a subject for another day.

Eddie Jordan
Eddie Jordan will bring credibility to his new job at Rutgers.

This day is for Eddie Jordan, a man who ought to be greeted by trumpets, fireworks and a fist pump from Governor Chris Christie on his first official day on the job. It takes a special man to take over a program in ruins; it takes a saint to take over a program in ruin that counts a 2004 NIT runner-up finish as its most recent high bar of achievement.

But more than saint or savior, what Rutgers needed was someone who actually cared about Rutgers -- about the school, its reputation, its successes and its future. Jordan, an alum of the school and part of the Scarlet Knights' lone basketball run to glory, is exactly that.

This job is a sordid mess right now. Jordan's office sits in the Rutgers Athletic Center, or as it's come to be known, the scene of the crime. It is there that former coach Mike Rice hurled basketballs and homophobic slurs at his players, all of it videotaped as practices routinely are these days, turning Rice into the producer of his own Zapruder film.

There is no athletic director, no legal counsel. The president is about as popular as a broccoli and liver sandwich would be to a 6-year-old.

Recruits are backing out of commitments, players want to leave -- including leading scorer Eli Carter, who has asked for his release -- alums are angry and embarrassed, and the university is about to transition from the Big East, where it never had much success, to the Big Ten, where it makes about as much geographic sense as Houston in the Big East did.

Right now, this is a program only a graduate could love.

Jordan can't supply an instant remedy, nor can he immediately right a ship that has been sinking for decades. He can, however, offer an air of dignity and the closest thing to tangible success the Scarlet Knights can claim. Jordan was on the 1976 Final Four team, earning regional MVP honors along the way. Years later, he served alongside Bob Wenzel when RU went to the NCAA tournament in 1991.

If that seems like a lifetime ago, well, it's also the last time the Knights went to the NCAA tournament.

None of that is pixie dust that will magically transform Rutgers into something other than what it's been. This job right now is a pothole inside a black hole inside a crater.

And Jordan needs help. First on the list is an ace recruiter, since that's not been part of his NBA repertoire for some time. Second should be a financial commitment from the university to the program, the same sort he wisely waited on for himself before signing on the dotted line (there are plans in place to renovate the ancient RAC, but they need to become reality quickly).

Jim Delany
Rutgers will try to rebuild its program in Jim Delany's Big Ten.

The move to the Big Ten promises untold riches thanks to the league's network cash cow, but Rutgers can't simply be the teenager constantly taking from Daddy Warbucks Delany; it has to open its own wallet, too.

Rutgers should have hired Jordan three years ago, which is easy to say amid the detritus left behind by Rice. It's also the truth. For too long, the school has hired coaches who saw this grand potential of what Rutgers could be, but that was coach and administration caught up in some sort of mutual delusion.

Yes, New Jersey has rich basketball talent. Yes, the school is near New York City. Yes, the Scarlet Knights played in the Big East.

But the basketball facilities are old and dated; the school hasn't won an NCAA tournament game in 30 years; it has been a Big East afterthought for much of its tenure; and all that great Jersey talent has been quite happy taking its talents just about everywhere else in the country.

Before he went berserk, Rice did at least keep some of that talent in state. Not that Rutgers had anything to show for it -- the Scarlet Knights never topped the .500 mark under Rice.

At least now -- finally -- instead of just a wide-eyed (or more accurately in the case of Rice, a wild-eyed) dreamer and/or schemer, Rutgers has someone who believes in and cares about Rutgers.

It's a simple thing but a big thing, especially right now.

The bungling university might have, appropriately enough, tripped into this hire.

At least it is the right one.