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The most unsung member of the University of Toledo football program doesn’t get much compensation for his labor.
No paycheck at the end of the week. No office to work from. Not even ink in the media guide.
Chuck Pratt is not one to complain. Not even last Saturday when the 74-year-old volunteer coach hoisted with his right arm a sign alerting the defense of every third down and red zone situation in Toledo’s opener at Florida. Alternating with his left arm, which was confined to a sling because of a recent operation to implant a defibrillator in his chest, was not an option.
“It was a light sign, and there was no wind down there,” Pratt said. “It was dead.”
This marks the 15th season Pratt has been on staff, a run that spans four head coaches. Two of them, whom Pratt says are alike in many ways, will square off Saturday when Toledo visits Faurot Field to take on Missouri.
Pratt, once a successful head coach at Perrysburg High School, is an encyclopedia of Rocket football knowledge that bridges the Gary Pinkel and Matt Campbell eras.
He worked during Pinkel’s final two seasons of 1999 and 2000, stuck around for the rise and fall of Tom Amstutz, assisted in Tim Beckman’s renovation project, and is showing no signs of slowing in the second year with Campbell.
His role is vaguely defined as team mentor. He helps younger players with their studies, culls newspaper articles on upcoming opponents, and serves as a messenger on game day between coaches and players and trainers. Some coaches have commanded him to monitor class attendance.
“Everybody loves coach Pratt,” defensive lineman Christian Smith said. “It’s an honor to have him around. He’s been around so many great players.”
Pratt even created a form that he uses to critique the game-week performance of the head coach.
Campbell, according to Pratt’s evaluation, did a good job preparing and motivating his team for its season opener, a 24-6 loss at Florida.
Pratt said the coach convinced his team the Rockets could upset the 10th-ranked Gators.
“Me being such a young guy, it’s great to have someone that’s been here and seen Toledo be extremely successful at the highest level,” Campbell, 33, said. “He’s seen guys like coach Pinkel and coach Amstutz in their heyday and the tradition of Toledo football in one of its greatest eras.”
Pratt said his boss is wired similarly to the man who brought on him staff, suggesting Campbell, like Pinkel, leaves no detail unturned, shuns outside praise, and is an effective motivator.
He called Campbell an “outstanding leader” who “knows what to say and when to say it.” Pratt said Pinkel “used a little bit of the fear factor” to make his point.
It was only months after the 1998 high school season — his last at Perrysburg, where he won five Northern Lakes League titles — that Pratt grew restless and approached Pinkel about helping out. Pinkel, who attended the same church, obliged, and Pratt came on board that spring.
“He was the first one that allowed me to come to this level,” Pratt said. “I’m so grateful to him for that.”
They’ve kept in contact but not in the last year or so. On the field prior to the 3:30 p.m. kickoff figures to be a good time to catch up.
Pratt will again be playing injured this week as he raises his sign without the assistance of a second arm. Doctors ordered the defibrillator because they detected his heart was working harder than they liked. He had a heart attack two years ago climbing a mountain in Phoenix and nearly died.
Pratt actually laughs when he tells the story. If he ever was going to suffer a heart attack, he picked the perfect time, he said. After his heart attack began, the next hiker to pass on Camelback Mountain was a doctor equipped with aspirin and water.
Soon a helicopter arrived and rushed Pratt to a nearby hospital, where doctors called his condition critical. A planned two-week vacation to visit one of his three daughters turned into a six-week struggle.
He’s itching to ditch the sling and resume his workout routine, which includes running steps at the Glass Bowl and walking backward on the weight room treadmill. He’ll need to be in shape for his next challenge.
“I’d like to beat that darn thing,” Pratt said of Camelback. “It won that time, but I’ll beat it.”