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Campbell, Rodriguez cut from same cloth

Defensive backgrounds shape offensive attacks


UT coach Matt Campbell, left, and Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.


TUCSON -- The newcomer, at 32, made his regular season coaching debut. His 49-year-old counterpart patrolled the other sideline, hoping to soon recapture a formula that a few years ago made him one of the most accomplished men in his profession.

The careers of University of Toledo's Matt Campbell and Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, whose teams faced off Saturday night, are at completely different points.

The coaches are, however, linked in one sense: Their vaunted offenses derive from the same template. And another: Neither played offense in college.

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They are a rarefied breed, Campbell having soared through the ranks on offense following an All-American career as a defensive lineman, and Rodriguez, whose background is of a defensive back and who many credit for the proliferation of the spread offense in college football.

In either case, a fortuitous moment, kick-started their journey to offensive prowess.

Unable to land a job coaching, Campbell was student teaching at Salem High in eastern Ohio when a mutual friend connected him to the staff at Bowling Green. Campbell would be a graduate offensive assistant, learning from some of the most respected offensive minds in football, including three current FBS coordinators: Gregg Brandon (Wyoming), Mick McCall (Northwestern), and Greg Studrawa (Louisiana State). Those offenses, led by quarterbacks Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs, struck fear in bigger programs who were confounded by a multiple-receiver system in which the quarterback was a threat to run. Said Campbell, who helped out with tight ends and returned later as a full-time line coach, "we were at the cutting edge of all of this."

"I've always felt if you coach an offensive line with a defensive mentality, you have a chance year in and year out to be successful," said Campbell, a defensive end at Mount Union.

Years earlier, Rodriguez was creating a manuscript. As head coach at Glenville State, the sails of his career switched from defense to offense on a fluke play. The quarterback bobbled a snap at practice and missed the handoff. Instead of running toward his blockers, he took off the opposite direction, scurrying past a flailing defensive end. Born that day was the zone read, which affords quarterbacks the option to hand off the ball or keep it based on the movement of a defensive end.

"I thought, what are the things that were difficult to defend as a player, and what was difficult to defense as a coach," said Rodriguez, a player and coach at West Virginia.

Taking that trickery with him to Division I, Rodriguez produced two dynamic quarterbacks in West Virginia's Pat White and Michigan's Denard Robinson.

Oregon State's Mike Riley is the lone Pac-12 coach other than Rodriguez whose coaching roots are opposite the side of the ball that which he played. There are three that fit that description in the Mid-American Conference: Bowling Green's Dave Clawson, Northern Illinois' Dave Doeren, and Campbell.

Clawson, a defensive back at Williams, sees a "tremendous advantage" in having played defense in college and having coached every position group at one point or another save for defensive line.

With Campbell as coordinator, UT's offenses the last two seasons finished first or second in the MAC in scoring. The 42.2 points put up in 2011 ranked eighth nationally. Some of that credit must go to Rodriguez, who shared his knowledge of the spread with Campbell a few years back when Campbell took his staff at Mount Union to West Virginia.

"Having a defensive background has definitely helped me understand what the defense is trying to accomplish," Campbell said.

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