Last Friday, the Michigan Wolverines and new head coach Sherrone Moore announced Kirk Campbell would be taking over as the program’s next offensive coordinator. This comes just a couple years into his tenure at Ann Arbor, but he has previous experience and a reputation among the players that made him worthy of the promotion.
Campbell’s first full-time coaching role was at Tiffin, a Division II school, where he coached the wide receivers and tight ends. Wide receiver was the position that Campbell played at Mercyhurst University where he was a two-year starter. He then went to West Virginia Wesleyan where he was a graduate assistant coaching wide receivers.
He was the offensive coordinator at Division II Alderson Broaddus from 2012-16, while also serving as assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach. In his five years, the Battlers’ offense averaged 34 points per game. He was named head coach there, but was only in the role for five months before taking an offensive analyst role at Penn State under James Franklin.
While in Happy Valley, Campbell had a small hand in developing three future NFL quarterbacks: Trace McSorley, Sean Clifford, and Will Levis. Running backs Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders were also a few dominant forces on a couple of strong offenses for Penn State. In two of his three seasons, the Nittany Lions had a top-15 offense in college football. Campbell was involved with quarterback meetings, scouting future opponents, and game-planning during his tenure.
Then, Campbell followed Ricky Rahne who was the Penn State offensive coordinator and quarterback coach from 2018-19 to Old Dominion. There, Campbell was the offensive coordinator from 2020-21. The Monarchs did not play in 2020 due to COVID-19 but became bowl-eligible for the second time in program history in 2021. That season, Campbell’s offense averaged 28.5 points and 385.4 yards per contest. The Monarchs won their final five games of the season after a quarterback change that had them averaging 36 points per game.
Following the 2021 season, Campbell was dismissed by Rahne as the program moved from Conference USA to the Sun Belt. The Monarch’s offense took a drastic dip in 2022 scoring just 19.5 points per game, which was 116th in college football. Starting quarterback Hayden Wolffe’s completion percentage also dropped from 62.8 percent with Campbell to 56.7 percent without him. Rahne fired his offensive coordinator after an abysmal 3-9 season. In 2023, Old Dominion made their third bowl game in program history, but the offense still scored only 23.8 points per contest.
After his dismissal from Old Dominion, Campbell joined the Michigan Wolverines as an offensive analyst. He immediately was named to On3’s 65 rising star support-staff coaches fans needed to know. Notably, Campbell made a difference in recruiting. He was the secondary recruiter in bringing 2024 four-star Jadyn Davis into Ann Arbor and was the primary on 2025 commit Carter Smith who was named Florida’s Player of the Year last season.
When Matt Weiss was dismissed in the 2023 offseason, Campbell was a shoo-in to take his spot as the quarterback’s coach. Jim Harbaugh had glowing remarks when he announced the hiring:
“Kirk is a bright, young offensive mind that immediately meshed with our coaching staff last year. Our offensive staff was really impressed with his knowledge and expertise of the entire offense, and he was integral to the success of the offense with game planning and opponent scouting. Kirk does an outstanding job developing relationships and I know he will have an outstanding rapport with our quarterbacks.”
It didn’t take long for that ‘outstanding rapport’ to be proven on the field. Michigan starting quarterback J.J. McCarthy went on to have maybe the best season a quarterback has ever had in Ann Arbor throwing for 2,991 yards and 22 touchdowns while completing 72.3 percent of his passes on the way to a national championship. McCarthy saw the connection he would have with Campbell in the spring and how he would help him develop.
“I absolutely love Kirk,” McCarthy said in March of last year. “Not just the fact that he’s a wizard in the pass game and with developing QBs — just because he’s a great friend, great brother. When you can have that relationship with a coach, it can push through so many limitations and exceed expectations with my growth and his.
The difference between former quarterback coach Weiss and the transition to Campbell was apparent for the 2023 Heisman candidate:
“Coach Weiss hit me with more of a stoic approach of, ‘Okay, let’s break this down in meetings,’” McCarthy continued. “Kirk was, ‘Let’s break it down on the field right now. Let’s get to the root of it right away.’ And he just has this live energy to him that we all gravitate toward.
When Sherrone Moore was suspended for the first game of the 2023 season, Campbell took over play-calling duties and led the Wolverines to a 30-3 win over East Carolina. McCarthy had maybe his best game of the season completing 26 of his 30 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns. Michigan had over 400 yards of offense.
Now, that will be Campbell’s role each week and he has to develop more than just quarterbacks. But he’ll go back to his roots for most of that after playing the wide receiver position. It feels like he is going to have a great understanding of the entire offense, and it helps that Sherrone Moore and newly promoted offensive line coach Grant Newsome will still have their input.
One thing that jumps out to me from the film is that tight ends are going to continue to love to play at Michigan. Campbell loves to line his tight ends up all over the field but expects a lot from them in blocking situations. The tale goes back to his Old Dominion days. Look at this trap run where the tight end goes in motion and blocks the defensive end on the far side for a nice pickup:
The motion fools both linebackers and a huge hole is opened up by the offensive line for a substantial pickup on third down.
Here’s Michigan running a similar play with tight end AJ Barner in that Week 1 win over East Carolina:
Play like this will then open up the tight ends in the passing game on play-action where they slip past the defensive end instead of blocking. It’s really difficult for the defense to catch up with the motion across the field with playmakers that will be as dynamic as Colston Loveland and Max Bredeson in 2024.
I also anticipate the Wolverines to continue to craft and develop more motion within the offense. Midway to late last season, Michigan started putting Roman Wilson in motion to get him a head start on what was already the fastest player on the football field. Guys like Semaj Morgan and Tyler Morris will step into a similar situation in 2024, and I anticipate a lot of pre-snap activity particularly out of the slot.
That has evolved a bit since Campbell’s play-calling days at Old Dominion. They did a lot of this kind of motion into the backfield pre-snap:
The thought process is there with the RPO, but the play development was too slow against a superior defense like Wake Forest.
Against East Carolina, the concept was similar with Donovan Edwards out of the slot, but running in front of the backfield instead of behind it:
The RPO was out of the play here, but the thought process of getting the ball into the hands of a guy in motion to throw off the defense was similar. That first game was the most we saw Blake Corum and Edwards on the field at the same time, so maybe there will be similar looks in 2024 with Edwards and Kalel Mullings who are both anticipated to have large roles. If not, twitchy receivers like Morris and Morgan could get the spotlight.
Of course, the offense will also have power run looks with the smash mentality that Moore wants to play with. But, under Campbell, the offense should also see multiple formations including spread-out designs like we saw in the clips above. It’s going to be a healthy balance like we saw in 2023 no matter who lines up behind center, but will likely skew to more runs without the accurate and powerful arm of McCarthy present.