Wounds incurred by an unforgiving bowl system have yet to heal for Matt Campbell.
The University of Toledo’s football coach is still smarting a month or so after his team’s postseason snub. He remains adamant that the Rockets’ body of work eclipsed that of some bowl participants from the Mid-American Conference.
“We put our faith into somebody else’s hands, and when you do that sometimes you get disappointed,” Campbell said last week. “Does it make it right that our football team didn’t play in a bowl game? No. I still feel that way.”
Campbell said he tuned his TV into some games involving the five MAC bowl participants. The outcomes — an 0-5 eyesore — did nothing to diminish his feeling indignant.
This offseason is crucial to the Rockets taking two steps forward in 2014 for the one step they took backward in closing the season with an upset loss at Akron to finish 7-5. Campbell must choose a quarterback among three unproven challengers and fill a coaching staff with three holes.
Unlike last offseason when Toledo was among nine schools in the nation to return all of its assistants, Campbell is experiencing a mini-exodus.
Defensive coordinator Tom Matukewicz left to be head coach at Southeast Missouri State, and safeties coach Bryce Saia will be his defensive coordinator. Matukewicz also coached the linebackers, so Campbell must replace three positions on defense.
There is also a vacancy at running back as Louis Ayeni, who held the title of associate head coach, left last week for Iowa State.
Campbell said he expects to make hires early this week to ensure his staff is functioning fully Thursday, when a monthlong recruiting dead period ends. Depending on the recruiting site, the Rockets have as many as 19 commitments, with a handful of them ostensibly delaying their enrollment until 2015.
Campbell said he expects the class to cap at 14 or 15, which is not believed to include 2013 grayshirts Austin Niswander, a linebacker from Findlay, and Brad Spelman, a long snapper from the Columbus area. Two recruits enrolled at UT last week: Charlotte safety Cameron Mattison and junior college defensive end Tre James.
“They’re much needed guys to compete in the spring,” Campbell said.
If Campbell’s routine for announcing starters holds true he’ll push his decision at quarterback close to the Aug. 30 opener against New Hampshire. He’s not tipping his hand, saying the competition is “really wide open” and lauding Logan Woodside, Phillip Ely, and Michael Julian as quarterbacks “with intangibles to be very high level guys.”
Woodside enrolled early last year and won the backup job by default. His four appearances included steering the Rockets to an early-season win against Eastern Washington after starter Terrance Owens suffered a first-half injury.
Campbell’s assessment of Woodside reads like a scouting report: “Grit and toughness. Above-average arm strength. Solid athleticism. Leadership ability.”
Ely, an Alabama import who sat last year at UT, “can probably make every throw imaginable,” according to Campbell, who added, “he’s got a chance to run the offense by himself at times.”
Speculation that Julian will be the third wheel is thus far unfounded. Campbell trumpeted the redshirt freshman’s arm strength and athleticism “as high end” of any of the three.
“I sat all three down and said everything you do from your leadership on and off the field to what you do through winter workouts and how you lead your position group, how you handle adversity, the ups and downs of spring practice, it’s all going to be evaluated,” Campbell said.
A fourth quarterback, Travis Smith, who went undefeated in his high school career at Ithaca, Mich., is expected to sign with UT and join the team for fall camp.
ADAMS LEAVES: Receiver Rodney Adams, a crown jewel in last year’s recruiting class, left the team and returned home to Florida, Campbell said. The move was precipitated by the death of Adams’ mother, who was killed in a November car accident. He’s since become the legal guardian of his younger brother.
Adams, who at one point or another had offers from Alabama, Florida State, and Oklahoma, finished his freshman season with two catches for 15 yards.