Steve Campbell gets his point across to his Central Arkansas Bears.

 

The revolving door in college football coaching keeps revolving. Salaries keep escalating.

The average salary of an SEC head football coach is $4.1 million per year. And we can expect at least four of those jobs to change hands this year.

Rick Cleveland

And here’s what I can never figure out: With all that turnover, why does a guy like Steve Campbell never get a call?

For that matter, how come he never gets a call from one of the Group of Five schools where the pay doesn’t approach the SEC, but is certainly more than he made at Delta State, where he won a Division II national championship; or Gulf Coast Community College, where he won a juco national championship; or Central Arkansas, where he is certainly a threat to win one (D-I FCS) this season.

All 51-year-old Steve Campbell does is win. And win and win and win and win. At UCA, Campbell makes about $200,000 a year or about 1/20th of what the average SEC coach makes.

One guy’s opinion: Campbell would win at the highest level of college football just as he has won everywhere else. Overall, as a head coach at the collegiate and junior college levels, his teams have won 157 games and lost 52. I know what Jake Gaither, the legendary Florida A & M coach, would say about Campbell. He’d say, “He can take his’n and beat your’n, or take your’n and beat his’n.”

Says Campbell’s current boss, UCA athletic director Brad Teague, a Jackson native: “Steve’s just a ball coach. He would be successful at any level you put him. We’re fortunate to have him here and I know it. He’s so successful because of the way he cares about his people – his players and his assistant coaches. They’ll do anything for him.”

Mostly, they want to be like him. The gaudy winning percentage and the national championships are nice, but here is what most impresses me about Campbell. He not only was the head coach of that 2000 Delta State team, he also coached the offensive line. Six of his offensive linemen on that team have gone on to be offensive line coaches at the high school, juco and college levels. You ask me, that really says something about Campbell.

That offensive line paved the way for a record book day in the national championship game. Delta State scored on nine straight possessions and ran out the clock on the tenth. The Statesmen gained 649 yards and never punted in a 63-34 victory over Bloomsburg of Pennsylvania.

Steve Campbell has won two national championships and looks to a third.

This season, at Central Arkansas, his nationally sixth-ranked Bears average 454 yards and 35 points a game, and, yes, even at the D-I level, he still coaches his offensive line. A supposed showdown with 6-1 McNeese State last week turned into a beat-down. UCA won 42-17. Since losing to Big 12 power Kansas State in its opener, UCA has reeled off seven straight victories by an average of 22 points a game.

Mississippians are playing a huge role in that success. You’ll find 13 players from the Magnolia State on the Central Arkansas roster because, said Campbell, “The high school and junior college football is so good there, and that’s where most of my football background is and where I have so many connections.”

Teague, who was formerly the athletic director at Delta State, never worked there with Campbell.

“I came there three years after he left and all I heard was Steve Campbell this and Steve Campbell that,” Teague said. “It wasn’t just about his coaching, but about how good he was with people. I decided if I ever got the chance to hire Steve Campbell I would.”

Teague tried to hire Campbell back to Delta State when Campbell was at Gulf Coast.

“But his son was still in high school and it wasn’t the right time to move,” Teague said.

When the UCA job opened up because the previous coach moved to Stephen F. Austin, Teague hired Campbell within a week. UCA and Stephen F. Austin are in the same league. Campbell is now 4-0 vs. Stephen F. Austin and his predecessor. His teams have advanced from 6-6 to 7-4 to 10-3 and now 7-1.

Presumably, one reason Campbell’s phone has never rung with a big-time athletic director on the other end is because his teams run the triple option offense. In big-time college football, only Georgia Tech and the service academies do that. But naysayers should know this: Central Arkansas both runs – and passes – out of the triple option. They run for 173 yards a game, pass for 272.

Another reason is possibly this: Campbell is anything but a self-promoter. He isn’t flashy. He just works, with total focus, at winning – and does so.

He knows there’s a fortune to be made at the higher level, but says, “If I finish my career right here I can truly say I have been blessed. I’ve had a good run at a lot of good places.”

 

Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 12 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.