Toledo coach Tom Amstutz finds refuge with his Rockets.
It has turned out that his first losing season as a head football coach was the least of Tom Amstutz's problems.
This past offseason included a University of Toledo player being arrested by the FBI for point-shaving/consorting with a gambler. (The original charges have been dropped and the case is in limbo.)
Then another of Amstutz's players took a gun to a house, reportedly to scare a teammate with whom he had a dispute. He went to the wrong house, which was fortunate for the teammate. It was the house of a sheriff's deputy, which was unfortunate for the player with the gun. (Regrettably, if anybody wanted to make a movie about this, the title Dumb and Dumber already has been used.)
Then, the UT president ordered an internal investigation of athletic department finances and a trip Amstutz and some assistant coaches made to a clinic in Germany came under scrutiny. Then said president mandated that the eligibility of all returning players had to be vetted through interviews with a special counsel and the new NCAA faculty rep.
Yeah, going 5-7 last season became the least of Amstutz s concerns.
Somehow, he managed to remain his jolly self, at least on the outside. He went fishing. Got a new puppy. Didn t let it affect his appetite, as best we can tell. (OK, coming from me, that s a cheap shot.)
But it had to grind on him. Any gambling scandal, proven or otherwise, is about the worst thing that can happen to a team or an athletic department. Anytime a player gets in trouble with the law it reflects poorly on the program, and anything that reflects poorly on the program reflects poorly on the head coach.
Finally, Amstutz is back on the field. It s like letting the mad scientist back into the chemistry lab. Like turning the law professor loose in the courtroom. It s where he is at his best and where he can find some refuge.
The 2007 season that is on the near horizon has to be sunshine breaking through dark clouds for the Rockets coach.
I look forward to every season, he said, but, yeah, I know exactly where you re coming from. It s been tough.
And it all began with the Rockets posting more losses than wins for the first time in Amstutz s six seasons and for the first time under any coach since 1993. From 94 through 2005, UT compiled a 101-40-2 record. Four of Amstutz s first five teams played in bowl games. A program that does all that is not supposed to lose to Kent State and Eastern Michigan in back-to-back weeks, be it home, away or on a vacant lot.
But the Rockets did finish with something of a flourish, soundly beating Akron at home, ambushing Northern Illinois on the road, and then jumping to a 21-0 lead in topping rival Bowling Green for a third win in the final four games.
We showed some promise at the end, but was I satisfied? No, absolutely not, Amstutz said. We gave it our best. But any competitor isn t satisfied with a season like that and they look forward to playing again. I expect better of myself, my coaches and my players.
The same could be said of UT s offseason woes. Amstutz admits that the Scooter McDougle/FBI thing is still hovering over the program.
Yeah, I think so. We re not in a position of closure on that issue yet, he said. Anytime something isn t right with the program, anytime a young man might have done something to stray from what the program stands for, it s a bad feeling and takes focus away from the things you love doing. But as far as our players and their focus, that stuff is over with. It has to be. We have to move on.
And quickly. On the first five Saturdays of the 07 season, UT will face Purdue, defending Mid-American Conference champion Central Michigan, Kansas, Iowa State, and MAC favorite Western Michigan. It all starts in a mere 24 days.
Amstutz believes it is as important to be a leader in tough times as it is when things are going great, which might make him the perfect guy for these times at Toledo. Because things are anything but great.
I don t feel any heavy weight on my back, Amstutz said. I accept the things that happened for what they are, isolated cases. My job hasn t changed and my focus hasn t changed.
I believe in providing good leadership grounded in sound principles. If you don t have that, all you do is stumble around. Believe me, I m not stumbling around.