Iowa State's Matt Campbell may alter USC's coaching search
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fairly easy
Matt Campbell has remained loyal to Iowa State, but he might be ready to leave the tough job behind. His decision could alter the USC coaching search.
Interested observers of Matt Campbell from Los Angeles to Baton Rouge, La., to Gainesville, Fla., may be looking for a blueprint as to how a pursuit could proceed in the coming days. There is one man other than Campbell himself who can be of some assistance — the only athletic director who has ever seen the long-coveted Iowa State head coach say goodbye to a place he loves.

The man's name is Mike O'Brien, and he's been the Toledo athletic director for two decades. O'Brien oversaw the promotion of Campbell to offensive coordinator, named him interim head coach when Tim Beckman left for Illinois, evaluated his performance in that role — "It was as if nothing had changed," he would note — and then made Campbell, at age 32, the youngest head coach at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

The two developed a strong bond as Campbell won 35 games in four seasons, but O'Brien always knew, possibly even more than young Campbell, that it would come to an end. That's just how it was in the Mid-American Conference — if a coach had success, he left.


Thanksgiving weekend in 2015, Campbell's moment arrived. The Rockets played Western Michigan that Friday, and after a tough loss, Campbell found O'Brien and told him that he was going to meet with Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard on Saturday morning in Toledo.

"I assumed it was over," O'Brien says.

The next day, Campbell met with O'Brien and told him he had accepted the job. But this interaction was no ordinary, businesslike formality. Not for Matt Campbell.

"Matt shed a tear or two, that's fair to say," O'Brien recalls. "Our conversation was difficult. We had a wonderful AD-head coach relationship. I offered him his first head coaching opportunity. He was very open about our success at Toledo and the times we had."

Next, Campbell met with his team, and, with that, he was on a flight to Ames that Saturday night.

But, once at Iowa State, he made one thing very clear in his early interviews.

J. Brady McCollough
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