It is the first day of practice for the Tulane University Football team. The New Orleans weather is as it always is in early August – hot – though on this day, there seems to be a slight reprieve before it inevitably heats up again. For Coach Bob Toledo, entering his third season as the coach of the school’s football team, the next 12 games for him and the team are much like New Orleans summer weather – unpredictable, and it’s only going to get hotter as this year’s expectations after the past two seasons, 4-8 and 2-6, are high.
But for Toledo, who looks nonplussed by the heat for our interview, being in high-pressure situations is nothing new.
A California native, Toledo grew up in the world of Pac-10 football – UCLA and USC, to name two teams – and always knew, “I wanted to be a coach since I was 11 or 12.” But before that came playing football. He was a starting quarterback in high school, then went to San Francisco State, where as a senior, he led the nation with 45 touchdown passes in a season – and learned what’s commonly referred to as the West Coast Offense [system]. In the Camellia Bowl in 1967, he never finished the game because he was knocked out (and had his jaw dislocated) by a player on the opposing San Diego State team – the player was Fred Dryer, better known to TV fans as “Hunter.” He tried out for the San Francisco 49ers, and his teammates, and fellow quarterbacks, included John Brodie, Steve Spurrier (University of South Carolina’s head football coach) and George Mira. “It was a lot of fun,” he says.
He soon jumped into coaching: starting in 1969 with Archbishop Riordon High School in San Francisco, making the leap in ’73 to UC-Riverside, where he was offensive coordinator, then head coach. In ’75, he became a secondary coach at USC, where he experienced his first bowl game – the Rose Bowl – as a coach. The team also won the National Championship in ’78, when Toledo was a defensive back coach. From ’79-’82, he was head coach at the University of the Pacific, and in ’83 left his native state to coach at Oregon (assistant head coach/offensive coordinator, ’83-’88); and Texas A&M (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, ’89-‘93). He returned to California in ’94 as offensive coordinator for UCLA, becoming the team’s head coach in ’96. It was a dream job for a kid raised on Pac-10.
While he coached at UCLA (until 2002), his teams went to the Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl, Sun Bowl, and the Las Vegas Bowl. The 1998 season was both blessed and cursed – the team was eligible to play in the national championship game and they beat USC, their longtime rival. But an early season game with University of Miami was canceled due to Hurricane George. It was rescheduled to later in the season – and “Miami wasn’t good at the beginning of the season, but got better,” he says. When the teams met up, UCLA lost by a heartbreaking 49-45, and missed its chance to play in the national championship game, instead playing in the Rose Bowl. In 2006, Toledo became offensive coordinator for the University of New Mexico, making the move to Tulane, a member of Conference USA, for the ’07 season.
When he joined Tulane University’s football team as head coach, he became the coach of a team, which despite being in the shadow of SEC powerhouse Louisiana State University, quietly turns out NFL-quality football players. Case in point: Chicago Bears running back Matt Forté. Toledo has another hotshot running back, senior Andre Anderson, ready to go. And for the rest of the team and the Tulane football fans – well the season, it’s going to stay hot and unpredictable.
Profession: Head Football Coach, Tulane University Age: 63 Family: Wife, Elaine (he calls her Lainie, and they’ve been married for 41 years); three daughters (“The Toledo Sorority House”) and eight grandchildren (7 girls, 1 boy) Resides: English Turn Born and grew up: San Jose, Calif. Education: Lincoln High School (San Jose, Calif.) – where he played football (quarterback), basketball (guard) and baseball (catcher); bachelor’s degree in physical education from San Francisco State Favorite book: Patton on Leadership, by Alan Axelrod Favorite movie: Patton Favorite TV show: I watch ESPN. Favorite music: I love jazz. Favorite restaurant: There are so many great restaurants, but I do like Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. Every Thursday night during the season, my wife and I go out to dinner to different restaurants – it’s our date night. Favorite food: There’s nothing I don’t like, but I do like Italian food. Hobbies: Golf and fishing. I’ve done a lot of fishing in my time, and I really love ‘redfishing.’ Favorite vacation spot: Maui – it’s breathtaking.
What is the team’s challenge? The challenge for us is to get better, to show improvement. I think we’re a better football team than the three years I’ve been here. It’s got to show in the record, hopefully, eventually. But I think we’ve made progress, we’re getting better. We’ve done a nice job of recruiting.
Any new players on the team stand out to you – even after the first day of practice? It’s hard after the first day of practice … Devin Figaro; D.J. Banks; Shane Delery, from Jesuit High School, a defensive lineman. Those are just a few guys.
What players on your previous teams and Tulane University have done or are doing well? [At Tulane] Matt Forté and Andre Anderson – he was selected this year as a candidate for the Doak Walker Award. At USC, Ronnie Lott, Dennis Thurman, Dennis Smith. When you’ve coached for 41 years, you’ve coached a lot of great players.
What should Tulane football fans be excited for? I think to get them excited about the program, to return it to respectability and make the team more competitive.
How long does it take to make a team competitive? I think it takes a few years. You have to get players that buy into your system and you’ve got to recruit players to your system. My first year here, I honored the commitments of the previous staff because we got here so late – we only had a month to recruit. So we really only got started working on the following year, which was last year’s recruiting class – and 12 of those guys played as true freshmen. And this year, we’ve had over a year to recruit – and everything I’m hearing from our players who worked out with the new players, the strength and conditioning coaches, and watching practice today, I think it’s a talented group.
We’re making strides. We’re fairly young; we’re starting to develop quality depth.
You were a quarterback in college, as was New Orleans Coach Sean Payton and the defense coordinator Gregg Williams. Why do you think quarterbacks end up as coaches? I think what happens when you’re in that position, as quarterback, you are more involved in the total understanding of not just offense, but defense because you understand defense. It’s just an overall understanding of football; you’re exposed to more than other positions.
I see you went to San Francisco State during the late 1960s, graduating in ’68. Did you ever participate in the “Summer of Love?” I was never a hippie. [But,] it was fun to go to Haight-Ashbury, and I liked to watch the bands. We would see Janis Joplin on campus all the time, and bands like the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, as well as Joplin, would play on campus.
True Confession: I like to go to plays – musicals. My wife and I go to New York where we’ve seen Wicked, The Lion King and Jersey Boys.