By JOHN BASSETTI
The Watson brothers of Austintown are assistant coaches at NCAA Division I schools whose geographic locations and won-loss records are miles apart.
Stan Watson, 32, is special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach at the University of Toledo, which went 9-3 in the regular season before losing to Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise on Dec. 15.
Ross Watson, 29, is the secondary/DBs coach at Florida Atlantic University, which went 3-8 this season under first-year head coach Carl Pelini, a Cardinal Mooney product.
Both of the Fitch High graduates — Stan in 1998 and Ross in 2002 — are first-year assistants at their respective schools.
Although Ross got the short end on the success scale this season, the brothers aren’t far apart in another measurement: Div. III national championship rings from Mount Union. Stan has four, while Ross owns three.
“He’s got me beat,” Ross said of the slight discrepancy.
Toledo was one of a record six Mid-American Conference teams to qualify for a bowl game. The others were NIU (Orange), Kent (GoDaddy.com) Ohio (Independence), Ball State (Beef ‘O’ Brady’s) and Central Michigan (Little Caesar’s Bowl).
“That’s pretty impressive,” Stan said.
Toledo’s regular-season MAC losses were to NIU and Ball State. The Rockets also had a season-opening loss to Arizona in overtime.
Stan coached at Bowling Green the previous four years. Ross’ previous stint was as graduate assistant and intern at Nebraska where Pelini was defensive coordinator for his brother, Bo Pelini. Carl Pelini moved to Florida Atlantic and Ross followed.
In the 41-15 Potato Bowl loss, Toledo was trailing, 13-9, with about seven minutes remaining.
“We turned it over and they scored a few times, but we played well until about seven minutes left,” Stan said. “It was a good experience for us and — other than the last seven or eight minutes — the guys enjoyed it.”
He said the stadium wasn’t a sellout, but it was close.
“The Boise community is football-crazy, so they turned out,” Stan said. “Plus, Utah State is about four hours away, so they drew well, too. It was 40 degrees and overcast with about a five mile-per-hour wind, so it was a perfect day for football.”
Stan said the Rockets scored all their points on special teams: three field goals and a kickoff returned for a TD.
“Our kickers and punters had a good day,” Stan Watson said of placekicker J.D. Detmer and Vince Penza.
Detmer broke a school record by finishing the season with 17 field goals in a row.
“He’s a weapon,” Stan said. “He does a great job with hang time on kickoffs,” Watson said of the sophomore from Hilliard-Davidson High School near Columbus.
Penza, a Mooney product, averaged over 40 yards punting.
“We had a lot of chances earlier,” Stan said. “It was a good game until midway through the fourth quarter.”
Included in Toledo’s 9-4 final record were wins over rival BGSU and ranked Cincinnati and an eight-game winning streak. The loss to Northern Illinois was by seven points. NIU then went on to beat Kent in the MAC title game.
“We wished it could have ended a little better, but nine wins is nice,” he said.
Stan thought he wanted to be a high school coach because of its impact on players as students, but his focus has changed.
“I love every aspect of it: game-planning to recruiting to off-season workouts,” Stan said. “The relationships I’m able to build and the impact on 18-to-23-year-old kids is something I really enjoy.”
Other than evaluating film, Stan will take a break from work and enjoy the holidays, which are part of the NCAA’s “dead period” in the recruiting calendar. The NCAA doesn’t allow contact with recruits until mid-January through February’s national signing day.
Although the success of their schools’ programs has varied so far, Ross’ challenge seems more daunting.
Pelini became only FAU’s second coach since the Owls started football under Howard Schnellenberger in 2001.
First, there are hurdles to overcome.
“It’s good for the players to look at the record to show them that they’ve got a long way to go,” Ross Watson said. “From the inside, we made headway in building a program from the ground up, but our players need to look at that record and realize where we need to get.”
The coaching staff is trying to instill the philosophy that “being good men and doing the right thing on and off the field” will have its benefits.
“On-field progress can’t be made until their off-field life is in order,” Ross said. “Once we were able to do that, it filters over into their football world too.
“We tell guys that there’s no light switch; you can’t be great at football and terrible at every other aspect of life. You’re either on or you’re off. We don’t want a bonehead in the classroom. They’ve got to be the complete package. If we can get something across in some way, we’ll get better every day.”
Ross did some recruiting in northeastern Ohio for part of December.
“We need some guys to go down there,” he said of trying to bring a little Northern blood south.
“We’re still fresh in this area, but we’re trying to get guys to be aware of the Florida Atlantic name. That’ll help us create some headway in this area.”
Mount Union’s success played a role in Ross Watson’s life, so he’s enthusiastic about replicating it in his newest sphere.
“Everybody gets tired of me talking about it, but I make them watch TV and then they get it,” Ross said of Mount Union winning its 11th title last weekend.