On Saturday, the Oklahoma Sooners will face the Iowa State Cyclones in front of a national stage on ABC. There are interesting matchups all over the field. However, the matchup of two of the hottest coaches in the country will take place as well. Lincoln Riley, age 34 will face off against Matt Campbell at age 38. To put that in perspective in terms of Big 12 lineage, Bill Snyder (78) is older than both Riley and Campbell combined. (72) Lincoln Riley and Matt Campbell are winning beyond their years.
Started at the bottom, now he’s here
Campell has had a few stops en route to his ascent to the head coach of a Power Five program. Immediate after graduating from Mount Union college where Campbell was a three-time national champion, he began his coaching career at Bowling Green State University. He served both the 2003 and 2004 seasons as a graduate assistant. From there, he transitioned back to his alma mater where he was the offensive coordinator for Mount Union for two years.
Now, here is where the ping pong version of Campbell’s career comes into play. In 2007, Campbell returned back to Bowling Green as the offensive line and run game coordinator coach. Staying with the Ohio theme, he moved on to Toledo in 2009 as the run game coordinator as well. Interestingly, this move allowed him to reunite with Tim Beckman. Beckman was the defensive coordinator at Bowling Green while Campbell was there. As a result of this partnership, it would pave the way for his first head coaching job.
Head Man in Toledo and Iowa State
In 2011, Beckman moved on to Illinois to take the head coaching job with the Illini. Campbell, then, received his first head coaching opportunity in 2012 with Toledo. Campbell was an instant success with the Rockets as well as over his tenure there.
While he was there, Campbell had a 35-15 overall record. This culminated in 2015 where Toledo peaked, ranking number 20 in the associated press poll. He coached the Rockets to four bowl games in his tenure, going 2-1 in those games. He left the Toledo program in 2015 prior to their bowl game.
In November of 2015, Campbell was introduced as the new head coach at Iowa State. Quickly, Campbell realized that he needed to build up a program to deal with the Big 12. After a rough 3-9 start in 2016, Campbell and the Cyclones improved to 8-5 in 2017. They were the only Big 12 school to defeat both TCU and Oklahoma. His efforts were enough to earn the 2017 Big 12 coach of the year honors.
Riley starts his coaching career while still in school
One of the reasons that Lincoln Riley and Baker Mayfield meshed so well together at Oklahoma was because they understood one another. They both started as walk-on quarterbacks at Texas Tech. Now, that is where the similarities end as Riley and Mayfield’s careers took different trajectories. After a year of sitting behind fellow Big 12 coach Kliff Kingsbury, Riley decided to be a coach. Right away Riley was a student assistance under Mike Leach. Then, he continued his stint under Leach for a total of seven years.
Riley’s first big break
After spending his entire career as a receivers coach, Riley received the promotion he was looking for. He accepted a position as offensive coordinator at East Carolina. He worked for head coach Ruffin McNeil. Riley’s offense was always among the best in the country for the five years that he was with the Pirates.
Stoops needs an identity
Following the 2014 season, Bob Stoops made a bold move. Seeking the need for a new identity, he fired then offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. Stoops always preferred the Leach style of offense and wanted to move back to that style. As a result, Riley was hired as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. His presence made an immediate impact in Norman. He helped lead the Sooners to a playoff spot in 2015 while winning the Broyles Award as the nations top assistant.
Ready or Not, Next Man Up
The entire college football world was shocked when Stoops announced his retirement the summer before the 2017 season. Riley was the man hand-picked by Stoops to take the keys. He has not disappointed just 16 games into his head coaching career. Riley orchestrated the number one offense in the country and yet another college football playoff spot. His Sooners are ranked number four in the country headed into this weekends matchup.
Two Hot Commodities
Campbell has forced Iowa State into a national college football conversation. Bein one win away from playing for a Big 12 championship at Iowa State tends to turn some heads. Campbell was linked to several prominent jobs last year and was even mentioned as a possible replacement for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. He is proving that he can win anywhere. And, if he shows that continued success in Ames it will just be a matter of time before he moves up the ranks.
Meanwhile, in Norman, Riley is sitting pretty. He’s had numerous NFL teams calling in the offseason just to tap into his offensive knowledge. It will be just a matter of time before the NFL brings a more serious question to the table with a possible coaching offer. Brilliant offensive coaches in college football don’t seem to last very long without the NFL at least asking.
On the field, Saturday, Oklahoma should have a decided edge in terms of talent. But, watch the effort, precision, and discipline that both of these teams play with. However, in terms of coaching, you won’t see much better than you see on Saturday morning.