So much has happened in Matt Campbell’s coaching career that it is hard to believe he is just 33 years old.
Campbell was named head coach for the Toledo Rockets on Dec. 12, 2011, becoming the 26th head football coach in school history and the youngest head coach in the NCAA Division I FBS at the time by more than three years.
Just 16 days after taking over the helm, Campbell led his Rockets to a 42-41 victory over Air Force in the 2011 Military Bowl. It was only another chapter in his meteoric rise that began just a decade ago.
In his first full season as head coach of the Rockets, Campbell led his team to a 9-4 record and a trip to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Rockets won eight straight games at one point in the season, vaulting to No. 23 in the nation in the AP poll.
Making an Impact as an Assistant
Following a stellar playing career at Mount Union that included three national titles, Campbell returned to his alma mater in 2005, serving as offensive coordinator/offensive line coach at the age of 25. The Purple Raiders won two more NCAA Division III titles with Campbell as an assistant.
Campbell then moved on to Bowling Green, where he had previously served as a graduate assistant. He coached the offensive line for two seasons under Gregg Brandon before being promoted to run-game coordinator in 2008.
Campbell then joined the Rocket staff as the offensive coordinator under head coach Tim Beckman. At age 29, Campbell was the second-youngest coordinator in the NCAA Division I FBS, but that didn’t prevent him from molding the Rockets into one of the highest scoring offenses in the country.
In 2009, Campbell helped guide UT to the No. 16-ranked offense in the country (437.9 yards per game) despite losing senior quarterback Aaron Opelt to injury. A year later, the Rockets went 8-5 and earned their first bowl appearance in five years thanks to an offense that ranked No. 3 in the Mid-American Conference.
In 2011, Campbell’s offense ranked No. 8 nationally and first in the MAC in scoring offense (42.2), and 10th in the country and No. 1 in the MAC in total offense (481.3). And when Beckman assumed the Illinois head coaching position at the end of the regular season, Campbell was tabbed to take over the helm.
Campbell’s head coaching career got off to a great start with an exciting 42-41 victory over Air Force in the Military Bowl, making him one of only a handful of head coaches to pick up their first win in a bowl game.
Growing Up in Football Country
Campbell was born and grew up in Massillon, OH, a football hotbed famous for presenting every male baby with a miniature football at the hospital nursery. His father, Rick, was the football coach at Massillon Jackson High School, a rival to Campbell’s own high school, Massillon Perry. An outstanding high school football player, Campbell chose to play college football at Mount Union, just a short drive from his home.
Campbell thrived under legendary coach Larry Kehres, twice earning first-team All-America and Ohio Athletic Conference defensive lineman of the year honors. Better still, Campbell was a vital part of three consecutive NCAA Division III national titles (2000, 2001, 2002). During his career at Mount Union, he had 207 tackles, 49 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. Campbell also excelled in the classroom, earning CoSIDA Academic All-America honors and graduating in 2002.
Learning the Coaching Ropes
Campbell began his coaching career as the offensive graduate assistant at Bowling Green in 2003 and 2004, working with the tight ends for teams that won the 2003 Motor City Bowl and 2004 GMAC Bowl. He then returned to his alma mater for the 2005 season as offensive coordinator/offensive line coach. In his two seasons leading the Mount Union offense, Campbell and the Purple Raiders went 29-1 and won two NCAA Division III national titles. In those two seasons at Mount Union, Campbell mentored six All-Americans on offense, including future NFL star wide receiver Pierre Garcon.
Campbell returned to Bowling Green as an assistant coach for two seasons, one as the offensive line coach (2007) and one as the offensive line coach/running game coordinator (2008). The 2007 Falcons went 8-5 and earned a trip to the GMAC Bowl.
Firing Up the Rocket Offense
The next coaching stop for Campbell was a 20-minute drive up I-75 when Tim Beckman hired him to become Toledo’s offensive coordinator in 2009. Beckman and Campbell coached together for one season at Bowling Green in 2004 when Beckman was an assistant and Campbell was a graduate assistant. They worked together to re-energize the Rocket offense. The results were immediate, as Toledo’s offense was consistently among the most productive in the nation in Campbell’s three seasons as offensive coordinator.
In 2009, Campbell helped guide UT to the No. 16-ranked offense in the country (437.9 yards per game), despite losing senior quarterback Aaron Opelt to injury midway through the season. The Rockets also ranked No. 1 in fourth-down conversions (80.0 percent) and No. 18 in passing yards (278.1). Three Rockets earned All-MAC honors on offense, while Eric Page led the nation in receptions by a freshman and was named first-team Freshman All-America by Phil Steele Magazine and the College Football News.
Toledo’s offensive resurgence continued in 2010, a season that saw the Rockets go 8-5 and make their first bowl appearance in five years. The Rockets ranked third in the Mid-American Conference in both scoring and total offense. UT also featured two of the most exciting players in the league, Page and junior running back Adonis Thomas. Page was third in the MAC in receptions with 99, and earned numerous All-America honors as a kickoff returner. Thomas rushed for 1,098 yards and led the conference with 6.3 yards per carry. Campbell also mentored a very effective offensive line, including junior tackle Mike VanDerMeulen, a third-team All-MAC selection.
In 2011, Toledo (9-4, 7-1 MAC) ranked eighth nationally and first in the MAC in scoring offense (42.2), and 10th in the country and first in the MAC in total offense (481.3). The Rockets also ranked eighth in the nation and first in the league in passing efficiency (160.4) and 18th in the country and fourth in the MAC in rushing offense (213.6). The Rockets’ offensive line was tied for sixth in the country and first in the MAC in fewest sacks allowed (10). A big key for the team’s success was its ability to protect the football. UT ranked third in the nation in turnover margin (+1.2) and tied for sixth in fewest turnovers (14).
