A couple things happened during the just-completed recruiting season that reminded Toledo head coach Matt Campbell of what he really already knew.
One, that there’s often a price to pay for success and forward thinking.
Two, that there’s a reason Mid-American Conference teams play games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and would play on Monday mornings, too, if TV networks asked.
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That reason shows up in recruiting. Toledo and Campbell aren’t introducing themselves to prospects outside of Ohio and southern Michigan. Recruits recognize Campbell and the Toledo brand.
The flip side? The nature of today’s college football beast and the annual coaching carousel are on the minds of recruits and their parents. Campbell was the youngest FBS head coach in the country last year, turning 33 a few days before his nine-win team found out it would play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
When Campbell recruits, he often gets asked if he plans to be around to see that recruit through.
“You have to be honest,” Campbell said. “And I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, there are no guarantees, but I came up through Larry Kehres at Mount Union, who’s been there for 30-some years. And at Toledo, I look at what we’re doing and I see it getting bigger and better. There’s something bigger out there for Toledo than what we’ve done thus far.”
Campbell never intended to leave Mount Union, his alma mater and the Div. III football power where he was offensive coordinator in his mid-20s. He figured he’d give it a shot, though, and he’s been in Northwest Ohio ever since, having served three seasons as a Bowling Green assistant and three more as a Toledo assistant before taking over as head coach in Dec. 2011.
Campbell got the big office after Tim Beckman was hired by Illinois. Toledo lost the MAC West title last season to Northern Illinois, which went on to play in the Orange Bowl but lost its head coach Dave Doeren to North Carolina State just hours after the MAC Championship Game and more than a month before the Orange Bowl.
If Campbell keeps winning at Toledo, he’ll be atop the wish list of many athletic directors and administrators at deep-pocketed, BCS schools. Frankly, he already might be on some lists.
“We’re a young staff, but I think we’re a staff that values winning over making as much money as we possibly can, as fast as we can,” Campbell said. “Maybe that’s crazy in today’s game, but I don’t think any of us think we’re on some fast track. We’re trying to build something that lasts, even in recruiting. We’re not going after a bunch of junior-college players.
“This thing has been built from the ground up. I will not make a false promise to a recruit or his parents, but I will make sure they know I’m really grateful to be where I am and really excited about what the future holds at Toledo.”
Toledo’s recruiting base will always be Ohio and Detroit, and extend into the Chicago area and Western Pennsylvania, but past successes and relationships have allowed the Rockets to reach into the Washington, D.C., area and into part of Florida as well. Campbell said his staff’s keen eye for identifying young talent often leads to Toledo recruiting against Big East and Big Ten schools who come in later in the process.
Campbell said his staff knows it won’t win many battles in a “dream school” situation — if Ohio State or Michigan offers the same player Toledo has offered — but both believes in and operates with the mindset that it can be just about any recruiting race.
“We played a bowl game (the Dec. 2011 Military Bowl) in Washington, D.c., and that helped us build relationships there,” Campbell said. “We’ve played Ohio State, Boise State and Arizona on national TV all in the last 18 months. We open at Florida next year. (2012) was a great year for the MAC and even though we came up short at the end, that helped, too.
“Kids in Florida can see Toledo on TV, and they’ve seen us score 70 points in a game on TV. They’ve seen us on TV three and four weeks in a row, in some cases, and that’s genius marketing. Everything helps. How do you judge whether the sacrifices you make for a mid-week game are worth it? By saying we have some national name recognition.”
This year’s class is headlined by Florida wide receiver Rodney Adams, who’s from the same high school as Toledo star Bernard Reedy, and Baltimore safety Kennedy Frazier. Kareem Hunt of Willoughby South is as talented a running back as has come out of the Cleveland area in several years, and Campbell also has high hopes for some of the linemen he landed on both sides of the ball.
Toledo went to Hilton Head, S.C., to get quarterback Michael Julian — he was coached in high school by Mount Union alum B.J. Payne and had offers from Clemson and Wisconsin — and into Kentucky to get quarterback Logan Woodside, who graduated early and is already enrolled.
Both Julian and Woodside know they’re coming to an offense that coaches up its linemen, finds skill players who can run and allows quarterbacks the tempo and the freedom to make highlight-type plays and put up big numbers. They know that because they’ve seen Toledo on TV — and because Toledo’s staff has worked to spread the message.
“Both of those (quarterbacks) have a chance to be marquee players by the time they’re done,” Campbell said. “They are really, really talented.
“We feel really good about what the future looks like. We’re losing some really good players, but we have some good young ones coming back. And these guys are driven by the fact that we are thinking bigger, that there are bigger goals and better days ahead for Toledo.”