Toledo's Matt Campbell, 32, is the youngest head coach among Football Bowl Subdivision teams by three years. The Rockets finished 9-4 last year.
This summer the University of Toledo football coaches escaped from the office and took a retreat.
Discussed inside their borrowed lake homes were the needs of the program as it enters a new era under head coach Matt Campbell.
That's how the mornings went. The afternoons were for fun and games, a reminder of the ripe age of the colleagues assembled by the 32-year-old Campbell. The youngest staff in the nation among Football Bowl Subdivision teams), at an average of 34 years, decompressed for three days in the Irish Hills of Michigan by fishing, golfing, shooting hoops, and playing cornhole.
There was no shuffleboard being played, no early bed times. There also is no guilt felt by these whippersnappers for ascending through the ranks so early.
Sept. 1: at Arizona, 10:30
Sept. 8: at Wyoming, 4
Sept. 15: Bowling Green, 7
Sept. 22: Coastal Carolina, 7
Sept. 29: at Western Michigan, 7
Oct. 6: Central Michigan, 3
Oct. 13: at Eastern Michigan, 1
Oct 20: Cincinnati, TBA
Oct. 27: at Buffalo, 3:30
Nov. 6: Ball State, 8
Nov. 14: at Northern Illinois, 9
Nov. 20: Akron, 7
"If we're young, then I guess we're young, but we have great relationships with the players and we have great relationships with each other," said offensive line coach Tom Manning, the baby of the group at 29.
The staff's first step to achieving its stated goal of taking the program from good to consistently great gets underway Saturday at Arizona. The Rockets, who won nine games in 2011 and eight the year before, are the preseason pick to capture the West title in the Mid-American Conference.
Campbell, the youngest FBS coach by three years, turns 33 on Nov. 29 -- one day before he hopes to be leading his team in the MAC title game.
The oldest staffer, quarterbacks coach Scott Isphording, will turn 41 next Sunday as the team flies back from Tucson. Three years ago, he was the staff's youngest coach at Ohio University.
"People say, oh, you're only 32," Isphording said. "Matt's taken that and said, yeah I am only 32, and because of that we're going to have more energy than any staff. We're going to do things right, but we're also going to have some fun out there."
Fun has permeated the program since Campbell was promoted from offensive coordinator in December. An Internet video shows the Rockets pelting one another with dodgeballs during winter workouts, and another documents wrestling matches contested in a makeshift MMA-style octagon.
Involvement wasn't limited to the players. Defensive coordinator Tom Matukewicz, 39, tore his MCL in a triumph over 32-year-old special teams coordinator Stan Watson. His wounds have healed, but Isphording's psyche is still shaken after a controversial loss to 40-year-old safeties coach Bryce Saia, in which he claims "I got hosed." He likewise is not amused about getting dropped into a dunk tank, the result of pin-point accuracy by one of his players after a spring practice.
"No one else is doing that in the country," running backs coach Louis Ayeni, 31, said.
There are myriad examples of head coaches tender in age enjoying success. Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, whose team won the past two Big Ten titles, was 35 when he was promoted from defensive coordinator. Butler basketball coach Brad Stevens produced two runner-up finishes in the NCAA tournament before turning 35. Narrowing the focus to UT, former swimming and diving coach Liz Hinkleman was 24 when she got the job. She led the Rockets to the MAC title two years later and was crowned league coach of the year.
"We might be the youngest staff in the country, but we have old school values," Ayeni said.
Thumb through the coaches section of the media guide and you'll see enough babies to clean out the children's clothing section at the student bookstore. Campbell, Matukewicz, Isphording, Watson, and strength and conditioning coach Rudy Wade, 34, all have two children -- none older than 5.
The staff's youthfulness is even noticed in their musical tastes. The pop hit "Party in the U.S.A." was played on a loop at a recent practice, at the behest of Campbell, according to cornerback Jordan Haden.
"I'm so happy with our coaching staff," kicker Jeremiah Detmer said. "Young or old, whatever age they are, they've done a great job. Campbell's done such a great job. I think his age really helps. He knows where we're coming from."
The ratio of assistants is split evenly between newcomers and carryovers from Tim Beckman's staff. Campbell promoted receivers coach Jason Candle, 32, to offensive coordinator and retained Ayeni, Isphording, and defensive line coach Eli Rasheed, 40. He filled out the room with: Matukewicz, whom he plucked from Northern Illinois; Manning, a former UT graduate assistant who spent last season at his alma mater Mount Union; Watson, who bolted from rival Bowling Green to join Campbell, his teammate at Mount Union; the much traveled Saia, who recently was defensive coordinator at Emporia State; and cornerbacks coach D.K. McDonald, 32, an Ohio native who comes from William & Mary.
Isphording said upon the staff returning from the retreat they knew precisely the changes necessary to take the program to the next level -- from being good to consistently great. "You would swear we've all been together for five or six years," Isphording said. "We didn't skip a beat."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.
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