David Briggs: What will it take to pull Matt Campbell away from Iowa State?

·5 min read

May 25—There's the core of the sun, there's the molten center of a fresh-out-of-the-microwave Hot Pocket, and then there's Matt Campbell.

As you probably heard, Campbell's stock is sizzling, with word leaking last week the Detroit Lions reportedly offered to drench the former Toledo and current Iowa State football coach with more green than a bath in Lake Erie.

Per CBS Sports, Campbell turned down an eight-year, $68.5 million deal to become the next coach of the Lions.

Yes, $68.5 million, which works out to roughly a kazillion dollars per season and, for the record, about what former Rocket Nick Saban earns at Alabama.

Of course, you can believe what you want about that curiously definitive report. The Lions clearly pushed back on it, with a team source telling the Detroit Free Press that no "formal offer" was made to Campbell.

I have reservations about the specifics, too. But my general understanding is there's more truth to the report than not — what qualifies as an offer is a matter of semantics that allows teams to tell us they got the only guy they offered — and, in any case, the larger point remains.

Campbell might be the hottest football commodity in the country, with more suitors than the Bachelor, including in the NFL. Sports Illustrated reported five of the seven franchises with vacancies this offseason reached out to interview him.

He said thanks but no thanks to all of them, including the Lions.

All of which tells me one of two things: Either Campbell is incredibly loyal or he senses an incredible opportunity with his 2021 Cyclones team (or, option C, he did not want to plea to an eight-year sentence with the Lions).

I'd say it's a bit of both.

Yes, Campbell is loyal.

There remains a small section of Toledo fans who will not forget the circumstances of his departure in 2015, wondering if his mind was in more than one place during the regular-season finale, when the Rockets — ranked 24th in the country and needing victory to clinch their spot in the Mid-American Conference title game — were stunned at home by Western Michigan. He signed on at Iowa State two days later.

But know this: Campbell still loves Toledo, just as his former players here still love him (and pushed hard for his top lieutenant, Jason Candle, to succeed him).

And just as Campbell now loves Iowa State.

He didn't go there for a money grab. He went there for the opportunity to compete at the highest level of college football and build something no one thought possible.

Which he's very much doing.

Imagine the vindication Campbell must have felt — but never would have expressed — when he led the Cyclones to the Big 12 championship game last year and punctuated a top-10 season with a 34-17 liquidation of Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.

Admit it: You wondered if Campbell had made a huge mistake when he went to Iowa State. I certainly did, and a few years ago, I asked him how many people told him to stay at Toledo

"You know," he said, "everybody told me that."

And why not?

Iowa State was the dead end to end all dead ends. Since World War I, one coach left the school with a winning record. That was Earle Bruce, who went 36-32 from 1973 to 1978 — a chicken-salad record deemed so remarkable that it got him the Ohio State job.

Yet like Bill Snyder did at middle-of-nowhere Kansas State before him, Campbell has proven the best coaches can win anywhere, excuses be damned. The 41-year-old has constructed Iowa State from the ground up, one greater-than-the-sum-of-its-three-star-parts season after another, to the point where the Cyclones now reside among the skyscrapers of the game, with everything building toward this season.

Come autumn, Campbell — a three-time Big 12 coach of the year who has led Iowa State to four straight winning conference seasons — is positioned to field not just another overachieving underdog, but one of the top teams in the country. The Cyclones return star senior passer Brock Purdy, All-American senior running back Breece Hall, and 20 of 22 starters. They have a real shot to crash the Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State Invitational, also known as the playoff.

And, clearly, Campbell wanted to be a part of it, no matter how much money was thrown his way. (Besides, it's not like he's hurting. You can reportedly live on $4 million per year in Ames, Iowa.)

With that, do I think he'll never leave? Of course not.

If he can win this big at Iowa State, imagine the possibilities at a place with limitless resources in the thick of fertile recruiting grounds, somewhere that has all all the built-in advantages his current home does not.

Compare the Cyclones to Ohio State, which spent $60.1 million on football last year and is the only power-conference school in a state that produced 120 scholarship FBS recruits in the 2020 class. Iowa State spent $26.9 million and is the little brother of two power-conference schools in a state that yielded 14 such recruits.

My suspicion is Campbell, a Massillon, Ohio, native, would no doubt leave for OSU or Notre Dame, and give serious thought to Michigan, Penn State, and the right blue blood at the right time, along with the perfect situation in the NFL.

And yet, for now, he knows it doesn't get much better.

Campbell has a job to finish, and the chance to turn a great tale into a storybook one.

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