'We've got work to do': Scot Loeffler rebuilding Bowling Green with Michigan flavor
Bowling Green, Ohio – Folded and tucked neatly in plastic and out of view to the side of the deep brown leather couch is first-year Bowling Green coach Scot Loeffler’s bed.
The spacious office is home for a few more weeks until his wife, Amie, who has two degrees from BGSU, and kids move here. So when he’s not on the road recruiting, the floor is where Loeffler sleeps on an air mattress, unless he’s too tired and just crashes on the couch. There is little time to waste as Loeffler, 44, hired late last November to his first head coaching job, must begin rebuilding a proud Mid-American Conference program that went 9-27 the last three seasons under Mike Jinks.
He has everything he needs for now in the office. On his desk sit reminders of well-traveled career that has taken him from Michigan, where the Barberton, Ohio-native was a quarterback, then a graduate assistant and later a quarterbacks coach, to stops at Central Michigan, Florida, Temple, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Boston College and a year with the Detroit Lions during the forgettable winless 2008 season.
A signed photo of former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, Loeffler’s mentor, looms large on the left corner of his desk. There are photos of his family, of course, but also a picture of his close friend, Tom Brady, who he coached at Michigan, and a photo of Virginia Tech’s win over Ohio State in 2014 when he was on the Hokies’ staff.
With ringing endorsements from Carr and former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who had two winning seasons at Bowling Green and hired Loeffler to his staff at Florida, Loeffler has embarked on this head coaching journey that likely will have more downs than ups initially. But he assures he’s in this for the long haul.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Loeffler said on a recent Sunday, just before he led his first full-team meeting. “We’ve got a culture change that’s gonna take place. The culture change and flipping the roster is going to take a little time, but the thing I’m 100 percent committed to is doing it the right way. If it takes a little more time and a little more pain in the process, in the big picture it will work out better for Bowling Green and our program if we do it the right way. We’re not going to quick-fix it and bring in a bunch of non-character guys that can play.
“I’m not interested in winning fast and leaving. I want to build this place. I’m like I was at Michigan when I got hired. I wanted to build that thing the best way I could at the quarterback position, take my time with it, do it the right way. At the end of the day, I want Bowling Green to have longevity, not just a quick fix and I’m outta here. I don’t want to do that. They gave me an opportunity to be the head coach and I want to make sure that we leave this place exactly the way these people would want it to be left.”
Loeffler, who signed a five-year deal, has surrounded himself with a staff that includes many familiar faces from his time at Michigan on Carr's staff. Terry Malone, who spent a decade early in his career at Bowling Green, where he met his wife Ann, was an offensive coordinator with the Wolverines and has that position now with the Falcons. Erik "Soup" Campbell, who was a receivers coach for his alma mater Michigan, worked closely with Loeffler, then the quarterbacks coach. He is now Loeffler’s passing game coordinator and receivers coach. And Kevin Tolbert, a former Michigan strength coach during Carr’s tenure and later under Jim Harbaugh until a year ago, is heading Bowling Green’s strength staff.
“I’ve been on a bunch of great staffs, but coach Carr’s staff in particular, along with coach (Steve) Addazio’s staff (at Boston College), we were super, super tight,” Loeffler said. “Kevin Tolbert is a mentor to me. Terry Malone hired me with Lloyd, and Soup’s been like a big brother to me forever. We just always had a connection, and I always wanted to have an opportunity to work those guys again. I’m lucky to have those guys in the program.
“Urban’s down the road, Lloyd’s up the road now, we have Steve Addazio’s son (Louie) on the staff (coaching tight ends). My people are still close by. I’m loyal. I believe in the people who have helped me and the people we hired are really good. They’re not kinda good, they’re really good. We’ve been together (several) weeks now and even the guys who haven’t been that core group, you’d think we’ve been together for years. That’s when you know you’ve hired the right folks.”
Tolbert has never been fond of giving interviews, but he was effusive discussing his role – Loeffler called him the “most important hire, hands down” – with the Falcons.
“It’s like the Beatles -- they’re getting the band back together,” Tolbert said, laughing. “I’ll be Ringo.
“I’m elated to be around people I know and care about, and they care about me. I think trust is very important.”
Trust is at the heart of Loeffler’s staff hiring. They haven’t worked together in more than decade, but the bond developed at Michigan was so profound, they all knew they wanted to experience that again.
“He called me the day he was interviewing,” Campbell said. “The day before it got announced, he said, ‘I’m getting a job, you’re coming.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ That was it. Had no idea where it was, what school, but we knew we were going to work together.”
Campbell didn’t think to ask Loeffler which school during that conversation.
“No, I just said tell me where to show up,” he said. “It was something we all talked about when we left Michigan in ’07, that one day we hopefully could all get together again and coach again. We had a great staff there and we were winning and successful. We were friends and hoped we could get back together and this is the first opportunity a group of us could do that.”
