Amstutz doesn’t know if he’ll be asked backWritten by Norm Wamer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
After the Toledo pulled a shocking upset of Michigan on Oct. 11 at The Big House in Ann Arbor, Rockets head coach Tom Amstutz’ cell phone didn’t stop ringing for days. Amstutz admits that he has gotten phone calls from all over the country, sometimes six at a time. One phone call that he hasn’t gotten is one from Athletic Director Mike O’Brien with the words “we’d like to give you a contract extension.”
The best way to sabotage a coach’s ability to recruit is to be labeled a lame duck. Every college recruit who considers Toledo would be told by competing coaches that Amstutz is in danger of being fired. Amstutz’ current contract ends at the end of the 2009 season, so the decision on whether “Toledo Tom” becomes “Unemployed Amstutz” might be just weeks away.
It’s a compelling and complex decision that O’Brien and the administration have to make. It’s also not an easy one. Detractors say that Toledo is on their way to a third straight losing season; home attendance is not what it once was. They have off-the-field player problems; problems in the classroom that have cost scholarships, along with past gambling rumors that still haven’t totally been put to rest. Even though Toledo pulled off the stunner over the Wolverines, the Rockets have won just 12 of their last 30 games and the bottom line still comes back to victories. With all that being said, sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side of the hill.
Even though the recent past has not been great for the Toledo Rockets, the future seems to be well-lit if not bright. The last place to find improvement is in the win-loss column and looking at this year’s brutal Rockets schedule before the season started, it was easy to see that this year’s midnight blue and gold squad could be better than the last two teams, even though there was a good possibility that Toledo might not top their 5-7 records. But if you can’t see a program on the rebound, you are not looking very hard.
This year’s Rockets are one of the youngest teams in college football. Only seven seniors dressed for the Michigan game, so nearly everyone will be back in 2009. More importantly, other structural problems of the program have been fixed. When offensive coordinator Rob Spence and defensive coordinator Lou West left after the 2004 season for Clemson and Indiana State, Spence left a big hole in the offensive game plan, while West created a defense with a lot of big holes.
Now under new offensive coordinator Chris Hedden, the offense is showing signs recreating chaos for opposing defenses, while new quarterbacks coach Ken Karcher is bringing out some of the potential in QB Aaron Opelt. Meanwhile, Amstutz not only has a defensive coordinator that he doesn’t have to take the reins from in Tim Rose, but an excellent coach with a world of experience. On top of that is former Whitmer star and secondary coach Andy Boyd who has helped land quality area recruits, including pint-sized Springfield high school dynamo Eric Page just this week.
Amstutz told me on “The Front Row” this week that, “I always look at my job as a privilege.” The fact is that Amstutz trails only Gary Pinkel in all-time Rocket winning percentage for any coach with at least 20 games. Save me the Stan Joplin comparisons; Amstutz has won 2 MAC titles and two bowl games. The privilege has been ours. “Toledo Tom” deserves at least an extension through 2010.
Norm Wamer is program director of Sports Radio 1470 “The Ticket” WLQR-AM and co-hosts “The Front Row” weekday afternoons from 3 to 6 p.m.