Towson University's new football coach speaks in slogans and evokes big-picture concepts.
Ask Rob Ambrose why he thinks he can win at a school that lost 17 games the past two seasons and he replies: "My wife [Melissa] pointed out to me once that happiness in life is managed expectations. We're building something."
Ask what the Tigers can expect when they report for training camp Aug. 9, and he says, after a pause: "A wise man said hard work and discipline is the exercise that makes punishment unnecessary."
Between quotations from his wife and a wise man, Ambrose, 39 today, has been able to deliver his message in a variety of ways, not the least of which were 5:30 a.m. jaunts up the Johnny Unitas Stadium steps last winter and a series of up-and-downs when things didn't go well at spring practice. Which was often.
"I walk around in a constant fog of annoyance," Ambrose said during the Colonial Athletic Association media day at ESPN Zone on Wednesday, only partly in jest.
It's clearly a new day at Towson. The university fired Gordy Combs in December after 17 years as head coach and 36 overall on the staff. Recognized for his ability to coach quarterbacks and for helping make Connecticut a Big East football power as the Huskies' offensive coordinator, Ambrose has returned to Towson - he is a 1993 graduate - to build the program from the ground up.
He inherits a 3-9 team that was unable to finish games a year ago and consistently demonstrated a lack of heart. As if that weren't challenging enough, Ambrose loses Sean Schaefer, one of the best quarterbacks in school history.
"Replacing Sean is a bigger task than winning games in this league," Ambrose said of the Football Championship Subdivision's (formerly I-AA's) best conference.
Ambrose said he came back to Towson because, unlike his previous tenure with the Tigers as a player and a young coach, the football program has the full support of the administration. That starts with school president Robert Caret, who told Ambrose he wants to build a national university at Towson and that he expects the football team "to carry the banner."
Ambrose has a five-year contract to get the job done. In short order, he must teach the Tigers how to finish games and recondition a losing attitude. His plan is to break down the players and break out boundaries.
"If I can make this harder than they could ever imagine," Ambrose said, "first they survive, then they excel, then they believe."
The Tigers, picked to finish last in the CAA's South Division by the conference's 12 head coaches and members of the news media, are eager for a new start.
"I think going into last year and the year before, not all the players were 100 percent confident in the coaching system, maybe," senior tight end John Godlasky said. "I think this year, there's no doubt about it that we have the right coaching staff with us. So it's up to us to come out and be hungry and change the attitude to a winning attitude."
"I'm looking forward to camp. He'll make it tough, but that's what we need. He'll get us ready."
Towson senior linebacker Alex Butt (Hereford) went to Alabama as a walk-on in 2006 and failed to make the team. Still, he said the winter workouts and spring practice at Towson were the "hardest training" he has done. "I can't compare it to anything I've ever done," Butt said.
It's just the beginning, though. Ambrose avoids a timetable but wants to hurry.
"Patience is a virtue and not one I've acquired," he said. "I know it's going to take time, but the fact that I'm not patient I think will rub off, and hopefully we can make it happen faster than it normally would."
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