Being the new head coach of a football team is rarely easy. The difficulty level usually depends on the reason for the vacancy.
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez came into the Arizona program as a result of the firing of former Head Coach Mike Stoops. The team struggled, winning just four games a year ago and needs a momentum shift to turn the program around.
Toledo won 9 games (including a bowl win over Air Force), tied for first place in the MAC- West, and was left in good standing for new Head Coach Matt Campbell when Tim Beckman left to coach at Illinois.
Campbell took over the program after coaching the offensive line in previous years. He led his new team to a 42-41 victory over Air Force in the Military Bowl.
With the recent success of the Toledo program, the Rockets have several capable players returning on both sides of the ball. Going forward into his first full season as a head coach, Campbell is looking to use his team’s depth to his advantage.
“One thing we have been able to do here is play a lot of kids, whether as starters or in critical game situations,” Campbell said. “We have a wealth of experience, guys who have played a lot of football and have been extremely productive, whether as starters or in important reserve roles.”
The Rockets have a unique offense that excels despite playing two different quarterbacks most of the time. Most offenses have trouble because the differences in quarterback style and tendencies are too diverse.
That doesn’t seem to be the case with the Toledo offense. Quarterbacks Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin worked well together last season and will look to improve this year.
“Last year was a unique situation where they both played extremely well,” Campbell said. “They both handled the opportunity with both of them playing very well. I think it’s something that has made our team better and it has continued throughout fall camp.
“They both continue to get better. Austin is continually getting better. I think his arm is as strong as it has been since he got here. And Owens put on about fifteen pounds of muscle, making him bigger and stronger than he’s ever been.”
Campbell has a firm grasp of the offense, as that was his forte a year ago. As head coach, he also has to worry about the defense. This season, with a new defensive coordinator, the defense may be even better than last year due to the return of a few injured play makers.
“The first thing we did on defense was getting healthy,” he said. “We got some players back who were banged up a little bit. That’s the one nice thing, having guys back that have played a lot of football.
“We hired a new defensive coordinator, Tom Matukewicz, who has done a great job instilling one focus and one goal and a sense of leadership on defense. Right now we just have to focus on tackling and not giving up the big plays. If we do that, then I think we can be pretty good on defense.“
With the start of the season just days away, the Toledo Rockets are ready to test themselves against a real opponent. Campbell believes that Arizona is as good a place as any to start his career.
“I know our guys are anxious and excited to play somebody other than themselves,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to go out to Arizona and play in a great environment.”