If you’ve heard about Matt Campbell, you’ve likely heard about his age.
The head coach of the Toledo football team is a mere 32 years old. That makes him the youngest head coach in Division I-A college football. Factoids like that tend to follow people around.
But it’s not Campbell’s age that two Wyoming coaches talked about Monday afternoon at the team’s weekly media day. Both head coach Dave Christensen and offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon had high praise for the young coach. The men weren’t bluffing. Both have tried to hire the rising coaching star at different points in his young career.
Brandon was successful in his pursuit of Campbell. While in his first year as the head coach of Bowling Green in 2003, Brandon received a phone from Larry Kehres, the head football coach at Division III Mount Union. Brandon had an open graduate assistant position on offense. Kehres had a recommendation on who should fill it. Campbell had been an All-American defensive linemen for Kehres. Now the former player was looking to get into coaching.
“When I first talked to Coach Kehres about Matt, it was a no brainer,” Brandon said. “If Coach Kehres calls, I’m going to hire one of his guys.”
It wasn’t long before Brandon realized why Kehres recommended Campbell.
“He’s got a good football background, a really good mind,” Brandon said. “He’s a sharp X’s and O’s guy. And he’s really levelheaded”
After spending two years (2003 and 2004) as a graduate assistant for Brandon at Bowling Green, Campbell became the youngest offensive coordinator in college history when Kehres hired him to be Mount Union’s offensive coordinator in 2005. Campbell was 24 at the time. He coached his alma mater’s offense for two years. The tem went 29-1 and won two Division III national championships.
From then on, Campbell has continued his climb. He returned to Bowling Green as an offensive line coach and run-game coordinator. He then bounced to Toledo, where he oversaw the run game and offensive line.
Meanwhile Christensen took the head coaching job at Wyoming. One of the people he tried to add to his staff was the up-and-comer from Toledo, the school Christensen had been an assistant at for nine years.
But Campbell stayed in Toledo. And when Tim Beckman announced he was leaving to coach Illinois late last year, the Rockets promoted Campbell to run the team. Since then Toledo is 1-1. The Rockets won the Military Bowl 42-41 over Air Force last season, and lost the first game of this season to Arizona 24-17 in overtime on Saturday.
For Campbell the questions about his age are nothing new. He is used to being the young guy. And he’s surrounded himself with coaches of similar ages, many who have Mount Union ties. The average age of his coaching staff is 34 years old.
“We’ve all come from similar upbringings,” Campbell said Monday. “A lot of us started at smaller divisional schools, both offensive staffs and defensive staffs. We’ve worked our way up through the ranks. That’s one of the things that’s positive. We know what successful programs should look like.”
“The positive is having the energy to get there every day, to grab our kids’ attention and to relate to our young guys. I think all of us have played, have been in their shoes and understand.”
For Brandon and Christensen, the subject of Campbell’s age is irrelevant.
They know the rising coaching star has what it takes to win football games, and they’re taking him and his team seriously.
“He’s been a ground great leaders in the sport,” Christensen said. “He’s learned from very good people. I think he is a great technician as a position coach and is doing a fantastic job as a head coach.”