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Published: Saturday, 12/25/2010

Like father, like son: Being in family business has its benefits

Beckman and his corps of assistants break down film to the tiniest minutiae as, of course, every coaching staff does. When an opponent lines up unbalanced with an empty backfield and puts the slot receiver in motion to the left, it's the coaches' jobs to make sure the Rocket defenders know what's coming.

But Beckman has a lot of help. Every UT player has to produce a weekly scouting report too, and they never know who's going to be called upon to give an oral report.

"It could be a starter, it could be a backup, they never know," Beckman said. "They spend time watching film and learning, and they have to report what they've seen that is going to help our football team win. It's amazing what some of the kids come up with. They study the opposing team and players really hard."

So, is that why the Rockets are 8-4 entering tonight's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit against Florida International?

Maybe. But there's more.

A few weeks back, during that lull between the end of the regular season and the start of serious bowl preparations, Beckman was on the road recruiting when he got an e-mail from a very impatient man.

"It was from my dad," Beckman said. "He asked, 'Where in the heck are my tapes?'"

Dave Beckman coached high school, college, and professional football for 35 years. Now, he spends a lot of time at his home in Strongsville, Ohio, watching video of UT's upcoming opponent, breaking down individual players, and turning in a report on strengths and weaknesses at each position.

"I don't get into the X's and O's," Dave Beckman said. "I try to give him a breakdown of each player and maybe how to attack them. For me, it's almost utopia. How many other old coaches have sons who are head coaches in major college football and can spend a few hours a day doing what he did all his life to help out his son?"

Dave Beckman has friends, too, who have been parts of his son's life from the start. So when Tim wants to have his own team scouted, to evaluate what he and his staff are doing, he sends tapes of the Rockets to men like Bill Davis, a former Cleveland Browns general manager, and Tom Heckert, Sr., a longtime college coach and the father of the Browns' current GM. Last spring, one-time Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano came to Toledo to evaluate a couple practices and spend time with UT's coaches.

"It's good to be a coach's son," Tim Beckman said with a big smile.

Add in the lessons learned from former bosses like Pat Dye, Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, and Mike Gundy and, well, you could say Beckman has been preparing for his current job since the day he was old enough to hold a football in his hands.

In just his second year on the job, Beckman and his team ended a string of four straight losing seasons, were in the Mid-American Conference title chase until the final couple weeks (finishing with a 7-1 record), and have UT in a bowl game for the first time since 2005.

"The goals were to continue to improve the overall program, to have a winning record, to compete for a MAC championship, and to go to a bowl game," Beckman said. "No, we didn't get to the title game, but we competed into November. We accomplished the rest. So I'd say we're on schedule. The expectations of the staff and the players are right where we want it to be. Now, from here, the expectations go up."

Considering the Rockets will lose only two starters on both sides of the ball, the future does seem bright. But some might suggest UT is rather far ahead of schedule in that Beckman's first year was anything but smooth sailing.

While many UT fans were caught up immediately by his infectious enthusiasm, some eyebrows were raised when he named his staff and some eyes rolled at Beckman ideas that came across as gimmicky, perhaps more style than substance.

He hired two of his coordinators off a staff at rival Bowling Green that had just found itself unemployed. There were other hires from MAC-level programs that didn't exactly get pulses racing. The rest were generally young coaches, most devoid of any full-time major college experience.

"People I worked for taught me that you hire winners the same way you recruit winners," Beckman said. "They may have been young, but they'd been winners and they were eager to be successful on this level. I never second-guessed myself for a moment on any staff hire. As for the coordinators, I'd been an assistant on the same staff with those guys. I've lived with them. I know them and trust them. There's a comfort there. We believe in the same things."

So a new and young staff put Beckman's ideas into practice and, for awhile at least, butted their heads against a wall. Many players recruited by the previous staff were resistant to the head coach's plans to change the culture across the board, from the field to the classroom to the weight room to the community.

"Was there resistance? Oh, yeah, definitely," Beckman said. "There was a little bit … heck, a lot of bit. Change is hard. If you come in with a plan and it isn't accepted nobody is going to succeed. It took a little while, but the players developed a willingness to change, to be winners, to be better in all facets of being college athletes and students and citizens. Everything has improved."

A program that produced just three wins in 2008 improved to 5-6 in Beckman's first season and now has eight wins and is just hours away from kickoff in a bowl game. To get there, though, the Rockets had to play over some bumps in the road, the most notable being a disappointing home loss to a below-average Wyoming team and a drubbing on the road against Northern Illinois in a game for the MAC West title.

"Our kids were embarrassed," Beckman said of the NIU game. "They knew they were a better team than we showed, so it wasn't hard to get them going again. The hardest spot was probably after the Wyoming game because of the disappointment of letting one slip away at home.

"In all honesty, though, this season hasn't been hard. It has been maybe the most fun year of my life. This is a humble, unselfish team. There was no pulling teeth the way there was at times last season to get them together and to work and practice hard. Fans only see the three hours of the game; it's the other 17 [hours per week] that matter. It's really exciting to watch these guys prepare."

Now, it's almost time for the bowl game. And, soon, Beckman will sign his third recruiting class. The first two were top-rated among MAC teams by some national analysts.

"I've said it before; I embraced the opportunity to be the 25th head football coach at Toledo because I knew there could be greatness here," Beckman said. "Look at the facilities, the community support, the media attention you get when you win. Why shouldn't this program be one that strives to win championships? Why shouldn't it strive to be recognized as one of the top non-BCS programs in the country?"

Eight wins and a bowl date? To listen to Beckman, it's just the start. And, of course, he'll have a lot of help, and a lot of scouting reports, as the journey continues. It's good to be a coach's son.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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