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Overreaction Monday: Is Matt Campbell Better Than Kirk Ferentz?

Some people sure seem to think the Cyclones’ head man is better than the Hawkeyes’.

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NCAA Football: Iowa State at Iowa
One of these men’s greatest accomplishment is winning 8 games in a season. The other has averaged 8 wins a year for 20 seasons.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State has a good one in head coach Matt Campbell. That’s the clear consensus everywhere you turn.

Heading into the 2019 season, Campbell is on the Dodd Trophy watch list for the nation’s top college coach. He’s coming off back-to-back Big 12 coach of the year awards, the result of the best two regular seasons at Iowa State since **checks notes** 2000. He’s delivered the school’s fourth ever bowl win and the first in nearly a decade.

By all accounts, Matt Campbell is a hell of a coach. He was a rumored candidate for a number of NFL jobs and there was speculation of a return home to Ohio when Urban Meyer stepped down at Ohio State. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks Campbell isn’t deserving of the attention.

That includes a number of Hawkeye fans. A growing number, in fact. To the point where some would rather have Campbell than current head man Kirk Ferentz. If you haven’t heard the refrain yet, you will. You’ll hear it when Iowa doesn’t beat Miami by more than 40 and you’ll certainly hear it the first time the Hawkeyes lose.

Cyclone fans will be right there to tell you as well. They wouldn’t trade Campbell for dusty old KF. One’s young, one’s old. One’s an up-and-comer, the other’s a once was. One is cutting edge and the other is slipping off it.

I mean, THE GUY WON 8 GAMES AT IOWA STATE FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! He won one of only 4 bowl games in program history!

He has TEN (10!!) conference titles to his name and FIVE (5!!!!!) national championships! National. Championships. And more of them than he has years at Iowa State (3)!

And have you seen him work out? He can squat at least 135 pounds (if you don’t work out, I can assure you it’s a big deal - my 4-year old would literally be crushed by that amount of weight) and he’s bought so into the #ActuallyHelpingFarmers thing that he pushes perfectly good tractor tires around an indoor facility.

Plus, Advocare!

What’s the Captain doing while Campbell is moving (light) weight and popping supplements, eating oatmeal and riding an elliptical?


That and beating Matt Campbell at the one thing they’re both paid to do - coach football.

Campbell, despite what he has accomplished in his time at Iowa State, has NOT beaten Iowa. That’s something past Cyclone coaches have actually had some mild success at. Despite being doubled up in the all-time series 44-22, 9 of those wins have come during the Ferentz era making the Captain only 11-9 against ISU.


In the past, Iowa State has played a style of football that has historically given the Hawkeyes trouble. They spread things out and dinked and dunked Iowa to death. It’s a strategy not totally dissimilar from what Northwestern has done to great annoyance. And while Iowa has slowly adapted and now seems much more capable of handling both that style and the scare of mobile QBs, Iowa State has taken on a new identity under Campbell.

Running counter to the rest of the Big 12 Conference, Iowa State has focused on building around the running game and a strong defense. In short, they’re trying to play like Iowa in a different conference.

That strategy has worked quite well. As already mentioned, the Cyclones have had their best seasons in roughly two decades in just Campbell’s second and third seasons. They’ve made a name for themselves knocking off top-5 teams in conference play.

It’s no wonder players are starting to #TrustTheProcess.

But playing Iowa-style football against Iowa hasn’t exactly been a recipe for success. Not just for the Cyclones - many a team has gotten into a rock fight with the Hawkeyes under Ferentz only to find out they don’t much like rock fights with other teams who have rocks.

The recent results, then, have to beg the question - why is this year different? Why does it seem everyone, certainly all Cyclone fans, has marked this one in the L column for the Hawkeyes?

Is it because Iowa State has snatched up recruits from Alabama? Because they snagged a top RB prospect away from Iowa? Because they have better defensive line this year? Because they have a significantly better returning QB who will actually stay the starter for a full season?

While those are all things are genuinely believed in Ames, Hawkeye fans should remain unconvinced.

Did Iowa State land a QB who had once had an offer from Alabama? Yes. Did Brock Purdy choose the Cyclones OVER the Crimson Tide? LOL.

Was Jirehl Brock a top priority for the Hawkeyes for a good portion of his recruitment? Yes. Did he still have an offer from Iowa when he chose Iowa State? No.

Does Iowa State have a tremendous defensive line returning this year? Yes, perhaps one of the best they’ve ever had. Is it better than Iowa’s? I guess we’ll see, but I have a hard time seeing it with the combination of Chauncey Golston and A.J. Epenesa on the edge and the potential of Daviyon Nixon in the middle.

Is Brock Purdy better than Nate Stanley? I guess we’ll find out in a few years. For now, Stanley is on the verge of leaving as Iowa’s all-time leading passer and is in his third year at the helm of the offense. Purdy may end up better, but I don’t know that you can honestly say in their current versions he is.

And at the end of the day, despite the great coach that Matt Campbell is - and Division III national title and Advocare jokes aside, he is - Kirk Ferentz has simply been doing it longer and better. It’s a tremendous feat that Campbell has gotten Iowa State back to respectability. He’s done amazing things in a short time.

But Ferentz has done more. His highs have been higher and he’s been doing it longer. Eight wins at Iowa State in year three is a big accomplishment. In Iowa City, we complain about our coach averaging only 8 wins a year for the last two decades.

He has as much talent on the roster now as he’s had in roughly a decade. There are question marks in spots, but that’s the nature of coaching in a state like Iowa (whether you’re a Cyclone or Hawkeye). He’s got a third year starter at QB, a pair of first round offensive tackles and a top ten pick coming off the edge. The secondary is young, but Phil Parker. And the running game can’t be worse than a year ago.

So yeah, I’m riding with Kirk Ferentz. Again. I’m here for the guy that’s been doing what the other guy is being praised for doing for twenty years. The guy that has adapted and changed to New Kirk and Kirk 3.0. The guy that hasn’t just won some conference coach of the year awards, but the national coach of the year awards. The guy that’s got top-10 finishes, not just top-10 wins. The guy that’s won not one bowl game, but 8. The guy that created the process the other is asking players to trust.

Give me the Captain, in all his 8 and 4 glory.

Happy Monday. Enjoy your week and embrace the mundane. Somewhere, there’s someone who would kill to have what you have, even if it seems totally average to you.

Go Hawks