Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Coordinator picks loom big for UT's Amstutz

Tom Amstutz is right back where he was four years ago when he was hired as head coach of the University of Toledo football team.

He needs to find an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator now that Rob Spence has left for Clemson and Lou West has somehow, magically, landed himself a head coaching job at Division I-AA Indiana State.

They are the two most important positions on Amstutz's staff.

For as good as the Rockets' offense was during Spence's four-year tenure - Toledo never finished worse than 13th in the nation in total offense - the defense was mediocre under West, ranking 24th in the nation in 2001, 58th in 2002, 72nd in 2003 and 89th this season.

Talk about a steady decline. It was starting to look more like a free-fall off the nearest cliff.

West's defense surrendered 24.8 points and 322.5 yards per game in his first season as coordinator in 2001, when Amstutz's fingerprints were still fresh on the product, but those numbers ballooned to 31.1 points and 417.5 yards this season, when the Rockets were shredded for a whopping 404 points in 13 games.

That's more than an extra touchdown and 95 additional yards per game difference from West's first year to his last.

Yikes! Somebody close the floodgates.

Amstutz must have had nightmares watching West's defenses surrender so many yards and points the last four seasons.

In Amstutz's final year as Toledo's defensive coordinator in 2000, the Rockets ranked third in the nation in points allowed per game (11.4) and total defense (269.0). They also pitched three shutouts and held seven opponents to 14 points or less.

That's defense, Amstutz-style. Not the cheapened, cubic zirconia product West has been trotting out on the field.

That's why it makes it almost laughable that Indiana State actually hired West to be its head

coach on Dec. 13. Of course, that school is more famous for being basketball star Larry Bird's alma mater than it is for its football, so maybe that explains it.

From this vantage point, it looks like the Sycamores may have spared West the indignity of getting fired by Amstutz after yet another defensive disaster by the Rockets against Connecticut in the Motor City Bowl.

"There were some concerns I wanted to address on defense at the end of the season," Amstutz said from the recruiting trail. "There were some things I thought that needed to be evaluated."

Still, Amstutz was quick to point out that West's defense was good enough for the Rockets to capture three Mid-American Conference West Division titles, make three bowl appearances and win two MAC championship games.

However, Amstutz offered no defense for West's shoddy defense. There is none. The numbers don't lie.

With West gone, Amstutz likely will look outside the program for a replacement. Hopefully, he will find the right guy to run his defense this time around.

"I am looking to bring new changes and new ideas into our defense and our style," he said.

That's the best part about Amstutz. He always is open to new things.

Four years ago, he got blistered for scrapping Gary Pinkel's run first, pass second offense. But shortly after Amstutz hired Spence, the moaning and groaning stopped.

Toledo fans fell in love with Spence's pass-happy offense and the bubble screen became part of their every day vocabulary.

Amstutz was lucky to keep Spence around for as long as he did. And although the Rockets' offense probably will never be the quite same again, Amstutz is not fretting Spence's departure - at least publicly.

"Rob was an excellent coach," he said. "But when I look back at the offensive system we installed four years ago, and the success we've had with it, it wasn't just one coach, it wasn't just one person.

"I have confidence in our entire offensive staff. They've had a lot of input into our offense, they understand it, and our system will remain intact."

Amstutz probably won't look far for Spence's replacement. He has two very qualified candidates on his staff.

Receivers coach John Shannon has been employed as an offensive coordinator at four schools - Troy State, Jackson State, Pacific and Morhead State. And running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Doug Downing is a former Purdue quarterback who spent three years as offensive coordinator at Western Illinois.

"You won't notice as much difference in our offense as people might think right now," Amstutz said. "I think our offense will be just as successful next year as it was this year."

Hopefully, the Rockets' defense will regain its old identity, as well.

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