Towson, MD (Sports Network) -
When Rob Ambrose took over at Towson, even the thought of winning games at his alma mater was a challenge.
Playing in the Football Championship Subdivision's toughest conference - CAA Football - the Tigers were an after-thought, a team that had gone 6-17 the two seasons prior to Ambrose's arrival.
"You have to get to a point where you can actually discuss winning, and it took two years before that could even be a conversation," Ambrose said. "The first time I walked out on the field against a CAA team and looked at my guys versus another CAA team, we looked like a JV team, and I'm thinking 'My gosh, this is terrible.'"
Rob Ambrose led the Tigers to an eight-win improvement and a surprising CAA title this past season.
The results were terrible, too. Ambrose went 3-19 in his first two seasons, including 1-15 in conference play.
But that all changed this season, as Ambrose led the Tigers to an eight-win improvement and a surprising CAA title after getting picked last in the preseason polls. He was rewarded with the 2011 Eddie Robinson Award, which goes to the FCS coach of the year, is presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com.
All season, pundits around the country were looking for Towson to finally trip up and return to its losing ways. That never happened as Ambrose engineered a 7-1 conference record - more CAA wins than Towson had in the previous five seasons combined.
It was a turnaround that likely wouldn't have happened if Ambrose, whose father, Tim, is a high school football legend in the state, wasn't a Maryland native, and had already developed connections in the Mid-Atlantic area.
"If this were not my home, if I didn't grow up in Maryland and I didn't have the connection we have in the Mid-Atlantic from my previous recruiting, I don't know if we could have got this done," Ambrose said. "All of the high school football coaches in the state of Maryland and a three-hour radius from here either knew me when I was four years old because of my dad or I'd been in their door as a recruiter in the past 10 years."
Focusing on the state of Maryland has paid off for Ambrose, as 49 players on the Tigers roster, and 12 starters, are from the "Old Line State." The list includes three All-CAA selections from Maryland and Jerry Rice Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) winner Terrance West.
For Ambrose, winning the Eddie Robinson Award is a bit of irony as he hasn't followed the traditional path on the coaching ladder.
"It took me a while to figure it out (coaching) because I actually tried to get out of the business a couple times," Ambrose said. "This is kind of a calling. I now know there are two things I have to do in my life: I have to take care of my family, and I have to coach. What I coach, what position, what level, it doesn't really matter. If I can do those two things, everything else works itself out."
At Towson, coaching has worked out well for Ambrose, and even with the freshly minted CAA championship in the trophy case, the building for the award-winning coach is far from over.
Samuel G. Freedman's "Breaking The Line" vividly recreates the world of black college football in the civil rights era with a gripping chronicle of the 1967 season for coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling State and Alonzo S. "Jake" Gaither at Florida A&M.