PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) – The defining feature of Greg Schiano’s office is not the red-and-black decor, the 4-foot-high Scarlet Knight mascot or even one of the foam axes fans use to perform “The Chop,” the coach’s motivational trademark.

It is instead a series of three artist’s renderings of Rutgers Stadium that lean against a window next to Schiano’s desk. They differ slightly but have one feature in common: they all depict seats where none currently exist.

While success-starved football fans in New Jersey have embraced No. 7 Rutgers’ 9-0 start with a fervor bordering on hysteria, Schiano is already two or three moves ahead. One of the moves he hopes to make is to get the school to increase the stadium’s capacity to 80,000 – about double what it is now.

“You’d like to get it where you’re filling the stadium every week and these are the special games,” Schiano said a few days before his team’s 28-25 upset of then-No. 3 Louisville on Nov. 9. “That’s still quite a few years down the road. But I don’t see why this doesn’t grow into a big, big stadium that we fill.”

There is no question that Schiano dreams big; if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have taken on the job in late 2000 of rebuilding a program that had become a national disgrace, with nine conference wins in the previous seven years.

Schiano was the defensive coordinator at Miami at the time, an up-and-comer who was considered in line to succeed Butch Davis if Davis opted for the NFL.

“We were on the phone every night during the interview process,” said Mike Miello, whom Schiano played for and later coached alongside at Ramapo High School in northern New Jersey.

“I wasn’t discouraging him, but I wanted to make sure he was making the right career decision. I knew he was the best thing for Rutgers, but I didn’t know if Rutgers was the best thing for him.”

If Schiano wanted a do-over a year later when Davis left to coach the Cleveland Browns and the job went to ‘Canes offensive coordinator Larry Coker, he never let on publicly. That would have been unseemly and besides, there was the daunting task of creating a culture of winning at a school where losing had become the norm.

Progress was slow, at least on the field. Rutgers lost 17 straight Big East games and in 2001 lost to Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia by a combined score of 191-7. There were significant improvements in the classroom, but few outside the program much cared.

The apathy extended to New Jersey’s traditionally fertile crop of football recruits, the best of whom continued to leave the Garden State for State College, Knoxville and other college football meccas.

The ones who stayed bought into Schiano’s program that emphasized academics, off-season conditioning and film study as much as practicing and playing. Those who didn’t buy in were shown the door, in some cases, as Schiano sacrificed short-term gains for long-term stability.

“It’s not easy to do when you’re trying to build something and you know you don’t have enough talent to beat the people you’ve got to play,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to do what you know is right and hopefully that gets rewarded down the line.”

He has thrived with players who have been passed over by most of the major programs. It is fitting because Schiano the player was a standard-issue overachiever, an undersized linebacker who was the first freshman to play for Miello and eventually led the team to a state title.

He starred at Bucknell – Miello remembers bigger schools like Penn State shying away because of Schiano’s 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame – and wanted to play in the CFL but was cut by Toronto, a setback that affected him deeply.

“I didn’t handle it so well,” Schiano recalled. “When I got back, the first thing I did was go down to the Jersey Shore for about a week because I didn’t really want to see anybody.”

He came back refocused on a law career and went as far as to take the LSATs, but missed football enough to begin helping Miello coach his former Ramapo High team. With Schiano staying up late watching game films instead of studying his LSAT workbook, they took a team to the state finals that had no business being there.

It’s a feat some might say he is duplicating at Rutgers.

“I knew that was coming from the way he prepares, the way he treats his players, the way he coaches,” said New York Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who played for Schiano at Miami. “It was just a matter of getting the talent in there. Now he has the talent and he’s doing a good job.”

Rutgers’ ascendance has coincided with more troubles at Miami that have put Coker’s job in jeopardy and brought Schiano full-circle – except this time he is holding more cards.

Schiano has steadfastly deflected the questions and instead focuses on the strides Rutgers has made and those he feels still need to be made, like the stadium expansion. Athletic director Robert Mulcahy has said it is being considered, but no plans have been made public.

Schiano would likely make more money coaching the ‘Canes: Coker’s salary was bumped up to $850,000 in 2002, his second season, while Schiano made $191,000 last year before Mulcahy gave him a seven-year extension that will max out at $350,000 – but only if he stays until 2012. The contract did raise Schiano’s annual income from private sources from $325,000 to $625,000.

“Rutgers has made a commitment to me, I’ve made a commitment to Rutgers and I love it here,” is all Schiano will say for the time being. “Right now do we have the 85,000-seat stadium? No. Will we have it some day? Might. That’s my goal. It’s all going to come in steps. (This season) is all just another step.”

AP-ES-11-16-06 1641EST

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