University of Toledo head football coach Matt Campbell.
Matt Campbell’s introduction to athletic rivalry came as a boy living in the crucible of football-obsessed Massillon, Ohio.
He grew up in the Perry district. His father coached 10 minutes away at Jackson, where the school’s highfalutin image was the antithesis to Perry’s blue collar feel.
Confronted with the thought of someday coaching against his two boys, Rick Campbell walked away from coaching after a championship season in 1986. Matt, his oldest son, was about 8 years old.
“I think my dad was wise enough that if he was still going to be the football coach that it would be a tough situation,” Matt said.
Not unlike the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University, Perry and Jackson don’t think much of the other.
Campbell, Toledo’s second-year coach, is preparing this week to participate in his ninth I-75 Rivalry game, a series in which he’s accumulated a 6-2 record working for both schools. His team is a four-point underdog for Saturday’s clash of Mid-American Conference title contenders at BG’s Doyt Perry Stadium.
Rick Campbell, who works these days as athletic director at Canton South, attends as many Toledo games as he can, declining a comfy spot afforded to him in the press tower so he can feel “more part of the game” in the stands. Father and son chat after each game, analyzing the previous three hours and discussing steps to move the program forward.
Last month, after Toledo lost a cliffhanger at Ball State, Rick’s message was simple: Stay the course. The Rockets (4-3, 2-1 MAC) responded with wins in their next two games.
“As a former coach, you’re always kind of looking at the game differently than most parents would be,” Rick said. “I don’t think you ever stop doing that no matter how long you’ve coached.”
Rick Campbell coached five seasons at Jackson, leading the school in 1986 to its first Federal League championship in 21 seasons. It is true he never coached another game, but he also never made a clean break. On Friday nights after Perry games Rick and Matt would head into the family’s back yard and hammer out mistakes Matt had made.
“I always kind of had that personal coach for me,” said Campbell, a three-sport athlete.
Campbell, whose parents divorced when he was in high school, believes his personality derives from the best qualities possessed by each one. He received his conversational skills, he says, from the affable Elaine, a hospital grant writer in Canton. He learned discipline from his father, who required Matt and his brother, Scott, to work laborious jobs in high school, including joining a crew that built bridges.
“Up at 6 in the morning, working til 4 at night,” Matt said.
When Campbell became disenchanted after one season at Pittsburgh, Rick introduced him to his old college teammate, Larry Kehres. Kehres, the legendary former Mount Union coach, accepted Campbell onto his team and later brought him back as an assistant coach, kickstarting an unlikely ascent that saw him become Toledo’s head coach mere days after his 32nd birthday.
Campbell says “the best coaching story I’ll ever have” is from the 2005 Division III national title game. As offensive coordinator that season, Campbell installed a spread system that minimized the role had by his brother, the team’s tight end. Relegated to blocking duties most of the year, Scott erupted with three catches for 40 yards to help the Purple Raiders knock off Wisconsin-Whitewater and end a three-year drought without a national title.
All three of the Campbell men wore No. 89 at Mount Union, and all three became coaches. Scott is an assistant at Perry.
Rick’s coaching career, though cut short because of his loyalty to his sons, still resonates today.
“Why I got into it was because of him,” Matt said. “My earliest childhood memories are being at two-a-days when he was the head coach. That’s all I remember growing up, especially from my early childhood.”
FLUELLEN UPDATE: Running back David Fluellen “didn’t practice a whole lot” Tuesday, according to Campbell. Fluellen’s status for Saturday is unknown still. The two-time, 1,000-yard rusher injured his back in the fourth quarter of last week's win over Navy and did not return.
“We’re going to try to get him going a little bit more tomorrow and see where he’s at,” Campbell said.
Another running back, Kareem Hunt, is good to go. Hunt, who left Saturday’s game with a foot injury, participated in practice, the team’s first of the week.
Safety Ross Madison (knee) practiced but Campbell stopped short of declaring him available to play.