AMES, Iowa — Matt Campbell is taking a risk.
In a world where coordinators command high profiles and $2 million salaries, the Iowa State football coach has opted to simply not have an offensive coordinator for the 2018 season.
Innovation or idiocy?
Well, fair or not, that’ll likely be judged on its results rather than the actual process the setup produces, which has to make Mr. Process himself cringe.
Doing something so atypical means there will be a bullseye on the decision. If it works, the response will be, "The genius Campbell strikes again," but if it doesn’t, expect mutterings of "Who does that guy think he is?" across central Iowa.
That’s what happens when you step outside the box in any profession, but certainly one as tradition-bound as college football.
There were 15 coordinators in 2017 that made at least $1 million annually, according to the database compiled by USA TODAY. Clemson’s Brent Venables and LSU’s Dave Aranda, both on the defensive side of the ball, will reportedly clear $2 million apiece this year. Matt Canada pocketed $1.5 million as LSU’s offensive coordinator last year.
Schools wouldn’t pay those type of salaries if they didn’t view them as essential to winning football games. Campbell, though, he’s got a different idea about that.
“They are million-dollar jobs some places,” Campbell said, “and yet you see some of those million-dollar guys go to different schools and they fail because it wasn’t really about the million-dollar guy but it was about the team.
“I think there are a lot more of those stories than the true successes of the million-dollar guys. That’s one of the things I’ve always believed even being an offensive coordinator and being the playcaller and being the head coach.”
So when coordinator Tom Manning left for the Indianapolis Colts this winter, Campbell filled his position as offensive line coach with Jeff Myers but essentially eliminated the management position.
“The biggest thing for me, No. 1 is, what do we need?” Campbell said of his thought process. “And No. 2, how can we get better? Where can we continue to evolve to push this thing forward? I think those were the two biggest thought processes for me of moving forward.”
That led him to a more position-oriented approach. Joel Gordon moves over to guide the QBs, Myers takes over the o-line and new hire Nate Scheelhaase has the running backs.
“I think we’ve been able to add attention to those position rooms that have been really big for us,” Campbell said, “direct positional improvement in a lot of ways.”
Don’t mistake Jim Hofher’s title of “senior offensive analyst” as a euphemism for offensive coordinator, either. He’s making $240,000 this season, far off a coordinator’s salary at nearly a third of what defensive coordinator Jon Heacock is bringing home.
Exactly how it’ll work — and who will call plays — remains a little murky publicly. What seems apparent is that it’ll be a collaborative effort with Campbell being directly involved at a high level — which isn’t all too different from the way it worked previously.
But what Campbell is doing is different. Different doesn’t mean bad, but it does mean he’s sticking his neck out.
“From our end, we’re always trying to evolve,” Campbell said. “I think you have to. It’s your job. Our profession is like any other profession. Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, you’re going to get humbled really fast. That’s proven in our profession.”
The decision to go OC-less is reminiscent — to me, anyway — of the first staffing decisions Campbell made at ISU. Instead of surrounding himself with assistants with heaps of Power 5 experience, Campbell basically brought over his whole staff from Toledo. That was a risk for a guy whose totality of exposure to Power 5 football was one season as a walk-on at Pittsburgh in the 1990s.
And it worked out. Really well.
Campbell bet on himself — and the people he knew best. If it wouldn’t have immediately worked out, I can promise you there would have been grumblings of, "Toledo trying to win in the Big 12."
That’s what going without an offensive coordinator is now — betting that it’s what will work best for Campbell and his program.
Maybe OC is just a title that leads to inflated salaries and outsized attention. Maybe it’s integral to modern offenses. Perhaps Campbell is on to something. Perhaps he’s biting off more than he can chew.
There’s risk and reward. Campbell’s already proven ability to manage both gives him the opportunity to try it his way.