Philip Nelson was living the dream. He was a quarterback in high school back in Minnesota, where he was named “Mr. Football” in 2011 after setting state records in touchdowns and all-purpose yardage. Nelson signed with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, started for two seasons and played in two bowl games. But Nelson only played in three series during Minnesota’s 21-17 loss to the Syracuse Orange (+3.5 on the NCAAF lines) at last year’s Texas Bowl, and in January, he announced he was transferring to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
That’s where Nelson’s dream ends. On Tuesday, the Scarlet Knights announced that they had dismissed the quarterback following assault charges stemming from an altercation over the weekend in Mankato, Minn., the place where Nelson set those records in high school. Nelson has been charged with first-degree and third-degree assault after former Minnesota State Mankato (Division II) linebacker Isaac Kolstad was kicked in the head early Sunday morning. Kolstad is reportedly in critical condition as we go to press, with permanent brain damage.
Nelson was going to sit out the 2014 season anyway after his transfer from the Golden Gophers, so this weekend’s events might not have an immediate impact on Rutgers as a football team. But as a football program, the Scarlet Knights have been in freefall over the past 12 months. It’s enough to make Rutgers fans reminisce about the good old days when Greg Schiano was head coach.
The problems start at the top. Athletic director Tim Pernetti, a former tight end with the Scarlet Knights in the early ‘90s, was let go last April after he fell under heavy criticism for suspending, and not firing, men’s basketball coach Mike Rice. This was after ESPN aired video footage of Rice abusing his players during practice, using homophobic language and throwing basketballs at their heads.
Rutgers replaced Pernetti with Julie Hermann, who played volleyball at Nebraska and was once president of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators. But Hermann immediately came under fire, as The Star-Ledger reported that she had quit as coach of the Tennessee Volunteers women’s volleyball program in 1997 after the players complained about the “mental cruelty” Hermann inflicted. Hermann vigorously denied having any prior knowledge about those complaints.
On top of that, The Star-Ledger reported that one of Hermann’s assistant coaches at Tennessee, Ginger Hineline, was awarded $150,000 by a jury in 1997 after alleging that she was fired because she had had a child with her new husband. Hermann famously lashed out at the paper earlier this year after layoffs were announced, saying that it “would be great” if The Star-Ledger went out of business.
But wait, there’s more. The school had another PR nightmare on its hands last week when Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers defensive tackle who was paralyzed during a 2010 game against Army, had his invitation to make this year’s commencement speech rescinded. LeGrand says he was told he was being replaced by former New Jersey governor Tom Kean. After LeGrand tweeted his disappointment, the school backtracked and said that both men would speak, claiming that was the plan all along.
Meanwhile, the football program has been losing out on the state’s top recruits, even though Rutgers is making the move to the Big Ten this year – a move that Pernetti had engineered before his dismissal. As we go to press, the only notable New Jerseyan to commit to Rutgers for 2015 is three-star QB prospect Michael Dare. This is after the 2014 class had 12 players de-commit. To say head coach Kyle Flood has a tall task on his hands would be an understatement after last year’s disappointing 6-7 SU, 5-8 ATS NCAAF picks' result. But bad football is only a symptom in Piscataway, not the disease.