"Toledo Tom" and Rocket Football Have Been a Perfect Fit For 32 Years
For more than 30 years now, University of Toledo Football and Tom Amstutz have been a perfect fit.
Born in Toledo, Amstutz has bled Midnight Blue and Gold all his life. As a boy, he went to games at the Glass Bowl. As a young man, he attended UT and played for the Rockets. And for nearly all of his adult life he has toiled on the football sidelines, first as an assistant for two decades and then as the head coach, a position he has held since 2001.
"Toledo Tom" is more than just Amstutz’s nickname. It’s who he is. He’s a Glass City icon who has lived the blue-collar work ethic that typifies this industrial Midwest town. He started at the bottom of the UT coaching staff and worked his way up, first as a student assistant and then as an assistant, gradually climbing the coaching ladder before settling into the big chair in 2001.
His popularity in Toledo is unrivaled. He has appeared in numerous local TV and radio commercials, been featured on billboards, been the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles and appeared at countless local charitable functions. He even has his own bobblehead doll.
But what was once Toledo’s best-kept secret is slowly getting out to the rest of the country. Tremendous success as the UT’s head coach has had something to do with that.
Twenty national TV appearances by the Rockets in the last four years hasn’t hurt, either.
But what has made him a growing favorite among the national media is his disarming and unique personality. Frankly, there is no one quite like him in college football. In the ultra-competitive world of college athletics, Amstutz stands out. Put simply, he likes to have a good time. No one is more passionate about winning than Amstutz, but he also believes in having fun, both on the football field and away from it. He encourages the same attitude among his players and assistant coaches.
Amstutz’s philosophy can be seen in his interests away from football. He is an avid fisherman and sportsman (he has been known to grill his latest catch, both fish and fowl, on the patio overlooking the Glass Bowl and serve lunch to his assistants). He is a devoted collector of antique fishing lures. He has become a knowledgeable women’s basketball fan who in the past four years often drove to Indiana to watch his youngest daughter, Brooke, play basketball for 2007 NAIA Division II national champion Indiana Wesleyan. He has even tried his hand at oil painting.
All this, plus the usual rigors of being a head coach, make for a busy and varied life for Amstutz. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
"Being a head coach is about more than just coaching," said Amstutz. "It means coordinating the day-to-day operations of every aspect of our program and looking out for the best interests of the 105 young men on our team. It also means working with the media, speaking engagements, working with charities, doing TV commercials, basically doing a lot of things where you are out in the public eye. But I enjoy it."
Among the Nation’s Best
Amstutz’s tenure as head football coach of the University of Toledo began with a bang and has been making noise ever since. In his first season, he led the Rockets to a MAC championship, a Motor City Bowl title and a No. 22 final ranking. Since then his teams have rattled off four more winning seasons and three bowl appearances.
Amstutz has a record of 55-32, a winning percentage of .632. During his coaching tenure, he has five wins over Top 25 teams, including back-to-back gems in 2004. He also sports a sparkling 37-18 record against MAC opponents, and an even more impressive 35-6 mark in the Glass Bowl.
Amstutz has won four Mid-American Conference West Division titles, captured two outright league crowns and brought his team to four bowl games, including a 45-13 victory over UTEP in the 2005 GMAC Bowl.
He has wins over notable schools such as Minnesota (2001), Navy (2001), Cincinnati (2001), Pittsburgh (2003), Kansas (2006) and Iowa State (2007).
During Amstutz’s tenure as head coach, 11 Rockets have played or are currently active in the NFL, including a pair of players selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, OL John Greco and RB Jalen Parmele.
The hallmark of Amstutz’s career has been consistency. He followed up his amazing rookie season with an even more improbable sophomore campaign, guiding the Rockets to another MAC West title. The 2003 season saw another winning season, as the Rockets went 8-4 and fought to the final whistle of the final game in an effort to claim their third straight crown.
In 2004, Amstutz led his team to a 9-4 mark and his second MAC Championship title. He also added wins over No. 22 Northern Illinois and No. 24 Bowling Green, and a third trip to the Motor City Bowl game in four seasons.
In 2005, the Rockets went 9-3, culminating with a thrilling 44-41 double-overtime victory over Bowling Green to close out the regular season, and a convincing romp over UTEP in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, AL.
Dreams Can Come True
Amstutz, 52, was born and raised in Toledo with a dream of one day becoming the head coach of the Rockets.
In time, his dream did come true, but not right away. Amstutz paid his dues, first as a player, then as a graduate assistant, then finally as an assistant coach, a position he held at Toledo for 21 years.
