The details are indisputable even if the outcome is not.
In 1996, a then-26-year-old Rob Ambrose and a then-14-year-old Jared Ambrose trekked to Middletown High School in Frederick County where their father, Tim, would coach the football team for 31 years. Inside the school’s gymnasium, the two brothers clashed in a series of pickup basketball games for about 90 minutes.
The way Jared, now 37, remembered it, the younger brother prevailed decisively.
“I think that was the first moment when he knew that his little brother was not so little anymore,” Jared said.
And that is the root of the disagreement.
“He’s lying,” Rob, 49, said. “He did not win. He was 14 years old. He’s not beating me.”
That memory is one of the rare times the Ambrose brothers have stood on opposing sides. A chapter will be added to their brotherly rivalry when Jared, the offensive coordinator for Delaware, and the Blue Hens (4-4, 2-2 Colonial Athletic Association) visit Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Saturday for a 2 p.m. kickoff against Rob and the No. 21 Tigers (4-4, 1-3), for whom he is the head coach.
Both brothers insisted that they are not the focus of a pivotal game between conference archrivals.
“It’s the ninth game of the season, it’s Delaware, they’re good, it’s the month of November, and everybody in the CAA is pretty much in the mix,” Rob said. “It’s just a game everybody needs to win. As far as how I feel about my brother at Delaware, whoever’s on the coaching staff at Delaware doesn’t really have my attention. What has my attention is my players, our staff and everybody being on the same page and trying to find a way to win.”
Said Jared: “I don’t know if it’s me or the way I’m wired, but I’m not any more emotionally tied into this game than I was playing against Richmond last week. I’ve got a job to do. It just so happens that our opponent this week is a place where I spent 10 years and my brother’s going to be on the sideline for the game.”
Football has linked the Ambrose brothers since youth, but the pair finally got a chance to work together when Rob, promoted from offensive coordinator to replace Gordy Combs after the 2008 season, hired away Jared from the Blue Hens to join his staff. Jared moved from tight ends coach in 2009 to quarterbacks coach in 2011 to offensive coordinator in 2012.
In his first full season as offensive coordinator in 2013, the offense gained a school-record 3,830 rushing yards and 7,452 total yards and scored 74 touchdowns en route to advancing to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game. Running back Terrance West (Northwestern High) ran for a program-record 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns and was named the runner-up to the Walter Payton Award, given to the top FCS player.
Last season, Towson led the CAA in points (34.5) and total yards (465) per game. The unit returned four first-team all-conference players in redshirt senior quarterback Tom Flacco, the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year; redshirt senior running back Shane Simpson, the league’s Special Teams Player of the Year; senior kicker Aidan O’Neill; and redshirt senior wide receiver Shane Leatherbury.
Flacco — the younger brother of former Ravens and current Denver Broncos quarterback Joe, who was coached by Jared when he was a graduate assistant at Delaware in 2007 and 2008 — said he is deeply appreciative of the younger Ambrose.
“He’s someone that finally gave me a chance to play,” said Flacco, who ranks third in the league in total offense (268.2 yards) and is tied for third in touchdowns (17). “He was the offensive coordinator that gave me the starting job. So there’s always a soft spot for Jared. … I’ve got a lot of love for him, and it’s going to be pretty weird to see him on the sideline for a different team.”
The Blue Hens trail the Tigers this fall in scoring (23.4 points to 30.9) and total yards (323.8 to 381.6), and Jared Ambrose acknowledged that his education with Delaware is an ongoing process.
“I guess the biggest adjustment has been learning the new staff that I’m working for and learning the players,” he said.” I had a large hand in recruiting a lot of the kids at Towson, and I do miss those kids all the time. But I’m starting to build relationships with the players we have in-house here, and them figuring me out and me figuring them out is always a learning process, but I think it’s been a great one.”
The Ambrose brothers talk at least once a week, usually after Jared leaves his office in Newark and Rob is home. They have already talked this week, comparing notes after Towson lost, 27-10, at No. 2 James Madison and Delaware lost, 35-25, at home against Richmond.
Rob said that there have been times when he has turned around expecting to see his brother on the sideline with him.
“If you think about what this place was in ’09 and how the world saw it and how the world sees it today, it’s entirely different,” he said. “[Jared] played a large part in that.”
Both brothers said they can identify each other’s imprints on their respective offenses. Rob said the Blue Hens under Jared are always looking for a vulnerability to exploit for explosive plays. Jared said the Tigers have returned to their power run formations, with Rob assuming play-calling duties.
Both brothers said they might not appreciate Saturday’s meeting until later, but they will make time to greet and hug each other before the game.
“He’s my older brother,” Jared said. “I plan to see my father, who’s typically on the sideline for home games. I want to see all the guys I worked with last year because some of those guys are Uncle Scott [Van Zile, the quarterbacks coach] and Uncle ‘Gus’ [Konstantinos Kosmakos, the defensive line coach] to my kids. And I want to see the players. I deeply miss the players from Towson. They’re great kids.”
Rob said the brother-vs.-brother aspect of the Towson-Delaware rivalry is much juicier for those on the outside.
“I know it’s good for stories and people want to see it and all of that good stuff, but in the end, it’s just two decent football coaches that care a lot about their kids and are trying to help them get better,” he said. “We just share the same name and do it in different states.”