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Mehta: Meet the guy who would be the smart, bold choice as the new Jets head coach


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Mehta: Meet the guy who would be the smart, bold choice as the new Jets head coach

Manish Mehta
DEC 29, 2018 | 9:35 AM 

The search for Todd Bowles’ replacement will take thorough research given that the current pool of head coaching candidates lacks star power. Some have mistakenly concluded that it’s a weak crop simply because there are no slam-dunk coaches-in-waiting like in past years.

Gang Green should embark upon the most critical coaching hire in their maddening 59-year-old history with this guiding principle: Fortune favors the bold.


The truth is that quality candidates abound. You just have to dig deeper to find them. There’s no Easy button for Jets decision makers, no obvious guys to pluck to get their wayward green-and-white ship back on course.

There is, however, a brilliant young leader in America’s heartland who might make some organization look very smart.




You probably don’t know much about Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell, but plugged-in NFL talent evaluators are fully aware of him. Campbell has drawn rave reviews inside scouting circles for his work at Toledo and Iowa State the past six years.

Heck, the Patriots even wanted to hire him once upon a time.

The Daily News discussed Campbell with four general managers and two respected personnel men to learn more about the 39-year-old future coaching star.

He’s a leader who would infuse One Jets Drive with exactly the kind of energy and belief that has been lacking since Rex Ryan got his walking papers four years ago. Campbell isn’t a showman or snake-oil salesman, but he is the kind of voice that this franchise desperately needs.

“Look at what he's done everywhere,” GM No. 1 said. “He's gone in and built a winning culture, a winning program, and above all, a winning roster. He runs a well-coordinated operation, provides good leadership and communicates his expectations well. He’s also able to build relationships.”

Matt Campbell is earning rave reviews for his work at Iowa State.
Matt Campbell is earning rave reviews for his work at Iowa State. (Charlie Neibergall / AP)

NFL talent evaluators have been exceedingly impressed with Campbell’s ability to succeed at Toledo (35-15 with two bowl appearances in three seasons) and transform Iowa State from Big 12 afterthought into a threat against the conference’s traditional powerhouses.

He is stern, fair and direct, according to NFL sources. He is a maniacal worker with an ability to properly fit the pieces into his ever-changing puzzle.

If the Jets get creative, think outside of the box and don’t fear stepping off the conventional path that has gotten them stuck in a rut for the better part of their existence, they might strike gold with Campbell.


He’d be a smart, vibrant CEO coach, who would galvanize the entire place.

“His detail, his organization, his honesty, his understanding and ability to explain a player’s off-the-field habits and on-field preparation have impressed the heck out of me,” GM No. 2 said. “This guy gets it.”

Would the Jets open their minds? Do they have the resources and willingness to do the legwork to investigate someone who could take them to places that they’ve wanted to go for so long?

Frankly, they can’t afford not to find out more about Matt Campbell.

* * *

Football is in Campbell’s DNA.

It’s not uncommon to hear tales about sons of high school coaches following in their father’s footsteps, but how many people enter this world in a town (Massillon, Ohio) that puts a mini-football in the cribs of every male newborn at the local hospital?

Campbell was meant to be a coach even when he was working at a cement company right after his playing days as a defensive lineman at Division 3 powerhouse Mount Union.

His attention to detail, communication skills and ability to provide clear, quality information while coaching at Bowling Green and Mount Union as a low-level assistant didn’t go unnoticed.

Matt Campbell has already been in high demand for the work he has done at both Toledo and now Iowa State.
Matt Campbell has already been in high demand for the work he has done at both Toledo and now Iowa State. (Matthew Putney / AP)

The Patriots – yes, those Patriots – offered him a job in their scouting/developmental program, but he opted to stay on the college coaching track.

Campbell became the youngest coach at the time in the FBS when Toledo put him in charge at age 32 in 2010. He won Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year before taking over at Iowa State on his 36th birthday. Along the way, he garnered interest from Urban Meyer to join Ohio State’s staff.

Football people see the substance in this guy. He’s a terrific recruiter because he knows precisely the kinds of players that make sense for his schemes on both sides of the ball. That ability will be invaluable in the NFL when working with his general manager.

“He’s got a really good understanding of personnel: what he wants in a player and how they fit into the scheme,” one scout said. “He’s really good with that. He’s won with guys that he’s gone out and developed. He’s won at both spots (Toledo and Iowa State). He’s got a great presence to him when he speaks. He’s got a natural command.”

Campbell, who won Big 12 Coach of the Year honors last year after toppling two Top 5 teams, led Iowa State to a school-record six conference wins this season en route to the Alamo Bowl. He finished tied for fourth and third, respectively, in the Big 12 the past two years. Campbell is 19-19 in three seasons with two Bowl appearances after inheriting a program that went 8-28 in the previous three seasons.