Amstutz’s dream became a reality when he was named UT’s head coach in December of 2000. The rest, as they say, is history.
It’s a simple tale, but an appropriate one for Amstutz. He’s a straight-forward, no-nonsense kind of guy. No pretensions here. What you see is what you get.
That’s just the kind of man they like in Toledo. From West Toledo to the East Side, from the central city to the suburbs, Toledoans all say pretty much the same thing: Tom is one of us.
Like the city where he was born and bred, there’s nothing glamorous or fancy about Amstutz. And that suits him just fine.
"Toledo is a blue-collar, union town, where you start at the bottom and work hard to make your way up the ladder. So I think the people here appreciate a guy like me," Amstutz said.
Amstutz’s ascension capped a coaching career that began modestly as a student assistant in 1977. Except for three years as an assistant at Navy from 1987-89 and a two-week stint at Missouri in 2000 prior to being named UT’s head coach, Amstutz has never worked anywhere else.
"When you stay and work hard, good things happen," he said. "That’s a good lesson for the players to look at. I started at Toledo by bringing in the coffee and rolling up the mats. I was a position coach, then a coordinator, then the assistant head coach. It’s just hard work and believing in the program. That’s why I’m here."
Playing Days in High School and at UT
Except for that three-year coaching stint at Navy, Amstutz has lived in the Toledo area his entire life. Amstutz grew up on Scottwood Avenue on the city’s north side, the son of George and Fran Amstutz. He attended Whitmer High School, where he lettered in football, basketball and track. During his high school days, he also was a big fan of the UT football teams that went 35-0 from 1969-71. Even then, Amstutz had his eyes on the sidelines.
"I remember watching those great Toledo teams with Chuck Ealey and Mel Long," said Amstutz. "And I remember thinking, I want to be the coach here some day. I didn’t even realize there was a whole staff of assistant coaches. I just knew there was a coach and I wanted to do that."
Amstutz enrolled at UT in 1973 and eventually earned a spot on the football team in his sophomore year in 1974 under Head Coach Jack Murphy. He started seven games at offensive guard in his junior season, and lettered again in his senior year.
Amstutz stayed on as a student assistant for the 1977 season while he completed work on his bachelor’s degree in physical education. The following season, Head Coach Chuck Stobart added Amstutz to his staff, assigning him to coach the offensive tackles and tight ends. Later, Amstutz moved to the defensive line and stayed on the defensive side of the ball for the rest of his days as an assistant.
Amstutz left Toledo in 1987 to join Elliot Uzelac’s staff at Navy. He stayed at Navy for three seasons, returning to Toledo in 1990 under new Head Coach Nick Saban.
Amstutz remained on the Toledo staff when Gary Pinkel took over as head coach in 1991. Amstutz was elevated to defensive coordinator in 1994 and assistant head coach in 1999.
Molding Toledo’s Defense Into One of the Best in the Nation
Amstutz’s final season as defensive coordinator was a memorable one. Under his leadership, the 2000 Rockets’ defense ranked third in the nation in points allowed (11.4 ppg) and total defense (269.0 yds/game), and fifth in rushing defense (81.5 yds/game). The Rockets also were first in the country in turnover ratio (+2.0 turnovers per game). They had three shutouts, and held their opponents to 14 points or less seven times.
The performance of Toledo’s defense in 2000 was typical under Amstutz. The Rockets’ defense often was ranked as one of the best in the MAC under his guidance. In 1999, Amstutz’s defense ranked No. 2 in the MAC in scoring defense (20.8 ppg), total defense (346.8) and rushing defense (106.6 ypg). The Rocket ‘D’ also held opponents to 14 points or less on five occasions.
In 1998, Amstutz coached a Rocket defense that held opponents to 17 points or less in all but one MAC regular-season game. In eight MAC games, UT held opponents to 12.6 points per game, the best in the league.
During Amstutz’s tenure as defensive coordinator from 1994-2000, Rocket defenders won first- or second-team All-MAC honors 22 times.
Amstutz engineered Toledo’s switch from a 4-3 alignment to a 4-4 scheme in 1995, a move that transformed the Rocket defense into one of the country’s best at creating turnovers. The Rockets had 34 takeaways in 1995, and led the nation in turnover margin (+2.0 per game), a feat they repeated in 2000.
Recognized for his exceptional recruiting abilities, Amstutz had 24 years of experience as an assistant coach before moving to the big chair. In that time, he recruited 25 players who went on to earn all-conference honors.
