Nick Toth came to Air Force as prepared as any new coach could possibly expect to be.
The outside linebackers coach spent his first two years at Ohio University in the late 1990s playing slotback in an offense run by Troy Calhoun. He then switched to defense, where he played under Tim DeRuyter – an Air Force grad and longtime assistant.
When he returned as a graduate assistant, he lived with Steed Lobotzke – another Air Force grad who is now the Falcons’ offense line coach.
Also at Ohio, he formed a bond with Air Force defensive coordinator Steve Russ, who was then in his first year of coaching.
“I probably have four or five people in the world who I consider best friends,” Russ said, “and he’s one of them.”
Toth went on to build a diverse coaching résumé. He was Von Miller’s position coach at Texas A&M. He was Fresno State’s defensive coordinator under DeRuyter. He even has some military background from working at The Citadel.
Still, with all those connections, all that preparation, he has found surprises in his transition after joining Air Force’s staff as a defensive assistant coaching outside linebackers.
One of those came in February, when he took advantage of a nice day to jog on a trail on the academy grounds. A group of cadets were running about 15 yards ahead of him when the national anthem began playing on the speakers. They instantly stopped and stood at attention.
“Nowhere else in the world, other than our service academies, does that happen,” Toth said. “That respect, where else does that happen? How phenomenal is that?
“Anthem played. Dead stop. You talk about a neat thing for me. And you always hear about the time commitment these young people have. To know that football is so important to them, and they’ve got other things going on here that are equally or more important, and they are doing it all well. They’re attacking all of them. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
It also doesn’t often happen that a program finds such a logical hire when an assistant spot opens.
“He’s exceptionally sharp, driven, intense, team-oriented,” Calhoun said. “Has a way to share that enthusiasm and energy with others. I mean a natural as natural gets football coach.
“A dynamite fit for here, too.”
Toth replaced Maj. Dylan Newman, who had filled the military representative spot on the staff as a general defensive assistant. Toth’s role is to join with Matt Weikert in coaching the outside linebackers, with Toth specializing on the “spur” spot and Weikert with the “bandits.”
“We have a very close staff and Nick has merged right onto the highway with us,” Russ said. “It’s really been fun to see.”
Much of Toth’s experience has come in working with outside linebackers and defensive backs. Air Force uses its spurs as a hybrid position, asked to fill both of those roles.
“He’s highly energetic,” outside linebacker Shaq Vereen said. “He cares about you. He legitimately cares about you. And that energy rubs off on us, too.”
It’s hard to talk about Toth and not mention that energy. He bounds through practice and is always moving, talking, gesturing … something.
“It’s just who I am,” Toth said. “We’re blessed to do what we do. This is not something we have to do, this is something we get to do. I don’t have to sit in a cubicle, which is good for some people but wouldn’t be good for me.
“If you don’t go out there and act like you want it all the time, somebody’s going to take your job. That’s one thing we can control – our attitude and our energy.”