Before they spotted softness in a zone coverage, freshman football players at the University of Toledo learned to eye bargains at the grocery store. Before analyzing an unbalanced offensive line, they reviewed spreadsheets for balancing a budget.
Welcome to a new era of Toledo football, one in which newcomers are taught basic skills to ease their transition into life without parental oversight.
Implemented this summer by coach Matt Campbell and former director of operations Adam Salon, this classroom-style program will apparently put Toledo at the frontier of college athletics if university officials approve a proposal to make it a credited course.
“It’s as beneficial as any other class they’ll take in terms of their own development,” Salon said.
Thirty-three freshmen were ordered last month to the football building to hear Salon lecture on finances.
The first week he spoke about checking accounts and online banking, and where banks are located around campus.
The next he discussed spending choices and the value of budgeting.
He concluded the three-week seminar with advice on investing and explained the difference between good and bad debt.
Salon, who this spring left his position with the football program to focus on his financial services company, envisions the course growing to include freshman athletes from other sports.
Who knows, if this thing becomes a hit, he said, maybe nonathletes will want to pull up a chair. The curriculum is likely to evolve, Salon said, to include skills such as ironing clothes, sorting whites from darks in laundry, and changing a flat tire.
“Let’s try to teach them some things that we sort of take for granted they know,” Salon said.
Larry Burns, vice president for external affairs, who is in Greece with Toledo’s basketball team, told The Blade in an email that he expects to meet soon with Salon to discuss steps to get the program approved for academic credit.
“I don’t know of anybody else out there that’s doing it,” Campbell said. “We thought it would be a great opportunity for our guys to grow as people.”
Campbell, since joining the staff as an assistant coach more than four years ago, has been the architect of a reconstruction of the program’s image. Arrests and suspensions are infrequent, community service is high, and for the first time the team last semester posted a 3.0 grade-point average.
Campbell and Salon got together after last season to see what else they could do and came away with a two-pronged initiative aimed at developing players as citizens.
The first measure was to host a symposium in which they invited 10 or so community members in February to speak to the team about careers. Among the guests were Romules Durant, a former walk-on linebacker at Toledo and now the Toledo Public Schools superintendent, and Greg Dempsey, who has two state titles to his name as coach of Central Catholic.
The other facet centered on life-skills development for young players. Salon, who worked previously at Northwestern, took the idea from Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald, who Salon said “commits as much time to that stuff as he commits to watching film on an opponent.”
Salon is unsure how the course will look at its completion — “We’re going to ask questions as they come up” — but he hopes to develop a curriculum in which players are tasked with assignments and group projects, and ultimately become more self-sufficient than when they left home.
“Anything we can do to make them feel more empowered and more comfortable in their life, that’s as much our responsibility if not more than teaching them how to a block a nine-technique,” he said.