Back Home in Toledo
Amstutz briefly joined Gary Pinkel’s staff as the defensive coordinator at Missouri after Pinkel assumed the head coaching position there following the 2000 season. But Amstutz returned to his alma mater two weeks later to accept the head coaching position.
Amstutz immediately charted out a new course for his team. One of his key decisions was to replace Toledo’s traditional ground-oriented offense with a wide-open "spread" passing attack. That change immediately converted the Rockets into one of the highest scoring teams in the nation.
2001: Bringing Home the MAC Title
Toledo ranked 13th in the nation in total offense and 16th in scoring offense in its first year in a spread offense in 2001. Running back Chester Taylor gained 1,620 yards and earned third-team AP All-America honors. Quarterback Tavares Bolden set a then-MAC record for completion percentage, connecting on 68.7 percent of his passes.
Rocket fans swarmed to the Glass Bowl in record numbers, too. Toledo finished No. 1 in the nation in attendance as ranked by percentage of capacity, averaging a MAC record 30,014 fans in the 26,248-seat Glass Bowl. Four times UT played before sell-out crowds, including a league-record 36,852 for the Navy game on Oct. 27.
More importantly, Amstutz and the Rockets brought a championship back to the University of Toledo. After winning or sharing MAC West titles in 1997, 1998 and 2000, the Rockets took home the school’s first outright title since 1995. National media exposure came in the form of three TV appearances on ESPN, as well as numerous articles in national newspapers and magazines. Thrilling, come-from-behind victories over Marshall in the MAC Championship Game and Cincinnati in the Motor City Bowl cemented the Rockets as one of the great college football stories of 2001.
The Rockets were rewarded for their efforts with rankings of No. 22 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll and No. 23 in the Associated Press media poll, Toledo’s highest final rankings since 1971.
2002: An Unexpected Championship
With Toledo having to replace an All-America tailback (Taylor), an All-MAC quarterback (Bolden) and seven starters on defense, few gave Amstutz’s Rockets much of a chance to repeat as MAC West Division champs in 2002. But that’s just what they did, though it wasn’t easy.
A mid-season loss to Miami left UT sitting in third place with four league games remaining. Toledo was stuck in the unenviable position of needing to win all four games in order to return to the MAC title game.
To make matters worse, starting tailback William Bratton was lost for the season in the Miami game, forcing Amstutz to play three freshman running backs in his place.
But somehow Amstutz’s Rockets got the job done. Senior quarterback Brian Jones, a JC transfer who had seen only limited duty as a back-up in 2001, guided the Rockets to consecutive victories over Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Bowling Green. The final two wins in the streak were thrilling comeback victories over the two teams ahead of UT in the standings, NIU and BG.
A wild 49-45 loss to Marshall in the MAC Championship Game and a defeat at the hands of a powerful Boston College squad in the Motor City Bowl did not diminish the success of the season. Jones broke numerous school and MAC passing records, including the highest completion percentage in league history (70.2%). The Rockets ranked fifth in the nation in total offense (472.2), 11th in scoring (35.4) and 16th in rushing (214.3).
2003: A Near-Miss at a Third Consecutive Title
The 2003 season found Amstutz and his staff on familiar ground. For the second straight season the Rockets would be playing with a new quarterback, this time sophomore Bruce Gradkowski. The transition was almost seamless, however, with Gradkowski leading the Rockets to an 8-4 season and very nearly capturing a third consecutive MAC West title.
A thrilling season came to a heart-stopping end when the Rockets lost at Bowling Green, 31-23, in the regular-season finale. If the Rockets had won the game, they would have hosted the Mid-American Conference Championship Game against East Division champ Miami.
Despite the loss, the 2003 season was filled with highlights, most notably wins over No. 9 Pittsburgh and No. 21 Northern Illinois. The comeback win over Pitt on Sept. 20 was the highest-ranked opponent ever defeated by a Rocket team. Toledo’s offense ranked 11th in the nation (462.75 yards/game) and featured the nation’s No. 2 quarterback in completion percentage (Gradkowski, 71.2%) and No. 1 receiver in catches per game (Lance Moore, 8.58).
2004: Another MAC Championship
The 2004 season may represent Amstutz’s finest achievement as a head coach. Preseason favorites to win the MAC crown, the Rockets stumbled out of the gate with an 0-2 record. Losses at Minnesota and Kansas stung UT’s defense for 126 points. Amstutz never wavered, however, rallying his team to win nine out its next 10 games to claim the MAC Championship. And the Rockets did it in style.
The only loss in that string was a 23-16 defeat at Miami that put the Rockets in a must-win situation in their final two regular-season games against a pair of ranked opponents, Northern Illinois and Bowling Green.