The Rockets’ offense gained the national spotlight when it scored more than 60 points in consecutive games for the first time in school history: 60 points vs. Northern Illinois on Nov. 1 and 66 vs. Western Michigan on Nov. 8. Page continued his rampage through the record books, finishing second in the country with 125 receptions. He was one of four finalists for the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player, and one of four Rockets to earn All-MAC on offense. VanDerMeulen and Thomas repeated as all-league performers, and they were joined by sophomore center Zac Kerin.
Campbell earned national attention for his recruiting, as well. Rivals.com named him a "top recruiter" in 2011. Campbell was one of nine coaches from non-automatic qualifying schools in the BCS to make the list, and the only one from the Mid-American Conference. Toledo’s 2010, 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes were ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the MAC by virtually every scouting service.
Taking Over the Helm
Campbell‘s career took a dramatic turn at the end of the 2011 regular season when Beckman left the program to take the head coaching position at Illinois. UT Athletic Director Mike O’Brien immediately named Campbell the interim head coach. Three days later, O’Brien decided to remove the interim label, and Campbell was introduced as Toledo’s permanent head coach.
With the Military Bowl looming in just 16 days, Campbell had to prepare his team for the game, while simultaneously gearing up for the 2012 recruiting battles and re-building his coaching staff.
For the Military Bowl matchup vs. Air Force, Campbell chose to remain in his normal offensive coordinator position in the coaches’ box and let associate head coach Louis Ayeni handle the on-field duties. The strategy worked out perfectly, as the Rockets put up 42 points against a solid Falcon defense. The game was ultimately decided by the UT defense, however, as the Rockets forced a fumble when Air Force tried for a two-point conversion following an apparent game-tying touchdown with just over a minute left to play.
Building Champions at Toledo
Campbell’s first full season as head coach of the Rockets was quite an exciting ride. Following an overtime loss at Arizona in the season opener, Toledo reeled off eight consecutive victories, including a 29-23 triumph over then-No. 18 Cincinnati. Close conference losses to Ball State and Northern Illinois shot down the Rockets’ dreams of regaining the MAC Championship title, but UT won nine regular-season games and earned a berth into the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl vs. Utah State. It was Toledo’s third straight winning season and third consecutive bowl appearance.
Campbell’s Rockets also accomplished something that no UT squad has ever done—crack into the Top 25 of the BCS rankings. Toledo moved into the No. 25 spot on Nov. 4, the same week it placed No. 23 in the AP poll and No. 25 in the USA Today coaches poll. It was the Rockets’ first appearance in a Top 25 poll since 2001.
The 2012 Rockets featured nine players who earned All-MAC honors, including a league-best six slots on the first team. Junior Bernard Reedy earned first-team accolades at wide receiver and punt returner, as well as second-team honors at kickoff returner. A first-teamer on the defensive side of the ball, senior Dan Molls, led the nation in tackles with 166.
Campbell comes from a football family. His father, Rick Campbell, coached at Jackson High School in Massillon, OH, and later served as principal there. He now serves as athletic director at Canton South High School. Campbell’s mother, Elaine Campbell, 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 July of 2013.
Matt Campbell Information
Date of Birth: Nov. 29, 1979
Hometown: Massillon, OH
High School: Massillon Perry
Family: Wife: Erica; Children: Katelyn (4), Isabella (3), Rudy (born July 2013)
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history, Mount Union College, 2002
Record as a Head Coach
2011: 1-0 (Military Bowl Champion)
2012: 9-4, 6-2 MAC (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl)
Career Record: 10-4, 6-2 MAC
Record as an Assistant Coach
2011 Toledo: 8-4 / Military Bowl Champions
2010 Toledo: 8-5 / Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
2009 Toledo: 5-7
2008 Bowling Green: 6-6
2007 Bowling Green: 8-5 / GMAC Bowl
2006 Mount Union: 15-0 / D-III National Champions
2005 Mount Union: 14-1 / D-III National Champions
2004 Bowling Green (GA): 9-3 / GMAC Bowl
2003 Bowling Green (GA): 11-3 / Motor City Bowl Champs
Bowl Games Participated in as a Coach
2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
2011 Military Bowl
2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
2007 GMAC Bowl
2004 GMAC Bowl
2003 Motor City Bowl
NCAA Division III National Champions Participated in as a Coach
2005 Mount Union
2006 Mount Union
NFL Players Coached by Matt Campbell
Pierre Garcon (Mount Union 2004-07): Indianapolis, Washington
Josh Harris (Bowling Green, 2000-03): Cleveland
Kevin Kowalski (Toledo, 2007-10): Dallas
Kory Lichtensteiger (Bowling Green, 2003-07): Washington
Phillipkeith Manley (Toledo, 2008-11): Atlanta
Scott Mruczkowski (Bowling Green, 2001-04): San Diego
Eric Page (Toledo, 2009-11): Tampa Bay
Danny Noble (Toledo, 2008-11): Tampa Bay
Cecil Shorts (Mount Union, 2006-10): Jacksonville
Stephen Williams (Toledo, 2006-09): Arizona
College Football Playing Career
Defensive lineman, Mount Union College 1999-2002
NCAA Division III All-American, 2001 and 2002
NCAA Division III National Champions, 2000, 2001 and 2002