Iowa State's new head coach is all about it, and he's been that way since the day he was born. Literally.
Massillon, Ohio, where Campbell is from, is a town so football-crazed that every male baby is presented with a miniature football in the hospital nursery. Look outside of this quiet central-Ohio town and you'll find the Pro Football Hall of Fame (eight miles away in Canton), two NFL teams in the Cleveland Browns/Cincinnati Bengals, and 11 college football teams playing in four different conferences. If you grew up in Ohio, chances are you love football, and that rings true with Matt Campbell.
From an early age, Matt loved football. His father Rick, high school football coach at Massillon Jackson High School, would bring his son along with him to watch 2-a-day practices. While those practices may be hell for the players on the field, these practices helped develop Matt's love of the game.
After being a standout defensive end in high school, and getting scholarship offers from many large Midwest universities, a University of Pittsburgh win over Virginia Tech was enough to earn Campbell's commitment to the Panthers. He didn't stay there long, however. The lack of commitment to the football team, and many other things about a large Division I program, turned him off from playing for Pitt, and he soon transferred to play close to home at Divison III Mount Union. Despite not being on scholarship (Division III schools don't have them) he excelled on the defensive line, was a two-time All American, and helped the Purple Raiders win 3 national championships.
(Learn more about Campbell's playing days here)
Being an Ohio boy through and through, Campbell got his start in coaching at Bowling Green, where he followed in the wake of a departing Urban Meyer. Though he played on the defensive side of the ball in college, Campbell immersed himself in the Falcons' offense (apparently he spent nights at the office studying the playbook). Eventually the offensive coordinator, who called games from the press box, ended up using Campbell as his eyes and ears on the field. This led to a job running the offense at his alma mater, where in two seasons leading the Mount Union offense, the Purple Raiders went 29-1 and won two NCAA Division III national titles (in addition to mentoring six All-Americans, including NFL wide receiver Pierre Garcon).
After another stint coaching the offensive line at Bowling Green, Campbell landed a job with Toledo, coaching the offensive line and serving as the offensive coordinator for three seasons. Near the end of the 2011 season, his life changed dramatically.
Head coach Tim Beckman's departure to coach the Fighting Illini made Campbell the interim coach for all of three days before being named the head man, making him the youngest coach in the FBS at 32 years of age. All of this occurred with a bowl game looming, of course.
After watching one Campbell-led practice, Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien had seen enough to know he'd found his man. After seeing the passion he displayed on the practice field, and noting the players' and coaches' response to it, he made his decision. "It wasn't so much me giving Matt a break," O'Brien said. "He was going to get it sooner or later. It was: This is our guy. I thought he could take our program to the next level."
Coaching the Military Bowl from the press box, offensive coordinator style, and letting then-Toledo coach Louis Ayeni handle on-the-field duties resulted in a bowl victory over Air Force. Since then? Campbell has done nothing but win (35 wins in 4 seasons), field teams with balance on both sides of the football, and bring in recruiting classes at or near the top of the MAC.
(For more on Campbell's rise through the college coaching ranks, click here)
As a coach, Campbell is known for his honesty, dedication to his players, and as being as genuine of a football coach as there is. His players love his laid-back, yet fiery personality which has resonated incredibly well with recruits and their parents as well. He is as humble as they come, and is a man who will never forgot where he came from.
Outside of football, Campbell is known as a family man. He grew up in a family that not only valued football, but put a high value on education. His father, Rick, coached at Jackson High School in Massillon, Ohio, and later served as principal there. He now acts as athletic director at Canton South High School. Campbell's mother, Elaine, is a grant writer for Mercy Medical Hospital in Canton, OH.
Campbell and his wife Erica have two girls, Katelyn (5) and Isabella (4), and a son, Rudy, born in 2013.
The most important thing to know about Iowa State's next head football coach isn't his upbringing in football. It isn't his remarkable run of success as a coach, his ability to recruit, or his dedication to his players. It's not even his code of conduct, which is ultra-Midwestern.
It's his desire to build a program that is special.
What motivates Matt Campbell is his desire to not only succeed, but a will to build a program into something remarkable. He had one goal at Toledo: To put Toledo on the map and make it bigger and better than it had ever been before. Don't believe me? Here's a quote from the man himself:
"So ambition toward what? To be build something special and be different? Yes, that's my ambition."
Iowa State just lost a coach who was passionate about Iowa State. And to replace him, we've found a man who is passionate about the game of football. A man who's wanted to lift up every program he's coached or played at -- and has.
Welcome, Matt Campbell.
Here's hoping you can make Iowa State that special program.