Malone most recently worked at Western Michigan. When Loeffler offered him the job, he first checked with his wife, who jumped at the opportunity to be closer to her parents, who live less than a mile from the stadium.
“It’s very much a blessing,” Malone said.
This won’t be easy, and no one on the staff, starting with Loeffler, suggests otherwise.
The Falcons went 3-9 last season and Jinks, a Texas native with strong Texas coaching ties, drifted from the bread-and-butter Bowling Green recruiting during his three seasons there. The Falcons have always had rosters thick with players from Ohio and Michigan, but the makeup under Jinks changed.
Loeffler is going back to Bowling Green’s recruiting roots with not only the heavy emphasis on Ohio and Michigan, but also Indiana and Pennsylvania.
“When Urban won here, when Dave Clawson won here, 75 percent of the roster was from Ohio and Michigan,” Loeffler said. “Right now, we’re nowhere near that number, and we need to change that. Flip the roster. We need to make sure we’re making an emphasis on the four-hour radius.
“That’s the beautiful thing about the location of Bowling Green is we are an hour and 10 minutes from Detroit, we are two hours from Cleveland, we’re two hours to Columbus, we’re two and a half to three hours down the road from Cincinnati, you’re three and a half hours to Indianapolis and four hours to Chicago. We’ll reach out into Pennsylvania because of our relationships there. We’re going to make a huge emphasis of trying to stay at home. We’ll go get a few legs in the South and we’ll get an arm from anywhere. These quarterbacks these days they can come from Alaska. They come from anywhere.”
Recruiting is for the long haul, so Loeffler and his staff must prepare for the upcoming season with the team they inherited. It is never easy for players to immediately embrace a coaching change, and the coaches know it will take time for the process to come together.
“We’ve got good kids here,” Loeffler said. “They just need to learn and understand what it takes to really win. They’re a little lost with that right now, but they’ll jump on board. It’s discipline, doing things the right way, all dressing alike. Dealing with 85 scholarship guys, 115 guys who need to check their ego at the door. It’s a hard right now to buy into team, team, team, and everybody is worried about the individual, and you’ve got to get them past that. When you win, all the good trickles down. It’s whenever you get the selfish guys that’s hard. We’re gonna do a great job of building team here just like I’m accustomed to.”
'A lot of work to do'
Malone has been coaching a long time, 36 years, and he’s relishing this challenge.
“There’s a lot of work to do, no question, but if there wasn’t a lot of work here, we probably wouldn’t have been hired here,” he said. “I will say this, the kids have all given the right answers, they’ve all responded the right way, they all seem to be paying attention.
“Things will be different for them because the promise we made to them was that we were going to make it different because we want different results. We did not want to do the same thing and get into the same rut and have the same results. We want different results. We want to play for championships here, so in order to do that, we have to make change.”
Change begins now, which means it’s Tolbert Time. Winter conditioning is where each season begins, and he balances tough love with making certain the players know he only wants them to be their best.
Tolbert was moved by Loeffler describing him as the most important hire, but he’s a Navy alum and former football player there. Tolbert is as selfless as they come.
“Even though I’m not at Michigan, there are a lot of things that will remain with me forever and one of the main things is, the team, the team, the team,” he said. “It’s about the team, it’s not about me. What I need is for the players to recognize, ‘He’s trying to help me.’ What I need is for them to trust me.
“Right now I’m trying to appeal to their sensibilities and saying, ‘Why did you come here?’ The answer I’m looking for, ‘I came here to win.’ Hopefully we can get better and better and better, with the understanding there will be setbacks. No one is promising anything easy. I’m excited. I feel like the good Lord looked out for me."
Loeffler will continue to work with the quarterbacks along with Max Warner, his quarterbacks coach. He wants to run a pro-style offense, but initially will go with what the personnel dictates. Besides, he said, these days he doesn’t see much difference between the various offenses because teams often go hybrid.
The Falcons, under Loeffler and company, are building from the ground up. Clearly, that will take time, and no one has set a timetable. He is as confident there will be difficult times just as there will be plenty of positives.
But with this staff, the core of which has been a big part of his life since his days at Michigan, Loeffler believes they can build a winner.
“Obviously, the inside world we can control, the outside world we can’t,” Loeffler said. “We’ve got to educate and put blinders on and go full-steam ahead. To say we’re not going to have rough stretches here, I think we will. I’ve been a part of rough stretches. You keep your head down and you don’t lose confidence in who you are, you don’t lose confidence in the staff. But the outside world I’ve learned to control (by) blocking it out.
“It’s a step-by-step process. You’ve got to have realistic expectations. You can’t just come in and say, ‘We’re going to win the MAC.’ Let’s worry about first showing up to the trainer on time. Let’s first worry about sitting up front and doing the right things with the professors on campus, because all those things matter. I’m convinced more than anything your actions on and off the field are a big reason why you make that fourth-and-1 to win the game.”