The Rockets trailed early at Northern Illinois, 10-0, before coming back to dominate the No. 22 Huskies on their home field, 31-17. UT outgained Northern in total yards, 512-180, and held the Huskie offense to just 19 yards in the second half.
The comeback against Bowling Green was even more dramatic. The Falcons held a 27-7 halftime edge, but the Rockets came out of the locker room and scored five consecutive touchdowns and went on to claim a 49-41 win over the No. 24 Falcons, earning a share of the MAC West Division title and another trip to the MAC Championship Game.
The MAC Championship Game gave Amstutz and the Rockets a chance for redemption against East Division champion Miami. Once again, the Rockets fell behind, trailing the RedHawks at halftime, 14-7. But for the third consecutive game Amstutz rallied his troops to a comeback victory, 35-27, to claim the second MAC Championship title in Amstutz’s first four seasons at UT. The Rockets closed out the season with their third Motor City Bowl appearance in four seasons under Amstutz’s tutelage.
Toledo’s national profile continued to grow in 2004, as well. The Rockets appeared on national TV a record seven times, and were featured in the lead story in an issue of Sports Illustrated.
Amstutz’s individual achievements did not go unrecognized. The Rocket head coach was named "Ohio College Coach of the Year" in a vote by the state’s college coaches.
2005: The Gradkowski Era Ends With a GMAC Bowl Victory
As so often has happened in Amstutz’s career as the Rockets’ head coach, his teams fight hardest when their backs are against the wall. The 2005 season was no different.
Three times Toledo suffered trying defeats and three times the Rockets responded with a fury. And in the regular-season finale at Bowling Green, Toledo pulled out a memorable 44-41 double-overtime victory on the home field of their arch-rivals. Without a win at Doyt Perry Stadium, where Toledo had lost three straight times, the Rockets would have been watching the GMAC Bowl from their living rooms.
Toledo made the trip to Mobile, however, and they made it a memorable one. After enjoying the sight-seeing, the parades and the good times of the Alabama gulf coast, the Rockets took care of business, dismantling a respected UTEP squad, 45-13.
Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski ended his storied collegiate career with an exclamation point, throwing five touchdown passes on his way to game MVP honors. Gradkowski, a sixth-round draft choice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, set 21 school records and three MAC marks in his three years as the starting QB.
Hometown Celebrity/Family Man
Success has made Amstutz something of a celebrity in his hometown. Well-wishers often stop to chat with the now very recognizable coach at the local mall, at restaurants or out in Amstutz’s Sylvania neighborhood. Amstutz also has become in very high demand as a guest speaker on the sports banquet circuit in Northwest Ohio.
In 2003, Amstutz may have received the ultimate nod to his local fame when the UT Athletic Department unveiled a Tom Amstutz bobblehead doll, which immediately became a hot item in the Toledo area. In the summer of 2006, Amstutz’s well-known face could be seen on billboards throughout Northwest Ohio, as well as in TV commercials, pitching UT season football tickets.
Sharing in Amstutz’s accomplishments is his wife, Beth, along with their daughters, Lauren, 23 and a UT graduate who works as a television producer in Toledo, and Brooke, 22, a four-year basketball starter and recent graduate at Indiana Wesleyan.
The Amstutz File
Full Name: Thomas George Amstutz
Date of Birth: Aug. 30, 1955
Hometown: Toledo, Ohio
Alma Mater: Toledo `77
Higher Education: Master's of Education, University of Toledo, 1994; Bachelor's of Education, University of Toledo, 1977
Secondary Education: Whitmer High School, Toledo, Ohio, 1973.
Family: Wife, Beth; Daughters Lauren, 23, and Brooke, 22.
Record as head coach: 55-32 (seven years)
Achievements: 2001 & 2004 MAC championships, 2001 Motor City Bowl championship, 2002 MAC West Division co-champions, 2002 & 2004 Motor City Bowl appearances, 2005 GMAC Bowl Championship
Years as an assistant coach: 24
• Toledo: 1977-86; 1990-2000
• Navy: 1987-89
Head Coaches Served Under:
• Toledo: Chuck Stobart (1977-81); Dan Simrell (1982-86); Nick Saban (1990); Gary Pinkel (1991-2000)
• Navy: Elliot Uzelac (1987-89)
•Offensive lineman at Toledo.
•Letterwinner in 1975 and 1976.
Tom Amstutz's Coaching Record
University of Toledo (2001)
University of Toledo (1977-86)
United States Naval Academy (1987-89)
University of Toledo 1991-2000
Amstutz's Career Record as an Assistant Coach