First-year University of Toledo head coach Tim Beckman was saying all the right things about taking the schedule one game at a time.
"If you're a player from Ohio and you're getting the chance to play in Cleveland Browns Stadium against the Ohio State Buckeyes, how can you not be excited?" he said several weeks ago, during a visit to Cleveland promoting tomorrow's Rockets-Buckeyes clash.
The Beckman era in Toledo began against the Boilermakers on Sept. 5 at West Lafayette, Ind., where the Rockets fell behind 21-0 before falling to Purdue 53-31. Then the Buffaloes came back to the Glass Bowl six nights later for the coach's home debut, a rousing 54-38 win against Colorado.
With such a rough first few games, maybe the players didn't have the Ohio State game circled on their calendars – not yet, at least -- but you can bet that Beckman had it circled on his calendar, even if it's buried beneath a stack of stuff in one of his desk drawers so no one saw it and the people from Purdue and Colorado didn't feel disrespected. In fact, it's a good bet he pressed so hard when he made a circle around the date -- over and over and over again -- that the ink probably bled through onto the pages for the months of October, November and December as well – maybe even January 2010.
That would be fitting, for the game will be that big to Beckman. The memories of it will last through the end of the year and well beyond – probably a lifetime, really.
To say that the Buckeyes contest is special to Beckman is to say the coach has an enthusiasm that's contagious, a determination that you can't help but notice and a competiveness that makes you want to throw on a pair of shoulder pads, strap on a helmet and do a swim move on the first person you see.
That is, it's obvious.
Really, it doesn't get any better than this for Beckman, who, in so many ways, will be returning to his roots, and in an even bigger way will be returning home since he spent some of his formative years in the Greater Cleveland area.
That is why, at a late-morning press conference to promote the OSU game, held in the Browns press conference room, just off the Browns locker room, both of which he will be in tomorrow, since the Rockets are the home team, Beckman was so, so exuberant. The Browns don't have cheerleaders, but he served as one. And he doesn't work for the Cleveland Area Chamber of Commerce, but he acted as if he did.
Before he ever got into the game, specifically, or football, in general – or any other subject, for that matter – he made it clear with a big smile on his face, "The big thing is that it's good to be home. What this town has meant to Tim Beckman and my family, I just can't say."
Let's try, though. And to do so, we need to paint with a broad brush on a canvas where everything is intertwined.
Ohio State is where he once coached – just a few short years ago, in fact. He served as cornerbacks coach there in 2005 when the Bucks completed a two-loss season by whipping some quarterback named Brady Quinn and Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The following year, he had the same job when OSU made it all the way to the BCS national championship game.
"Coaching at Ohio State was a great time in my life," Beckman said.
No doubt, for when a coach who spent part of his growing-up years in the state gets a job at Ohio State, then he knows he's arrived in the profession.
The man who hired Beckman there was Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel, who, of course, will be on the opposite sideline.
"I learned a lot from Jim Tressel," he said.
But it's more than that. The Tressel and Beckman families are indelibly linked. Beckman's father, Dave, played for Tressel's legendary coaching father, Lee, at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea. Dave Beckman, a Bellevue (Ohio) High School product, was headed to Wisconsin to play before his father died. When his mother continued to struggle with the loss, David decided he needed to stay closer to home to be an emotional help to her and opted for the Yellow Jackets instead.
It was the start of a great relationship. As Tim Beckman pointed out, "Lee Tressel became like a father to my dad. When my dad got married, he and my mom would babysit Jim and Dick Tressel (now an Ohio State assistant)."
But as enthralling as it's going to be to coach against the Buckeyes, and against his good friend and mentor in the sweater vest – the man who still sends his three children birthday cards ("I know it's Jim and not his wife, Ellen, who writes those cards," Beckman said) -- those still aren't the best things about that Sept. 19 game as far as he is concerned.
No, there is something else.
It's the fact the game will be staged in Cleveland on the footprint of old Cleveland Stadium, where Beckman watched his favorite NFL team, the Browns, play when he was growing up in Berea. You see, Beckman's dad, Dave, was involved in football, too, in coaching (he got his start under Lee Tressel at B-W) and personnel. He was a scout under head coaches Sam Rutigliano and Marty Schottenheimer with the Browns for five years, from 1982-86.
"Dave was a great guy and an even better talent evaluator," Rutigliano said the other day of the elder Beckman, who got his master's degree from the University of Akron and coached in the region at Medina Highland, Warren Harding and Hubbard High Schools. "I can't say enough good things about him."
Using that relationship, Beckman had the now 77-year-old Rutigliano, a great public speaker, come to Toledo last Monday and address his team.
"The players had heard of him, and as he spoke, their eyes got big and they were like, ‘Wow!' " Tim Beckman said.
Beckman would attend all the Browns home games while his dad worked for them, and once, in that first season of 1982 "when things weren't going well" for Dad's team, he got into a verbal altercation with a fan who was shouting some unkind things at the club.
"I didn't throw any punches at him or anything, but the ushers came and from then on, I watched the games from the baseball press box," Beckman said.
He also watched the Browns a lot – up close and personal -- when they weren't playing games. The Beckmans lived in Berea when Dave worked for the Browns, and Tim was a star player at Berea High School, graduating in 1983. The high school is located right next door to the B-W campus and Finnie Stadium, which the Braves and Yellow Jackets use as their home field. After practice, Tim would walk over there and mingle with his dad's co-workers since the Browns practiced in-season on campus. He would also have lunch with them.
Along with that, Beckman helped out at Browns training camp at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland for a few years while in high school.
"I stayed in the hotel with the team, and one time in the middle of the night, I heard a bunch of women outside screaming their heads off," he said. "They were there to see Brian Sipe."
The price of fame.
More importantly, young Tim got to see the inner-workings of coaching and football, and even though he went on to play collegiately at first Kentucky and then Findlay as a linebacker, he realized he wasn't going to make it in the NFL and would become a coach instead, just like his dad and Lee Tressel and Jim Tressel and Rutigliano and Schottenheimer.
"I grew up around football, and I've always wanted to be a football coach," Beckman said. "Even when I was in high school playing, or sitting in that stadium all those times having a great time watching the Browns, I knew I wanted to be a football coach."
So he has – and, at age 44, he has finally become a head coach. Good things come to those who wait, they say. Sometimes even great things.
"You'll have two Berea grads coaching against one another," Tim said. "How many times does that happen in college football, especially when the school they went to is just down the road from where the game is being played?"
And for the first time that he's been on the Browns Stadium site for a game, Beckman won't be sitting in the stands or in the press box with a bag of popcorn and a soft drink in his hands while watching the guys in those oh-so-familiar plain orange helmets, but rather he'll standing on the sideline holding a play sheet and wearing a headset while coaching against the guys in the oh-so-familiar plain silver helmets.
It will be quite different, no doubt.
"I'm so used to coming here and seeing the old place," Beckman said, "so when I came here today, I saw how much it had changed."
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is what Tim Beckman has wanted all along – to coach a game where the Browns play, against Ohio State and his Buckeyes buddy.
"It's a dream come true," he said.
And aren't your dreams worth circling on your calendar when, at long last, they become reality?