Tom Matukewicz has wanted to be a head coach since he was youngster.
When he was in high school and junior high, he practiced a halftime motivational speech in front of a mirror.
Before the 2012 season, Matukewicz took the next step toward his dream job, accepting the defensive coordinator position with Toledo after spending four seasons as linebackers coach at Northern Illinois.
He felt he eventually would have to be a coordinator before he had a possible chance at a head coaching job, and said the fact that he had no coordinator experience was a reason he wasn’t considered for the Huskies job after Jerry Kill’s departure after the 2010 Mid-American Conference Championship Game.
Matukewicz stayed on as NIU linebackers coach for the 2011 season before accepting the Toledo job.
“I didn’t want to miss a step,” Matukewicz said. “If I was a head coach without being a coordinator, I think that’s a step you should make, from hiring people to motivating people to scheduling and organization.”
In 2012, Matukewicz took over a defense that gave up 31.7 points a game. Last season Toledo gave up 28.4 points a contest, and this year the Rockets have shown improvement, giving up 27.7 points, which ranks sixth in the MAC.
“I think we’ve been really fortunate, we were able to keep our entire defensive staff, and Tom’s done a great job of consistently teaching fundamentals, and I think those are the biggest things, you’ve seen great proof of it,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. “We tackle much better, we’re alignment and assignment, much more sound than we have been.”
After being on the sideline for games last year, Matukewicz has been calling the defense from the press box in 2013. He wanted to be on the field last year to be able to motivate, but said he’s in a better spot to make corrections now.
Now, Matukewicz faces his biggest challenge of the season, going up against NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch. He remembers when Kill’s staff recruited Lynch, and Matukewicz said NIU felt Lynch could play defensive back if he didn’t make it as a quarterback.
He’s done just fine as a QB, and 10 different defensive coordinators have been faced with the challenge of trying to contain him this year. Those 10 coordinators haven’t been too successful.
Matukewicz said it’s impossible to shut down Lynch, and calls him “Jordan Football.”
“I hear about this Johnny Football guy down south, but this guy can do it all,” Matukewicz said.
Although he still is waiting for his shot at running a program, Matukewicz had a short-term head coaching job for about two weeks in 2010, when he was named the Huskies’ interim head coach for the Humanitarian Bowl.
The players on that 2010 team were the victim of a stunning upset in the MAC title game, and lost their coach just a few days later. Matukewicz was big on NIU being a player-driven program, and wanted the Huskies to come together.
“He was just showing his dedication, go be a Huskie. That’s why he’s always got a spark in most of these guys’ hearts,” NIU safety Jimmie Ward said. “You think about, [Toledo’s] a rival game, you look over and see Coach Tuke, it’s hard to hate Coach Tuke, that’s how I feel about the situation.”
What Matukewicz really remembers about his short head-coaching stint was being in the locker room after the 40-17 win over Fresno State in Boise, Idaho, knowing how special it was for the players.
Matukewicz always will hold his own place in NIU history – he’s one of only four NIU coaches to win a bowl game at the FBS level along with Bill Mallory, Joe Novak and Dave Doeren.
Wednesday evening, however, Matukewicz’s defense stands in front of NIU and its fourth straight MAC West title.
“When he took over (in 2010), it was awesome. He provided a new energy that was brand new and sparked the team. I think that’s what fueled us going into the Humanitarian Bowl,” said NIU linebacker Michael Santacaterina, who had Matukewicz as his position coach in 2010 and 2011. “It’s weird to see him across the sideline, doing the same antics he always has, going crazy, pumping everybody up.
“It’s also fun because you want to beat him. You want to get Coach Tuke; I know he feels the same way. He wants to beat us pretty bad, too. It’s fun.”