Greg Schiano, James Gandolfini had early Rutgers connection

TAMPA, Fla. — Greg Schiano had an unlikely connection with James Gandolfini, one that helped raise awareness for a program in need of repair.

Back in spring 2001, shortly after Schiano was hired to coach Rutgers, Gandolfini joined him for a commercial that promoted the university’s struggling football team. Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano from HBO’s hit show “The Sopranos,” earned a Bachelor of Arts in communication studies from the school and was a major Scarlet Knights fan.

According to an account in the Deseret News, Gandolfini and some college friends joined Schiano in the production. A fan approached a table of five men, saying, “This season is gonna be great! Everybody’s talking about it! It’s a program the whole family can get behind.” The fan moved toward Gandolfini for an autograph, but the pen and paper were given to Schiano instead.

“I can’t take you anywhere,” Gandolfini told the coach, before a telephone number to buy tickets flashed on the screen.

That same year, Rutgers spent $12,000 for a billboard to be placed near Miami International Airport, near a key recruiting area. The sign read, “SEASON’S GREETINGS FROM RUTGERS FOOTBALL” and included photos of Schiano and Gandolfini.

On Thursday, Schiano, now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, expressed his sympathy via a statement for Gandolfini’s death Wednesday due to an apparent heart attack. Gandolfini, forever loyal to a school he loved, was 51.

“I am sad to hear of the passing of Jim Gandolfini,” Schiano’s statement read. “He was a great supporter of Rutgers Football long before it was fashionable to be so. His generosity in helping us lent relevance to our football program at a time when it was desperately needed. In addition to his acting acclaim, he will be remembered by all Rutgers people as a compassionate alum and a great New Jerseyian.”

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