I believe University of Toledo head football coach Tom Amstutz is just now starting to understand how easy he had it as Rockets defensive coordinator.
A year ago, Amstutz was the players' best friend on the coaching staff. He recruited many of them, and they could come to him with their problems and he would listen and understand. He was the buffer between the players and then-head coach Gary Pinkel.
With Amstutz elevated to head coach, UT needs a new buffer between Amstutz and the players. He can no longer be the players' best friend. They've betrayed his friendship.
Amstutz and assistant coach David Walkosky are the only holdovers from Pinkel's staff.
Maybe Amstutz feels that because he knows his players best, he should continue in the same capacity as coach/friend/ confidant.
Amstutz can't play that role anymore. The dynamics have changed. Maybe his players don't see it that way.
What Amstutz defends as aggressive play is actually undisciplined mayhem. But, remember, quarterback Tavares Bolden and tailback Chester Taylor won't be around to help the Rockets cover up their mistakes next year.
There's absolutely no reason for the Rockets, who returned 18 starters, to go from being one of the least penalized teams in the Mid-American Conference to the MAC's most penalized team in the span of one season.
That never occurred under Pinkel because Pinkel's players understood their aggressive “mistakes” would be met with retribution.
It's the head coach's responsibility to keep his players in line and help them understand that certain on-field behavior won't be tolerated.
The biggest difference I see between Pinkel and Amstutz is that Pinkel displayed a genuine understanding of what ingredients it takes to run a successful football program. Amstutz, in his first season, is still learning.
Amstutz's Rockets need a wake-up call. If Friday's 56-21 embarrassment at Bowling Green doesn't grab the players' attention, then the situation is more serious than I thought.
Surprisingly, Amstutz acted like the Rockets played a great game against BG. He didn't apologize to UT fans and alumni for not getting his players motivated against their biggest rival.
Truth be told, if Amstutz turns on a film of the game, he'll see problems everywhere - offense, defense, special teams.
Amstutz shouldn't feel like he always has to protect his players in public. They're big enough to wipe their own noses.
If someone blows an assignment or the defense takes an unnecessary personal-foul penalty, Amstutz shouldn't be afraid to call them on the carpet. If Amstutz doesn't want to be the bad guy, he should find a bad guy.
The irony in all of this is that, on paper, Amstutz accomplished what he was paid handsomely to do. He took over an excellent football team and led the 8-2 Rockets to their first bowl game in six years.
Before the season, I said I would call Amstutz's first season a success if UT finished 9-2 and went to a bowl game. The Rockets played one less game because of the Sept. 11 tragedy, but Amstutz did an excellent job. It's just that the Rockets should be so much better.
John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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