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On the one-year anniversary of his hiring press conference at the University of Toledo, Tim Beckman sat down in his office with Blade sports writer Zach Silka for a wide-ranging interview to discuss his first year leading the Rockets.
The season might be over, but Tim Beckman is still hard at work these days.
The University of Toledo football coach spent the last week criss-crossing the eastern half of the United States visiting
prospective recruits and their coaches and families, all in the name of continuing to build the Rocket football program.
While Beckman and his staff didn't achieve all of the goals they set out to accomplish when he was hired last December - chief among them, winning a Mid-American Conference championship and competing in a bowl game - they did make an immediate impact at UT.
The Rockets finished with a 5-7 record, two games better than the 3-9 mark they ended with in 2008.
Of the 11 new coaches outside the BCS conferences this
season, only Dave Clawson at Bowling Green recorded a winning record at 7-5. Beckman just missed out on finishing with a .500 record by losing 38-24 to the Falcons on Nov. 27.
Although it was a season of peaks and valleys, the highlight came in Beckman's first win as a head coach with a 54-38 rout of Colorado on national TV at the Glass Bowl.
The victory garnered plenty of attention from the community and across the country, but it all came crashing down when
senior quarterback Aaron Opelt went down with a shoulder
injury against Western Michigan on Oct. 10.
The Rockets went 2-5 from that point on, leaving them just short of their first winning season since 2005. It was also the first time Beckman had finished a season with a losing record since 2000 when he was the defensive coordinator at BG.
Q: Tim, looking back on your first year at UT, how would you summarize your rookie season as a head coach?
Well, I think the first thing that you talk about is, we had the biggest turnaround in the MAC West. We were plus-2 in the win category in comparison to the year before, and Central Michigan was plus-2. Everybody else was either not as good as they were the year before or only plus-1. When you look at it that way, we definitely did some things to improve this program, no question about it.
I think the expectation level after the Colorado game grew so much that it made it seem like we were almost better than what we were, because Colorado comes in here and we beat them pretty handily.
Finishing the season 5-7, I don't consider it a success unless we're winning. But, I'm proud of being able to take a program that was 3-9 and make it two games better. There were games that we won that we might not have had the same talent, but we won it. And there are games that we lost that we probably had as good as talent and lost. So I think it kind of was a wash in that way, but I was proud of the way the kids played for four quarters every game and got better each and every week.
Q: Obviously, you can never really know what it's like to be a head coach until you're actually a head coach, so what is something you learned about the position that you didn't know before this season?
The time that is put in away from the football was probably a little bit more than I realized. At the very beginning of the year trying to be involved in too many things was probably the hard thing, because I wanted to have a little piece of the offense, a little piece of the defense and then special teams. But with all the other things that you have to do, I started working on one certain area, and I went and spent a little bit more time with the defense at the end of the year.
The second thing that was hard for me was not coaching a position, because I love coaching a position. Not actually running the [position] meetings was hard. I'm in all the meetings, I run the team meeting, I help with the special teams meeting, but to sit in a linebacker meeting or a defensive back meeting, that was tough for me. But it wasn't my meeting. I let my coaches coach. That's what they're hired to do.
Will there be any changes to your coaching staff in the offseason?
No. One of the special things here at Toledo in comparison to the other MAC schools, the guys know that there is stability here. There's not going to be guys being let go after one year. I don't do that.
One of your receivers, Eric Page, had an outstanding freshman season. How did you see him grow as the season went on and how do you see him continuing to develop in the next three years with the Rockets?
I really think he's matured, because he was forced to mature quickly, off the field as well. That's why I kind of weaned the freshmen and didn't let them speak with the media right from the start and only let them talk after the last game. I just think that it's tough on those kids, especially a young man that just turned 18 in the middle of the season [like Page did], so let's just work on academics and football.
He's doing unbelievable in academics, but you feel that that's going to be what happens because he's successful on the football field. So he's feeling good about himself, he's feeling good about the program, he's feeling good that he can be successful in the classroom also. He is a well-rounded human being and has gotten better not only on the football field but off. Weight room, everything.
His future - I always say this to the guys - is really up to him on how far he wants to take his career. I can see Eric Page being a multi-tasking type player for us that can definitely be behind center and can run and be the option on a pitch play, things that they kind of tried to utilize with a guy like Percy Harvin [at Florida]. But Percy Harvin didn't do that his freshman year. I mean, you move him gradually into those plays.
He's definitely a talent, as well as some of the other [freshmen] that we have. David Pasquale being a guy that can run and pass the football, along with Austin Dantin. Defensively, T.J. Fatinikun is a young man that can stand up and play linebacker and drop into coverage or he can pressure you off the edge.
You mentioned a couple of your quarterbacks, Dantin and Pasquale. Will Dantin be the starting quarterback next season or will it be an open competition?
It'll be an open competition. It always is. I told the seniors when they were in here last year that it was going to be an open competition. Alex Pettee, David Pasquale, Terrance Owens, along with a young man that we're bringing in [through recruiting] next year, will compete with Dantin for the starting job.
How difficult was it coping with losing your starting quarterback to injury in the fifth game of the season?
Losing Aaron Opelt when we were fourth or fifth in the country in offense, who else is usually successful when that happens? Was Oklahoma? They lose their guy and end up being 7-5. That's the game of college football to me today. You better have a darn good quarterback. Oklahoma had a redshirt freshman come in and be their quarterback. We had a true freshman come in and be our quarterback. I think Austin Dantin did an outstanding job when he came in, and then he got hurt.
I learned from [Ohio State coach] Jim Tressel that you can't do anything about injuries, so the more you worry about them the more you're probably going to end up having a heart attack. I think [Florida coach] Urban Meyer made the best comment last week when he had to suspend [Carlos Dunlap], 'that's what backups are for.'
As a head coach, I know everybody comes to you for help, but who did you go to for advice during the season?
Of course, my dad [Dave]. My dad takes all our game tapes and evaluates every single one of them. I mean, he enjoys that. That's fun to him. He wants to do it. He does all that stuff for us.
I talk to Tress and Urban throughout the year, along with Larry Fedora down at Southern Miss. But I know they're burdened too. They have games they must win.
Sometimes I'd even go to my wife [Kim]. I know she doesn't know much about football, but sometimes she knows just as much about everything else. It's still about life and how you get the kids motivated.
Is it hard to believe it's already been one year since you've been at UT?
It's been fast. Real fast. I still feel I'm the luckiest guy around. I'm around my family, and I'm coaching football, and I'm building another family, my football family. I have great coaches, I have great people I work with.
I just take it one day at a time. We just have to get better each and every day that we do things. There's still some things we definitely need to improve upon and accomplish as a program. But I'm proud with how much we've accomplished in a year, but I know there's no stopping the potential that can be here.