Rutgers football does away with Frank Burns Award, 2 others – Asbury Park Press
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Today marks the first official day of practice for the upcoming 2016 season under new head coach Chris Ash. VIDEO BY: BRIAN JOHNSTON
PISCATAWAY – The clean slate for Rutgers football under first-year coach Chris Ash will include the discontinuation of three awards named for memorable figures in program history.
Rutgers will not hand out the Frank R. Burns Award for mental and physical toughness during spring football, nor the Douglas A. Smith and Mark Mills Second Effort Awards for the defensive and offensive players, respectively, who have shown the most improvement in the spring.
“There are a lot of changes that have gone on here. There are a lot of things that have been traditional here at Rutgers. It’s a new era,” Ash said.
“I’m going to do things the way that I think they need to be done and the way that I want them to be done. I’ve said this several times to people: If it’s the same way that business has been done in the past and that’s the way that I want to do it, great. If it’s different, it’s different. I could apologize for it, but I’m not.”
Ash, who was hired in December, brought with him new methods for rewarding achievement at Rutgers. He said discussion about spring awards only picked up in the last few days.
Gannett New Jersey was first to report the change.
“Do I want to respect traditions of the past at Rutgers? Absolutely,” Ash said. “But if it’s not what fits me or fits what I want moving forward, then we are going to have a discussion moving forward on whether it’s worth doing or not. Right now, I just don’t feel it’s the right time to do that.”
At the end of the winter conditioning program, Rutgers inducted about a dozen players into the Champions Club – an honor reserved for those whose effort most stood out and that comes with perks such as a steak and lobster dinner not available to other teammates.
Rutgers also fusses over declaring players game-ready. All players started spring practice with a black stripe on their helmet and those who have it removed – eight thus far – are “Knighted.”
Ash borrowed both those ideas from Ohio State, where he was mentored by Urban Meyer.
Burns played quarterback at Rutgers from 1945-48 and is the all-time winningest coach in program history with 78 victories compiled from 1973-83.
The award named after Burns began in 1990 and past recipients include NFL players Jay Bellamy, Ryan Neill, Kevin Malast and Mason Robinson. Burns, a Rutgers Football Hall of Famer, died in 2012.
“We’re nowhere ready to give anybody an award for anything,” Ash said. “To give an award for most improved on offense or defense, I couldn’t even begin to tell you who that would be. And I don’t think anybody wants to get a fake award just because it’s something that’s going on.”
Smith and Mills were members of the Rutgers football team who died from brain conditions within two years of each other in the early 1980s, both after experiencing symptoms during spring practice.
Past winners of the Second Effort Awards, which date back to 1980 and were renamed after the tragedies, include Bellamy, Harry Swayne, Terrell Willis, Marco Battaglia, Gary Brackett, Jason McCourty, Kenny Britt, Khaseem Greene and Tim Wright.
“As we move forward, if I think next spring it’s something that fits into our program than we will re-evaluate it,” Ash said.
“But right now, after being here for our first spring, I just don’t feel it’s the right time. It’s been a while since Rutgers football has had a different direction. It’s been done the same way for a long time, and it just doesn’t fit us right now.”
In the recent past, Rutgers named the award-winners in conjunction with the Scarlet-White Game at the end of the spring. The intra-squad scrimmage will be held at 7 p.m. April 23.
Some of Ash’s other changes since taking over include the installation of a 24-hour snack stand for players, the remodeling of the Hale Center lobby, the overhaul of the strength and conditioning program and weight room, and the elimination of program mottos such as “chop” and “F.A.M.I.L.Y” put in place by former coach Greg Schiano and kept by successor Kyle Flood.
Here is a list of some other awards that Rutgers football discontinued during the Schiano era:
George T. Cronin Trophy – Awarded to the varsity football player who has manifested the most improvement and progress. Originated in 1931 and last awarded in 2004.
The Fan-ees – Awarded to the most improved senior player. Originated in 1978 and last awarded in 2004.
The 12th Man Award – For significant contributions to the enhancement of special teams. Originated in 1990 and last awarded in 2002.
Upstream Award – Awarded as a symbol of academic achievement. Originated in 1967 and last awarded in 2003.
Staff Writer Ryan Dunleavy: firstname.lastname@example.org