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Published: Sunday, 8/24/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Matt Campbell not showing any pressure

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

What you see is what you get with Matt Campbell. He laughs a lot, smiles even more. There’s probably a more serious side, maybe even one with a little edge, which his staff and players see, but we don’t. Not often, at least. His own description would be even keeled.

Maybe it’s because he blows the whistle to end practice and watches Katelyn run across the practice field to jump into his arms. She’s 5 and a beauty. Her little sister, 4-year-old Isabella, is right behind. Rudy, 13 months, isn’t running yet, so Campbell jogs across the field to see him, and soon they’re rolling on the ground together.

The kids don’t care what daddy’s record is, although if they did they could certainly live with it. At age 34, Campbell begins his third year as head football coach at the University of Toledo with a 17-9 mark and a contract for four more seasons. A lot has come his way early if not easily. A good job. A great life at home.

Pressure? What pressure?

Here’s what the rest of us see:

A nonconference schedule that includes top-25 Missouri and road trips to Cincinnati and Iowa State (and we shouldn’t overlook New Hampshire, a quality FCS opponent in the opener Saturday that the Rockets had best not overlook either).

There’s the one-time molehill that has become a MAC mountain, Northern Illinois, and those four straight UT losses.

Then there’s rival Bowling Green, 25 miles down the road, which upstaged the whole conference, including NIU, a year ago and is the preseason pick to win it all again.

Some Toledo fans may not even realize it, but it has been a decade since the Rockets won a championship, be it an outright division title or a conference crown.

There are expectations for 2014. UT is the MAC West favorite. There are holes to fill, sure, but maybe the best depth of any Toledo team in many a year. There is a new defensive coordinator with the credentials to get it right.

Could this be a MAC championship team?

Pressure? What pressure?

Campbell just chuckles and reminds you he played for and coached under the great Larry Kehres, who nobody ever saw sweat, at Mount Union.

“He taught me that nothing is ever as bad as it looks, and nothing is ever as good as it looks,” Campbell said. “It has to be an even keel because these kids are 18 to 22 [years old], and they react to me. There are highs and lows from week to week, from half to half, from quarter to quarter.

“I can’t show any effects of pressure because they’re watching me. We all grow from understanding the process. To reach our potential we have to have the ability to get better every day. It’s even keel. The process will get us there.”

Another Toledo coach, then also in his 30s, used to talk a lot about the process. He still does. His name is Nick Saban, now at Alabama. He has coached four national championship teams and a couple others that came up a win, maybe a play, short. There’s nothing wrong with a process.

The two men couldn’t be more different. Saban is all edges unless you are among the few who get to know him. Campbell is carefree by comparison.

Still, how about that nonconference slate?

“If we play good football, we can win any game on our schedule; if we don’t show up we can lose any game on our schedule,” he said.

Well, that’s simple enough.

How about those back-to-back, late-season conference showdowns against NIU and BG?

“That can’t gnaw at you,” Campbell said. “It’s exciting to play in games like those. But that’s enough about that. If we don’t worry about the here and now we’ll never get to those games and have them be meaningful. There’s that process you have to take care of to get to play in big games. You’re only guaranteed 12 chances.”

The Rockets found that out the hard way a year ago. They did not take care of the process or of business. They had a five-game winning streak snapped by Northern Illinois, which wasn’t the end of the world, but then ended the regular season with an almost-unthinkable loss at Akron. Despite seven wins and bowl eligibility no bid was tendered. There was no margin for such error.

There is one time you won’t find a smile on Campbell’s face. He is stoic, as might be expected, after losses. He was downright grim, maybe a tad dumbfounded, after the loss at Akron. The night of no bowl bid, he seemed confused with a little anger simmering beneath the surface.

Now, though, the Rockets are 0-0. Everything is out there for them. A championship season?

Matt Campbell is smiling. Even keel.

Pressure? What pressure?

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



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