Sean Gleeson is a Jersey guy through and through. That’s why the challenge of helping rebuild the Rutgers University football program was so enticing.
Gleeson, who played quarterback at Williams from 2003-06, grew up going to Rutgers games, and remembers when the Scarlet Knights were one of the better teams in the east. As the new offensive coordinator, he’ll now have a hand in getting the program back to those heights.
“Having grown up in New Jersey, everyone across the state has their own allegiances with pro teams. But one thing that does unify everyone in the state is that everyone has Rutgers,” Gleeson said. “It’s the lone big-time college football team.”
Rutgers hired Greg Schiano as its new head coach. It marked a return to New Jersey for Schiano, who coached at Rutgers for 10 years before becoming the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Schiano took those Scarlet Knights to five different bowl games, including the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in 2011. Rutgers won those five straight bowl games under Schiano.
“I think this team, when it’s going well, and I was here when they beat South Florida the year they were highly ranked in the fall of 2007 and the year before when they had one of the biggest wins in school history when they beat Louisville,” Gleeson said. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Now I get a chance to try to do it, pull the levers and be a huge part of this whole thing. I think that it can unite everyone in this part of the country.
“When we’re good, that’s what it should do.”
The Scarlet Knights open their 2020 Big Ten Conference schedule Saturday at Michigan State. Rutgers, and the other teams in the Big Ten, will play eight conference-only games, leading up to the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 19. Rutgers’ home opener will be against Indiana on Oct. 31. The Scarlet Knights will also play Illinois, Michigan and Penn State at home in Piscataway, N.J.
Gleeson, whose hometown is Glen Ridge, N.J., returns to the East Coast after spending a season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Prior to that, he had spent six seasons as an assistant at Princeton. The last two of those years, 2017 and 2018, he was the offensive coordinator.
At Williams, Gleeson was a quarterback on four teams that went a combined 26-6, a run that included an 8-0 season in 2006, and 14 straight wins. In three years, he completed 178-of-336 passes for 2,427 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Gleeson came back east after spending one season working for Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. As offensive coordinator, Gleeson had a hand in turning freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders into the Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year. Sanders passed for more than 2,000 yards in his rookie campaign.
The Cowboys went 8-5 and lost to Texas A&M in The Texas Bowl by a score of 24-21.
“I learned a ton” in Stillwater, the former Eph quarterback and baseball first baseman said. “At Oklahoma State, part of the reason why I got the job was that I was willing to go there, use their [offensive] language and run their show a little bit. It was a great experience in my career. I was at Princeton for six years and not that we were ever stale, we were really good on offense, but you’re in one system, you get married to it a little bit. To break yourself away from that and learn some other plays, or in my experience guys do the no-huddle slightly different. It was really, really good.”
Having run Gundy’s offense for a year, and now coming back to Rutgers to run his own offense, Gleeson said the previous 12 months were invaluable preparation.
“It’s a great experience just to immerse yourself in someone else’s terminology and plays,” he said. “Now I get to take that experience and project it against what I know from, whether it was my playing days or my other coaching days, and come up with an even better version of what I want to do offensively.”
Schiano gets a second crack at being successful at Rutgers because the Scarlet Knights were a disappointing 2-10 last year. One of those two wins came in the season opener against Massachusetts.
Not only is the new Rutgers offensive coordinator excited about being home and excited about coaching at New Jersey’s Division I football university, but he is also excited about learning under Schiano.
“Someone told me when I was in conversation with Coach Schiano about coming back to Rutgers, they said — and it’s been spot on,” Gleeson said. “’You’re going to get your PhD in football.’ I really feel like I’m learning so much. We do a ton of situational football at practice. There’s a lot of really good stuff that’s going to help me going forward in my career, and helping me while I’m here as well.”
Gleeson and his boss have a little bit of a rivalry going. Schiano’s twin sons, Matt and John, are both linebackers at — wait a moment — Amherst College. The twins played in all nine games in 2019. Matt Schiano’s best game was a seven-tackle, one-sack performance against Bates, while John had nine tackles against Colby. Both brothers were on Farley-Lamb Field in 2019, when the Ephs beat the Mammoths 31-9.
“We’ve actually joked a little bit about the Williams-Amherst rivalry,” Gleeson said. “He’s got a ton of respect for Williams, which I think kind of helped me in the hiring process. We laugh a little bit about that.
“Williams-Amherst, I still have my rivalries that run deep.”