Matt Campbell is the toast of college football at the moment, and with good reason. Iowa State is ranked at No. 25 in this week's edition of the AP Top 25, the Cyclones' first appearance in the poll since Sept. 25, 2005. In the midst of a 3-game winning streak, Iowa State is 5-2 on the year and controls its own destiny to reach the Big 12 championship game.
That seemed unthinkable upon Campbell's hiring in Nov. 2015, and still seemed unthinkable just three weeks ago, before Iowa State and its walk-on quarterback went to Norman and beat then-No. 3 Oklahoma.
But Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard recognized Campbell's potential and knew others could come after his still-just-37-years-old head coach, and planned ahead by protecting the school accordingly.
We've reviewed Campbell's contract and found this section, outlining what Campbell would owe Iowa State should he leave for another head coaching job. In short: he would owe the school his entire remaining contract.
Campbell is under contract through the 2021 season with a salary of $2.1 million in 2017 that raises $100,000 a year, meaning Campbell is in line to earn $2.2 million in 2018, $2.3 million in 2019, $2.4 million in 2020 and $2.5 million in 2021.
Add it all up and you get a $9.4 million buyout should Campbell leave after this season.
It's worth keeping in mind Campbell is still just 37 and is being paid very well right now. In addition to his $2.1 million salary, Campbell will earn a $500,000 bonus with one more victory and is a candidate (as we sit here in late October) to pick up a $50,000 check for winning the Big 12 Coach of the Year award. He's also in line for a bonus of $250,000 for winning or sharing the Big 12 regular season championship and $100,000 for winning a bowl game. That would add up to $3 million.
Plus, being the head coach at Iowa State means something to Campbell. Or, at least he said it did when he told this story during his introductory press conference.
Still, this is college football and young, successful coaches are the sport's hottest commodity. Campbell will have suitors this winter, and at least one connected observer believes the coach already has his bags packed to leave Ames.
Herbstreit is connected within the sport and we don't want to discount what he's saying, but anyone paying a $9.4 million buyout would be beyond unprecedented.
In the closest recent example we could find, Colorado State tried to fence in Jim McElwain with a $7.5 million buyout. The Gators eventually smoked McElwain out of Fort Collins thanks in large part to a public campaign run by then-AD Jeremy Foley that made the idea of McElwain returning to Colorado State impossible for both sides, but Florida wasn't stroking a $7.5 million check to get him. Instead, Florida paid $3 million, McElwain himself covered $2 million and Florida made up the difference by paying Colorado State $2 million for a game at The Swamp in 2018.
That was Florida, a blue blood of college football, and still $7.5 million was too much for them. And Campbell's buyout in nearly $2 million higher than that. Now add in the $4 or $5 million salary Campbell would command, a similar number he would require to pay his staff, and you're looking at a price tag approaching $20 million in the first year alone to extract Campbell from Ames.
Nothing is impossible in college football, but paying nearly $10 million to get a coach out of a job that (he says) is very important to him -- a coach that could (quite understandably) be 5-5 next week after Iowa State finishes a 3-game swing that includes No. 4 TCU, No. 22 West Virginia and No. 11 Oklahoma State -- would be unheard of.