UT coach Jason Candle questions a call against Bowling Green on Oct. 15 at the Glass Bowl. Candle and UT would advance to the program's first MAC championship game since 2004 with a win Friday at Western Michigan. BLADE PHOTO
Behind a charismatic and highly motivated head coach in Jason Candle, the University of Toledo football team has a new group of assistant coaches that came to Toledo hungry to maintain the tradition of the program and is now in position, with a win at Western Michigan on Friday, to help win a Mid-American Conference West title and send Toledo to its first MAC championship game since 2004.
A group with diverse football backgrounds and varying experience has meshed well together and formed a positive group dynamic to help lead a talented crop of UT players.
“It’s been unbelievable,” wide receivers coach Derek Sage said. “It all starts with the head coach and I think that is the same everywhere you go. These guys have been awesome. We have a pretty veteran staff if you think about who came in. It is sprinkled in with some younger guys, but you look at it and there are some guys that have been around the block. They’ve either been around a transition or know how to handle it. I think everyone knew the situation that they were coming into with a good returning team and just kind of hit the ground running.”
Sage is the lone holdover from a staff that was completely rebuilt when former coach Matt Campbell left to go to Iowa State. Campbell took six UT assistants from last season with him to Ames, leaving Candle with the task of basically putting together a staff from scratch.
“I think it’s been really good in the way Jason hired our staff, to get some guys with some different experiences to come in and have a different set of eyes than maybe what they had here before,” UT offensive line coach Mike Hallett said.
The Toledo coaching staff features three new coordinators in offensive coordinator Brian Wright, defensive coordinator Brian George, and special teams coordinator Robby Discher. There are two first-time position coaches in Marquel Blackwell (running backs) and Cory Robinson (cornerbacks).
Linebackers coach Mike Ward returned to Toledo after spending 2009-2011 as the co-defensive coordinator for the Rockets. Hallett was a head coach at Heidelberg University from 2007-2015 and safeties coach Ross Watson came to UT after one season as linebackers coach at Northern Illinois.
George, who has spent time as a defensive coordinator at Miami (Ohio), Indiana, and most recently Kent State, said he was drawn to the winning culture that Toledo has established as a program.
“There’s a culture of winning,” George said. “The expectation is to win and I think coach Candle is a big part of getting that tradition rolling again here in Toledo through the process of being here with a couple of different head coaches while he’s been here. He understands the culture of the university and how to be effective in this environment and was able to convey that to the rest of us.”
With such a new staff, there was a learning curve that took place in spring practices this season and into the summer and even fall camp. The new coaching staff, many of whom knew each other but had not yet coached together, had to learn to work together and at the same time develop a relationship with the players they would be coaching.
“I think we all have a pretty vibe now and a pretty good feel for how things work here at Toledo,” Hallett said. “It’s a learning curve whenever you take a new job. My last position I was there for nine years, so any change is going to feel different. That’s the same thing that freshman in a college program have to encounter. They have to learn to adapt and adjust to new settings and surroundings. It’s no different for new coaches. Your hope is as you go through a spring, a summer and through a season and get to the point where we are now, you feel like there is a really good comfort level and a really good trust factor within the coaches and within the players all across the board.”
Wright, who most recently spent two years as the offensive coordinator for Florida Atlantic, said he appreciates the vision that coach Candle had in piecing together this staff.
“I think we have a really good group of guys,” Wright said. “Jason has assembled a group of guys that have gotten into coaching for the same reason and that is to affect young people’s lives. He brought in a staff that is competitive and wants to win and I think we are all on the same page here. He demands a lot from the players and the staff and really that is how I was raised in coaching.”
After the process of getting to know the players during the off-season, this coaching staff has helped the players transition to what is basically a brand new group of coaches.
“They had a great affinity for the coaching staff that was here with Matt and certainly they have a great affinity for Jason,” Hallett said of the returning players. “For us it was about earning our players trust and respect and building that rapport with them. That was probably the biggest thing is just getting the guys to know us and us to know them so we kind of know how to coach those guys heading into the season. Here we are in week 12 now and it seems like those early meetings were three years ago at this point.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6110.