Iowa wide receivers coach Erik Campbell has left the program for other opportunities, Kirk Ferentz finally announced this afternoon:
"Eric [sp -- yes, he misspelled the guy's name] has left the staff to pursue other opportunities. I am appreciative of his many contributions to our program and wish him the best in the future."
News of Campbell's departure has been well-known for months. Wide receiver recruit Damond Powell, who was recruited by Campbell, announced on Twitter that he was reconsidering his commitment because Iowa was out of Soup. That was five weeks ago, and it felt like confirmation of old news even then. CoachingSearch.com had Campbell interviewing for the offensive coordinator position at Eastern Michigan (where fellow Lloyd Carr assistant Ron English is head coach, and where Campbell interviewed for the head coaching position a few years ago) and wide receiver vacancies at Missouri and Virginia Tech.
We love Soup. Everyone who reads this site knows we love Soup. We thought he should have been seriously considered for the offensive coordinator vacancy last season, and we still think he's one of the best wide receivers coaches in the country. His resume, replete with Bo Schembechler references and first-round NFL wide receivers, is as good as you will ever see in a position coach.
It's why it is so difficult to say what we are relatively certain is true: Campbell's time had come, and his termination is probably good for the program.
Erik Campbell was a perfect wide receivers coach for a Ken O'Keefe offense. KOK's system relied on receivers that were big, tall, strong, and not particularly fast. Iowa ran traditional, well-defined, pro-style routes in the passing game. Run your route, get position, make a catch, and block in the running game: That's what O'Keefe wanted from his wideouts, and that's what Campbell was extremely effective at teaching. If you wanted Braylon Edwards -- big, mechanical, efficient -- then he was your man.
Ferentz's Iowa teams always looked for tall receivers, but that ballooned after Campbell's arrival. Since 2008 -- Campbell's first year on the staff -- Iowa has recruited fourteen wide receivers. The average height of those receivers was 6'3. The shortest two recruits -- Kevonte Martin-Manley and Jordan Cotton -- were 6'1. Only two of them could even post a fake 40 yard dash time under 4.5. And those stats don't include Campbell's two most prolific projects, Derrell Johnson-Koulianous and Marvin McNutt, who were on campus when he arrived. Iowa went out looking for Mario Manningham Starter Kits on the recruiting trail, and largely struck out.
It was telling when Greg Davis' one critical statement upon arriving in Iowa City was that the Hawkeyes lacked speed on the outside, and as Davis' passing scheme imploded this season, that deficiency became all too noticeable. Campbell had located, recruited, and coached receivers who were extremely dangerous when catching the ball in stride with shoulders turned downfield. They were inept when catching it flat-footed, or when running down the line of scrimmage. They could not accelerate fast enough to take advantage of space. They could not cut upfield before the tacklers swarmed. The addition of option routes, where the receiver is asked to read the defender and react based on that defender's position, only made things more difficult for a group of wideouts trained to "Run to spot A, turn and run to spot B, look for the ball, catch, rinse, repeat."
The bricks started falling in Campbell's wall early. Keenan Davis, once thought to be the ultimate Campbell recruit and closest thing Iowa could get to Manningham, never progressed as expected and was surpassed by underclassmen in his senior year. The other receivers dropped the ball too often and did nothing after the catch when they didn't. Receivers continued to run to the wrong spots on option routes, making James Vandenberg look like a doofus. When the Iowa offense essentially stopped throwing the ball to its wideouts in late November, things did not look good for Campbell. When Iowa began offering scholarships to 5'10 170-lb. track stars by the truckload in November, it was a renunciation of Campbell's archetype. When Ferentz announced that Davis would return, the writing was on the wall. The average Iowa wideout under KOK was 6'3 and ran a 4.5 fake 40. The average of this year's five wideouts: 6'1, 4.4, which would be tied for the shortest and fastest receiver of the Campbell era. Three of them are 6' tall or less. Only one has a fake 40 time over 4.4.
When the Greg Davis announcement was made, we advocated for Davis to be given the full reins of the offense. That clearly and unequivocally includes the selection of position coaches on the offensive side of the ball, especially when the position coach's basic style so clearly clashes with that of the coordinator. Greg Davis Iowa has little need for the brutish receivers of yesteryear, and Erik Campbell isn't built to teach option routes and tunnel screens to gnat-like speedsters. Davis' former wide receiver coach (and Andrew Dice Clay lookalike contest winner) Bobby Kennedy is available, having spent last season on Jon Embree's ill-fated staff at Colorado. He knows Davis, he knows this system, he was recruiting coordinator at Texas, and he's likely to be the next Iowa wide receivers coach.
As for Campbell, we're sorry to see him go. He was a class act to the end, recruiting through November even though he had to know the ax was soon falling. I'd be stunned if he isn't coaching somewhere next year unless it's of his own volition. As is true of many good coaches, he's been fired in a way that guarantees him rapid re-employment. Good luck and Godspeed, Soup.