Towson University head football coach Rob Ambrose and his staff hope to do more than coach their players to wins in 2015. While that may be the ultimate goal of all college football programs, Ambrose sees a greater need among the players who walk in and out of the Towson locker room.
Ambrose said the current generation of college students are cultivating in a society that lacks real leadership, which is something he’s seen within his own locker room.
“You don’t find leaders in kids today,” Ambrose said. “You don’t find kids that want to lead today. They don’t want to be responsible for other things — things bigger than themselves — and if you did, even if you could find one of those guys, you don’t find kids today that know how to follow someone worth following. So it’s a much bigger problem on a philosophical/social scale, and it gets into your locker room pretty good. Without leaders, you’re kind of lost in life and in the locker room.”
After having discussions about that during the last few years, the Tigers’ coaching staff established a new leadership structure for the team.
Prior to the 2015 season, Ambrose had a leadership system in place called “Tiger Accountability.” Ambrose said his staff took that and “injected it with some legal steroids and nutritional elements to make it a lot bigger.” That led to a new hierarchy for Towson in which six “kings,” not team captains, lead the team.
The system is based on three criteria. The first is doing things right, or at least trying to do things right all the time. The second is selflessness, and the third is to have the courage of your convictions, which Ambrose said is the most important. He said the courage to stand up for what’s important and hold teammates accountable when they’re wrong.
If a Towson football player is recognized as possessing all of those criteria, they are appointed a king. The Tigers’ six kings this season are linebackers Bryton Barr and Eric Handy, defensive lineman Jon Desir, quarterback Connor Frazier, fullback Emmanuel Holder and running back Darius Victor.
“They are the leaders,” Ambrose said. “They are the guys that have proven themselves on and off the field to hold to the core values of the institution and the football team.”
But like most titles, these roles can be taken away if another player demonstrates he’s deserving of the crown. While that can breed competition among players, there has also been a positive dynamic that has developed between the kings and those working their way up the ranks.
“There’s rewards for being each and every one of those and working your way to that level, to the point where there can only be six kings,” Ambrose said. “[The] only way for a king to lose his seat is to be unseated and to be not worthy of being a king. The kids have taken to it. The responsibilities have grown, and because of it, they’re tighter. They follow each other. I don’t say stuff — they say stuff.”
Ambrose said players who spend their entire collegiate career at Towson and finish as a king will be remembered fondly.
“We decided to name them kings, because if you ‘die’ — at the end of your career, if you retire a king — or if the last thing you did in life was a king, you’re historic,” Ambrose said. “You’re remembered forever.”
Ambrose also said the hierarchy is meant to teach student-athletes how to lead while serving as mentors to their peers.
“You think about some of these kids, the world we live in is so ‘me’ and so individualized that actually following somebody that’s worth following is a new concept for some of these kids,” Ambrose said. “So not only do we have to teach leadership, we have to teach ‘follow-ship’ and appropriate ‘follow-ship.'”
Underneath the kings are “sentinel warriors” who are charged with watching over all things Towson football. Those are players who possess two of the three established leadership criteria. Following them are soldiers, who are necessary to function but have yet to develop into leaders.
“We kind of grew it from there and made each level important,” Ambrose said. “There will be stickers on guys’ helmets that symbolize their level — certain types of gear that will symbolize their level, which college players love all that. But in it, we’ve really gotten to the point where the kings are taking over. They’re taking ownership, and we’re having better leadership, and we’re having better ‘follow-ship,’ and those two together make really good team chemistry.”
That chemistry, the coaching staff hopes, will continue to build a new culture of leadership as Towson grows. Ambrose said he’s seen more success in the program’s history when his players have seized control of the team’s culture.
“It means more when it’s theirs,” Ambrose said. “They’ll do what I say. It’s my program, but it’s their team, and when they take ownership of it, you’ve seen really, really good things happen. And I see that starting to take place now. We’ve had to do some things to get to that place, but I like where we’re going.”