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Toledo got it right with Campbell

Sports Editor

Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 02:10

When Tim Beckman waved goodbye to the Glass Bowl Dec. 9, 2011 in the middle of bowl game preparations and the homestretch of recruiting season, the Rockets suddenly found themselves without a commander.

Little known, 32-year-old offensive coordinator Matt Campbell was promptly promoted to interim head coach for the Military Bowl in what seemed to be a gap-filling move for the time being.

Speaking later that day, Athletic Director Mike O’Brien said Toledo needed to seriously consider all candidates and not just those from within the program. He stressed the importance of finding the proper “fit” and addressing the pool of candidates that were available from other institutions.

O’Brien said that the next time he spoke publically would be to announce the next head coach of the Toledo Rockets and the search would officially start the following Monday.

The search never really got started and as it turns out, it never needed to.

On that Monday, O’Brien took the podium and announced that Campbell inked a five-year deal to become the new boss of UT football.

In February — about two months after Campbell got the permanent gig — CBSSports.com took a look at each of the 26 new head coaching hires that were made in the FBS last offseason.

A team of nine “experts” sat down and ranked all of them from first to worst.

Despite winning his first game as a head coach in the Military Bowl, Campbell was labeled as the worst of the bunch.

All Campbell has done since then is go 6-1 with his only loss coming on the road in overtime to Arizona to begin the year.

When examining his first 10 months on the job, it’s hard to imagine it going much smoother.

At just 32-years old and 16 days removed from becoming a head coach, he took the field for the first time at the helm in Washington D.C. for the Military Bowl. He left it with a bowl victory, something that no Toledo coach had done since 2005.

Shortly after bringing that trophy back to Toledo, Campbell faced one of his toughest assignments yet — convincing his recruiting class to stay on board after a coaching change.

Often times, verbal commitments shy away from their words when a change is made at the top.

Campbell not only held his class together, but signed the best class of any in the MAC according to several recruiting services. Of course, you would expect that from a man who Rivals called one of the country’s best recruiters in 2011.

He has kept that momentum going in 2012 and with less than four months to go until National Signing Day, Campbell’s 2013 class is shaping up to once again be the best in the conference.

Perhaps the most impressive quality he possesses is one that goes much deeper than wins, losses or recruiting.

The relationship that Campbell has formed with his student-athletes can be described as special, unbelievable and phenomenal, and those words come straight from the mouths of the players.

He’s the reason why many of them are wearing Midnight Blue and Gold in the first place.

Take senior linebacker and college football’s leader in total tackles Dan Molls for example.

Molls was a two-star linebacker from North Royalton, Ohio who received several other offers from MAC schools, including Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Ohio.

UT was coming off of a lackluster three-win season in 2008, but he elected to play at UT because of the relationship he established with Campbell, who served as his recruiting coordinator.

Molls said just last week that he wouldn’t be here without Campbell, a sentiment that several current players can echo.

Beckman did a great job in his three years at Toledo and Campbell would be one of the first guys to tell you that. However, the player-coach relationships seem quite a bit different.

Beckman was a very serious coach and that approach can certainly work for some teams. Coaches such as Nick Saban – a three-time National Champion and former Toledo head coach – have made a living with that style.

Whether it’s a reflection of two contrasting coaching philosophies or not, the players say the team is closer this year than it was in 2011 and it shows on the field and in the press room.

It’s safe to assume that Campbell’s “one of the guys” personality plays a large role in the bond this team shares and its success on the field. After all, it was only 10 years ago that he was still wearing a helmet instead of a headset, something that has to help in the locker room, in team meetings and on the recruiting trail.

Whether it’s teasing quarterback Terrance Owens and calling him a “big baby” for wearing a walking boot or showcasing his vertical leaping ability every time one of his kids makes a big play and runs out on the field to greet them, it’s clear this team is much like a family.

Sure, eight games isn’t the biggest sample size. But from everything we’ve seen since last December, Toledo found a gem who loves his players and knows how to win with them.

Not bad for the worst coaching hire in America.


Jay Skebba is a junior majoring in Communication. He is also a senior writer for ChatSports.com and has contributed to ESPNWisconsin.com.

 

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