Kirk Herbstreit did his best to ruin what was supposed to be a very hyped homecoming week with #4 TCU coming to town, and he did it with one tweet suggesting that Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell is already on his way out. I’m here to tell you that Campbell is here to stay...for now. He’ll be here in 2018 and I’m going to break down a few reasons why it doesn’t make any sense for him to leave or for a better job offer to suddenly become available to him.
First of all Iowa State is not Toledo. Iowa State is a middle of the road Power 5 football program. You don’t leave Iowa State unless you either have issues within the program(AD, financial backing of the program, etc), you want to coach for your alma mater or you get a job at a program where you can contend for a national title.
Iowa State has upgraded Jack Trice Stadium, built a nice indoor practice facility and the alumni has fully backed its athletic department. This isn’t Texas or Clemson, but this isn’t a program you bolt because of a lack of support.
Matt Campbell played one year at Pittsburgh before transferring and graduating from Mount Union. Some coaches will take a slight step down to coach for their alma mater, but I don’t see Campbell leaving for a Division III school.
The third reason why a coach might leave Iowa State is for that chance to coach at a national powerhouse. This is the only way Campbell will leave Iowa State in my opinion. He could win a conference title or titles at Iowa State, but winning a National Title here is just a pipe dream. Never say never, but when you compare what Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and other powerhouse programs have in their trenches, it’s hard to imagine Iowa State beating two programs like that in back to back games in their 14th and 15 games of the season.
This year I see one powerhouse program with a job opening. Nebraska, Arkansas and Oregon State will all be looking for a new head coach, but those are not better jobs than Iowa State. Arkansas can get better players, but right now they are maybe the 11th best program in the SEC and their fans have extremely high expectations. Nebraska was a great job in the 90s, but it’s 2017 and they are maybe the 6th best Big 10 program right now with a lot of up and coming programs nipping at their heels. Oregon State is a death march for any head coach, so we’re safe there.
Right now Tennessee is the only program I could see luring out Matt Campbell, and it’s probably a top 10 or 15 job in college football. So that means he’s as good as gone right? Wrong. Tennessee will probably consider Campbell to some degree, but to think he’s their number one or even a top three target at this point is laughable. They’ve been done for too long to mess this one up again. They’ve whiffed badly on their last three hires and they have to get this one right.
Keep in mind that Butch Jones wasn’t a popular hire at the time he got the job at Tennessee and he had 4 conference titles in the last 6 years when he got the job(2 at CMU, 2 at Cincinnati). Campbell doesn’t have any conference titles and still has a losing record at his current job. Hiring Campbell at Tennessee would be a huge risk. Maybe after a couple of 8 or 9 win seasons at Iowa State that will change, but right now he’s behind about 9 candidates.
Who are those 9? I’m glad you asked.
Tier 1- Retired Coaches
1) Les Miles- Miles has won at Oklahoma State and LSU. He’s been a dominant recruiter in the SEC and has won a National Title. A lot of people think he’s too old to go back into coaching after a full year off, but he’s only 63. He’s sent a ton of players to the NFL, won a lot of big games and has all sorts of connections. He can build a dominant staff in a hurry. He will be Tennessee or any big name program’s first call.
2) Chip Kelly- Great college coach, awful NFL coach. What he does well requires a deeper roster, easier schedule with less games and the ability to gets plays off much faster. The 46 man gameday roster in the NFL along with 16 games in 17 weeks made his up-tempo style a failure in the pros. It works in college. I know he hates the recruiting aspect of college, but this is his chance to return to coaching.
No NFL team is going to give him a job unless it’s something small like “up-tempo consultant”. An SEC team would love to hire spread offense guru that runs an offense that has always given Nick Saban fits(Texas A&M, Clemson, Ole Miss).
Tier 2- Current Power 5 Contender Coaches
3) Chris Petersen- I believe that Petersen can be lured out of Washington. He’s peaked there. The later games offer less exposure for his kids and his team. Washington also isn’t a traditional power. They’re sort of like Missouri or Texas A&M. They’ve had some incredible seasons, but they’re known as good, not great programs.
Petersen has done masterful job at developing players at both Boise State and Washington. Imagine what he could do at a top SEC school. I don’t know if he has any interest in leaving Washington, but it’s not his alma mater and I know he’s frustrated with certain aspects of coaching on the west coast.
4) Mark Dantonio- Dantonio has done an outstanding job at Michigan State since 2007. He’s got wins over everyone in the Big 10 and turned a middle of the road team into a playoff contender. He’s also helped develop 4 NFL quarterbacks- Nick Foles(later transferred to Arizona), Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook. I personally think he’s peaked at MSU and at age 61, this is the right time to make that move up to a bigger program and try to win a National Title.
He’s coached in the midwest for a while, but he actually played for South Carolina in the late 70s so he does have some ties to the SEC. You usually don’t see successful coaches like Dantonio leave after a decade at a Power 5 school, but the Big 10 East has become absolutely brutal. He has to contend with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan every single year. Tennessee would be very hard to pass up at this point in his career.
Tier 3- Non Power 5 Head Coaches
5) Charlie Strong- His failure at Texas hurts his stock a little bit, but outside of that tenure, he’s won 30 of his last 33 games(23-2 at Louisville, 7-0 at USF). He’s an outstanding recruiter, a good defensive mind and his kids play hard for him. The powers that be at Texas can’t seem to get out of their own way. South Florida is lucky to have Strong and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a good Power 5 job again.
6) Scott Frost- Frost became the offensive coordinator at Oregon after Chip Kelly left for the NFL, so if a program wants a Chip Kelly but can’t convince Kelly to go back to college, here’s Plan B. He’s also had a really interesting coaching background that includes working or player for Bill Walsh, Tom Osborne, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly. He could incorporate an offense around various option attacks, an up-temp spread and a traditional west coast offense.
He’s also shown the ability to turn around a program in a hurry. He took over UCF in 2016 a year after they finished 0-12. He went 6-7 last year and is off to a 6-0 start in 2017.
7) Mike Bobo- Mark Richt’s quarterback coach and offensive coordinator at Georgia since 2001 has been killed it at Colorado State ever since. He probably won’t get the Tennessee job, but he’ll be on their short list because of his experience in the SEC and he might end up with the Ole Miss or Arkansas job.
8) Mike Norvell- I assume the current head coach of Memphis was an assistant under Justin Fuente who left Memphis for Virginia Tech after 2015, but actually they brought him in from Arizona State where he was their offensive coordinator. Norvell has gone 14-6 at Memphis and is currently 6-1 this year and ranked in the top 25. He probably won’t get a Power 5 offer quite yet, but he’s had so much success already at Memphis that he probably won’t be in the American Conference for long.
9) Neal Brown- The Head coach of Troy has won 15 of his last 20 games including a win over LSU and a top 25 ranking in 2016. He’s developed NFL talent(Antonio Garcia most notably) and also played a close game against Clemson early last season. He’s the best example on this list of doing a lot with a little.
So there you have it, the 9 coaching candidates that will be considered more sought after than Matt Campbell right now. The Gene Chizik move was a total outlier. You just don’t lose your head coach at a Big 12 program unless he accomplishes something first or has specific connections to a bigger program.
If Campbell puts together a couple of 9+ win seasons at Iowa State I do believe he will move on to greener pastures. He’s smart, creative, has put together an outstanding coaching staff, he recruits his ass off and has the exact demeanor you want in a head football coach.
For now, Iowa State is lucky to have him and should see continued success without interruption for at least 1-2 more seasons, possibly longer.