Jason Candle is all-in on Toledo in 2022, and he's already hard at work

The Blade
The Blade

The enthusiasm is evident on the other end of the line.

Jason Candle’s voice is rising with each syllable, an exuberant explanation for why he stayed at the University of Toledo.

He likes his quarterback. There are playmakers on offense. No team in the Mid-American Conference has had a better defense over the past two seasons. Why leave one of 130 head-coaching jobs, a position that ranks highly among Group of Five schools and carries boundless potential?

Put simply, Toledo was a better opportunity than the University of Miami.

“I’m really excited, obviously,” Candle told The Blade on Monday in a phone interview. “Great to be back with our team and our kids. There have been so many things that have gone on here the last couple of years with COVID and the changing landscape of college football. It's refreshing to put everything behind you and get moving. I look forward to having a great season in the Glass Bowl in 2022 with our great city and our great fans. There are a lot of positive things that I’m excited to be a part of at the University of Toledo.”

When news broke last week that Candle, who just completed his sixth season as UT’s head coach, was the front-runner to be the offensive coordinator at Miami (Fla.), it was met with Candle’s inevitable departure by a segment of the fan base that was enamored by a raise at a historic program located in a warm-weather state that Candle recruits with avidity. (An incoming athletic director and Candle’s contract was another consideration.)

All true, and all valid. But what people failed to examine was the man at the center of the storm. Candle is fiercely loyal, someone who rarely cuts assistant coaches loose and takes seriously the responsibility of being a mentor to more than 100 football players. He takes just as much pride in the football program having a 3.0 grade point average as he does beating Bowling Green.

“Anytime someone reaches out to you, especially a program of [Miami’s] caliber, it’s flattering and humbling that people talk about you,” Candle said. “I think that’s a place that’s going to do really good things. But at the end of the day, there’s a commitment here to see this thing through. There’s loyalty to these players and people at the University of Toledo to compete for MAC championships and press this program to new heights and do great things.

“When these opportunities happen, it’s about you, but it’s more about other people. That part is something I thought a lot about. These are time-sensitive decisions. You have to make a quick decision, and if you don’t have strong roots and you don’t have a strong commitment to where you are, they become easy decisions. But when you do, they’re harder. It’s not always about you. It’s about the bigger picture. We live in a world where players are constantly challenged with ways out. Being a clear example of staying the course is something that ultimately excited me, as well.”

In an email to The Blade, UT’s president, Dr. Greg Postel, said, “Coach Candle has strong Rocket Pride, and I’m not at all surprised of his public commitment to our team. As I mentioned before, it is important to me that the next Athletic Director determine any contract changes of our coaching staff. We are moving along in that process and look forward to welcoming our new AD later this spring.”

Candle, 42, hails from Salem, Ohio, located near Youngstown. He graduated from nearby Mount Union College, but his affinity for northwest Ohio has grown in 13 years at Toledo. He spent seven seasons as an offensive assistant before taking over the top job after Matt Campbell left for Iowa State in 2015.

A defeatist attitude at times permeates through the city and university, with residents and alumni staring at a half-empty glass. Candle meets negativity with a sledgehammer, and he wants northwest Ohioans to realize the assets right in front of them.

“Invest even more in where you’re at,” Candle said. “Be where your feet are, get going, continue to work really hard, keep pouring into this team and this community, and be damn proud to be a Rocket.”

The memo was received on Bancroft Street.

“It sends a message to not only our team and our university,” UT athletic director Mike O’Brien said, “but to the fan base that he really loves the University of Toledo. This is where he wants to be. Along that same vein, it speaks to those we recruit against.”

In six full seasons as head coach, Candle has won a MAC championship, finished first or second in the MAC West five times, and produced a smorgasbord of NFL players. His overall win percentage is the third-highest in program history for anyone who has coached more than two seasons, behind Campbell and Gary Pinkel. However, there is unease from fans because of Toledo’s 24-21 record since the 2017 MAC title.

But Candle isn’t averse to rolling up his sleeves and going to work. He possesses a lunch-pail mentality that values industrious players who don’t dabble in nonsense. With a roster built to win now, the expectations won’t diminish in 2022.

“We have a lot of work to do, but four losses by a total of 11 points gives you reason to be optimistic,” Candle said. “We have to figure out how to win those small margins. In our conference, traditionally, it’s come down to that every year. We play in a unique league that has a tremendous amount of parity. Sometimes the champion comes out of nowhere, other times they’ve been the favorite. We know the margin for error is small, and we’re going to do a great job of attacking those things in the offseason.”

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