Not many coaches use the tower the way Bear Bryant did at Alabama to look out over their football empire and run it from there. Most coaches are more hands-on, and the University of Toledo's Tom Amstutz is one of them.
But Amstutz is also aware that no matter how much he works with the players on their level, he will always be the guy in the big office at the end of the hall. There will always be a certain distance between coach and player.
So Amstutz needs a link that will insure that he has his finger on the team's pulse, and that the 100-plus Rockets are hearing his message. He recently named five captains whom he expects to provide that bridge.
“I told them that they are now the voice of the team to me,” Amstutz said yesterday. “And as I give thoughts and directions about where our team needs to go, I communicate with them and let them know what I am thinking. They fill a critical role in making certain that we are doing everything we need to do.”
The UT captains for 2003 are defensive end Frank Ofili, offensive guard Tim Dirksen, tight end Andrew Clarke, rover Paul Dye and defensive tackle Chaz Williams. Clarke is a junior, the rest are seniors.
The coaching staff put together a ballot that listed the seniors and several underclassmen who were regarded as leaders. After the team voted, the staff talked over each top candidate to make sure they had the qualities Amstutz was looking for.
“As our captains, they will need to fully trust me, and I will have to fully trust them. It will be a very close working relationship,” Amstutz said.
Toledo has traditionally named just four captains, and almost always seniors.
“I changed it to five this year because I felt like it was the best thing to do,” Amstutz said. “We'll have two captains on offense and two on defense, and one on special teams [Dye]. We've never had that before, and we hope it puts real strong emphasis on special teams.”
Dye, a defensive starter, also plays on all of UT's special teams and has blocked four punts in his career. Ofili said the five captains give UT a good mix of personalities.
“Chaz is a more vocal guy, yelling at everyone, and I'm more the kind who will try and set the example and not say as much,” Ofili said. “We have to take the place of the coaches when the team is away from them. That is a role that we'll all have to get used to.”
“I'm not really a big talker or motivator,” Clarke said. “I've always tried to lead by example, but I think that has to change a little now, and I'll need to be more vocal to get guys going and ready for practice.”
While the captains' roles might have been more a ceremonial thing a few decades ago, tighter rules and restrictions today limit the amount of time coaches have the players under their direct stewardship.
“That is one of the major areas where the captains step in,” Amstutz said. “They will keep the guys on track. When they walk in the room they will already have the respect of the team, and they will want to do things the right way. At the same time, if they have a negative attitude then they are going to be leading the team in a negative way. They are going to be watched, and whatever direction they take the team, the team will follow.”
“We're around the other players much more than the coaches are,” Ofili said, “so if we see something negative going on, it is our responsibility to correct it before the coaches are even aware of it. We have to be the first to deal with it.”
Clarke said he learned a lot about his new responsibilities by watching former UT lineman Jim Harding serve in the role a few years ago.
“I saw how Harding did it, how he acted on the practice field and in the classroom, and it was mostly a case of leading by setting a strong example,” Clarke said. “There's two ways to do it. Last year Tom Ward was a very vocal captain. If I can get a little of both of their qualities then I'll be all right.”
Clarke said the captains are often the sounding board for players' thoughts and concerns.
“As a freshman, if I had a question, I'd never go to the head coach with it,” Clarke said, “and it wasn't very often that I would ask the position coach either. I felt more comfortable asking another player - one of the captains - and as a captain you have to be that guy.”
Ofili, who is starting his fifth year in the UT program, said he has watched the captains play a big role in the Rockets winning a share of the MAC West title the past three seasons.
“The captains have always been a major part of the success in this program,” Ofili said. “Last year, seeing Tom Ward carry out all of his assignments, almost to perfection, made me want to step up my game. You have to yell from time to time, but it is more a case of leading by example. Players like to see you do it first.”
Amstutz, 19-7 in two years as head coach, and the Rockets open the season at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas on Aug. 29.