You would be hard-pressed to find someone more passionate about his work than Matt Campbell.
Campbell, now entering his third season as the head football coach at the University of Toledo, describes himself this way.
“Relentless,” said Campbell. “Going from good to great requires relentlessness. I want to be relentless in the pursuit of greatness, and I want my staff and players to be the same way.”
Campbell’s pursuit of greatness has vaulted him up the coaching ladder quickly. He was named Toledo head coach on Dec. 12, 2011, becoming the youngest head coach in the NCAA Division I FBS at the time by more than three years. Today, at age 34, he is still the second-youngest head coach in the FBS. But age has no bearing on what Campbell has accomplished thus far in his career, and it certainly is not a factor on where he plans to lead the UT program.
Just 16 days after taking over the helm in 2011, Campbell led his Rockets to a 42-41 victory over Air Force in the Military Bowl. He followed that up with winning seasons in 2012 and 2013, including a berth in the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. These are just further chapters in his meteoric rise in the coaching world that began just a little more than a decade ago. When the subject of the most successful young coaches in the nation comes up, Campbell’s name is almost always included in the conversation.
There are many keys to Campbell’s success, but foremost is his relationship with his players. He is a stern taskmaster, but his players universally love and respect him. Campbell is one of those rare individuals who has the ability to connect with those around him.
“Being involved is essential,” he said. “It’s all about communication. You have to be engaged with everyone in your program. We set goals with each individual player. It’s important to understand their goals and push them to achieve them. You have to be accessible. It’s the same with everyone who is involved in your program. You have to connect with them in a meaningful way.”
Growing Up in Football Country
Campbell’s passion for football was nurtured in the heart of football country. He was born 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 at Mount Union 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
Campbell’s next move in the coaching ranks turned out to be pivotal, joining the Rocket staff as the offensive coordinator under head coach Tim Beckman in 2009. 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.
Beckman and Campbell had coached together for one season at Bowling Green in 2004 when Beckman was an assistant and Campbell was a graduate assistant. Their reunification at Toledo re-energized the Rocket offense. Toledo’s offense was consistently among the most productive in the nation in Campbell’s three seasons as offensive coordinator.
In his first season with the Rockets, 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 honors 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 either 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 a 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.
In Year No. 2 under Campbell, the Rockets finished with a 7-5 mark, 5-3 in league play. Toledo navigated one of its toughest non-conference schedules ever, traveling to then-No. 10 Florida and eventual SEC West champion Missouri to start off the season. The Rockets lost those two contests, but won seven of the next eight games, including a 28-25 triumph over arch-rival and eventual MAC champion Bowling Green, to finish with a 7-5 mark.
Campbell comes from a football family that placed a high value on education. His father, Rick, 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, 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.
Date of Birth: Nov. 29, 1979
Hometown: Massillon, OH
High School: Massillon Perry
Family: Wife: Erica; Children: Katelyn (5) and Isabella (4), Rudy (1)
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history, Mount Union, 2002
Record as a Head Coach
2011: Toledo, 1-0 (0-0 MAC) Military Bowl Champions
2012: Toledo, 9-4 (6-2 MAC) Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
2013: Toledo, 7-5 (5-3 MAC)
Career Record: 17-9 (11-5 MAC)
Record as an Assistant Coach
Bowling Green, Graduate Assistant, 11-3
Motor City Bowl Champs
Bowling Green, Graduate Assistant, 9-3
Mount Union, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line, 14-1
D-III National Champions
Mount Union, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line, 15-0
D-III National Champions
Bowling Green, Offensive Line, 8-5
Bowling Green, Offensive Line/Run-Game Coordinator, 6-6
Toledo, Run-Game Coordinator/Offensive Line, 5-7
Toledo, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line, 8-5
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Toledo, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line, 8-4,
Military Bowl Champions
Bowl Games as a Coach
2003 Motor City Bowl
2004 GMAC Bowl
2007 GMAC Bowl
2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
2011 Military Bowl
2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
NCAA D-III National Champions as a Coach
2005 Mount Union
2006 Mount Union
NFL Players Coached
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.
Danny Noble (Toledo, 2008-11): Tampa Bay
Eric Page (Toledo 2009-2011): 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