But can a college coach with no prior NFL coaching experience make the jump from Ames, Iowa, to big-bad New York?

* * *

Two general managers (Nos. 3 and 4) admitted that they “love” Campbell’s prospects of being a successful NFL coach, but wondered whether New York would be the right market for a rookie head coach jumping to the league for the first time.

“Would I be hesitant? Yes,” GM No. 3 said. “But being hesitant doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t do it. That just means that you have to continue to dig.”

Matt Campbell
Matt Campbell (Charlie Neibergall / AP)

It’s fair to wonder about Campbell’s learning curve for myriad reasons, but I don’t subscribe to the notion that coaching in New York/New Jersey would be substantially different than Cleveland, Tampa, Denver or some of the other places that will be looking for a new head coach.

The spotlight might be intensified, but a smart, organized leader and communicator should be able to adjust.

The larger question is whether the Jets will be able to pair Campbell with a quality offensive coordinator to cultivate Sam Darnold’s talents. Campbell would be a terrific person to steer the ship, but he’ll need two coordinators to help execute the overall vision.

Assembling a quality staff is particularly challenging for college coaches making the jump to the NFL, especially one without prior experience in the league. The team would have to help Campbell bring in good pro assistants rather than simply good recruiters.

“That’s huge,” GM No. 4 said of the importance of building a good staff. “It can make or break a head coach. ... It’s so important for where the Jets are too because that quarterback hire and that offensive coordinator hire are so critical to Darnold’s development. The Jets really need to do what’s in the best interest of the quarterback.”

Iowa State has been a run-centric team that has incorporated spread offense principles and RPOs, but Campbell would presumably give his new offensive coordinator autonomy over the scheme. There would be a natural lure for quality offensive play-callers to coach with a CEO type like Campbell, who wouldn’t be breathing down their necks.

There will be some intriguing available offensive coordinators who would be great for Darnold like Browns OC Freddie Kitchens, Bucs OC Todd Monken, 49ers run-game coordinator Mike McDaniel, Rams pass-game coordinator Shane Waldron and former Vikings OC John DeFilippo.

A tag team with Campbell and one of those guys could help take Darnold to the next level.

“If I were to hire a college guy, I would make sure that he has a quarterback guru,” GM No. 2 said. “You better have someone come in who’s worked with NFL quarterbacks.”

There are also fair questions about a college coach’s ability to adjust to game management realities of the NFL, but I haven’t received any feedback to suggest that Campbell couldn’t handle it.

Iowa State tacked on another year to Campbell’s deal a few weeks ago. He’s making $3.5 million/year and technically signed through 2024 with a $7 million buyout clause through Feb. 1, 2019, but that shouldn’t be an impediment if an NFL team wants him.

Regardless, league insiders know what this guy is destined to be.

“He’d be a really good candidate,” a front office executive said. “He’s legit.”

Now is the time for the Jets to be creative, smart and bold.

Matt Campbell

Age: 39

Hometown: Massillon, Ohio

Playing Career: Defensive lineman at Division 3 Mount Union

Coaching Career: 

  • Iowa State head coach (2015-present): 19-19
  • Toledo head coach (2012-2015): 35-15
  • Toledo run-game coordinator/offensive line/offensive coordinator (2009-11)
  • Bowling Green offensive line coach (2007-08)
  • 2017 Big 12 Coach of the Year
  • 2015 MAC Coach of the Year
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I've shared my thoughts on Campbell in other threads, but to summarize I think he is a very good coach, but man that would be a leap of faith to hire him.  It could certainly pay off, but it would take some stones to hire him.

I know HS coaches that have been to Iowa State clinics and they also raved about his organization and attention to detail.  That to me is as important as anything with a good HC.  

I don't think he's and X's and O's guru by any stretch(not inadequate either) so his staff would be crucial.

I just can't see that being the play for the Jets, but would t be surprised if he ends up somewhere.

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15 minutes ago, Untouchable said:

Most important HC hiring in this teams history and people are actually trying to talk themselves into accepting the coach from Iowa State with absolutely zero NFL experience...


Which makes you think the Jets/Johnson are doing some expectation-setting here by leaking “Harbaugh!” but ending up a lot further down the food chain. Like how the Mets handle free agency 

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3 minutes ago, T0mShane said:

Which makes you think the Jets/Johnson are doing some expectation-setting here by leaking “Harbaugh!” but ending up a lot further down the food chain. Like how the Mets handle free agency 

I’m already bracing for Ken Whisenhunt.

In their goofy minds, the 3rd time has to be the charm.

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