Mercyhurst Alumnus Kirk Campbell Named Offensive Coordinator in Meteoric Rise at Michigan
It was a battle cry that defined the University of Michigan Wolverines as they ousted one team after another on their path to glory as the 2023 National College Football Champions: BET, or Beat Every Team, never lost its punch, or its momentum.
And there in the mix of that 15-0 mega-season was a Mercyhurst man: Kirk Campbell ’08.
Campbell started at Michigan in 2022 as an offensive analyst before being promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2023. His work with J.J. McCarthy proved incredibly vital, with the starting quarterback going on to win Big Ten Quarterback of the Year honors and leading the Wolverines to their first national championship since 1997.
On Friday, Feb. 2, Campbell’s meteoric rise at Michigan took another surge as new Head Coach Sherrone Moore named him offensive coordinator.
“I’ve been preparing for this since 3rd grade,” Campbell said from his home in Ann Arbor. “I have always wanted to coach at the highest level possible. And that’s the University of Michigan. Its storied history, its culture, its all-time winningest program in college football, Tom Brady, the Big House … Just the opportunity to be in the same room and learn from Coach (Jim) Harbaugh and to see the love and passion he has for the University of Michigan. I’m so proud to be part of it.”
Proud, but by no means wide-eyed.
“It’s really just perspective,” he said. “A lot of people put a lot of pressure on an opportunity, making it more momentous than it is. At the end of the day, I know the expectation of a program like Michigan’s. I’m a hard worker with a blue-collar mentality from western Pennsylvania, and the level of preparation I put into a game and the care I have for my players will never change—no matter where I am.”
A native of Pittsburgh, Campbell played wide receiver for Mercyhurst from 2004-2008. He was recruited by Joe Lombardi, on the coaching staff of Mercyhurst from 2002-05 before heading to the NFL, and longtime coaching staffer Tom Herman. He played under Head Coach Marty Schaetzle, who retired in 2021 after 20 years.
Both Herman and Schaetzle remember Campbell as a hard worker with an insatiable resolve to build a life around football.
“It wasn’t enough for him to just play four years of college ball; he wanted to coach,” Schaetzle said. “He was very knowledgeable about our pass game, and he came to me during his senior year, and asked to learn more about offensive line play. Even back then, he was already taking that extra step.”
For all the big moments he’s had with Michigan in two short years, Campbell can recount his favorites in a heartbeat, like the milestone playoff victory at the Rose Bowl when the Wolverines beat Alabama to advance to the national championship.
Setting the scene, he said, “The sun is coming down … you are at the granddaddy of them all … you’re tied in overtime … and then …”
Blake Corum takes the ball on an inside handoff, shifts right, cuts to midfield, barrels through one tackle and then another. Touchdown!
“That was special,” Campbell said.
Also special was the deeply personal experience of serving as interim offensive coordinator for Michigan in the opening game of the 2023 season against East Carolina Sept. 2, just days after his second daughter, Kinsley, was born. Michigan beat East Carolina 30-3 with Campbell calling the offensive plays, and McCarthy completed 26 of 30 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns to begin the championship season.
“I remember watching the film of East Carolina and breaking it down as my daughter was being born,” he said. Campbell and his wife, Lauren, are also the parents of 3-year-old Riley.
Admittedly, family plays an enormous role in Campbell’s success.
"I wouldn’t be where I am without them: my mom, dad, brothers, and grandparents,” he said. “We were raised to work for everything, and we earned everything we got; it was a culture.”
It was also a legacy. Kirk’s father, Kevin, was one of Herman’s recruits during his tenure at Edinboro under Head Coach Dennis Creehan. After joining Mercyhurst, Herman would go on to recruit Kevin and Cindy’s kids – firstborn Kevin, and later, Kirk. Brother Kellen played football for Pitt.
“They’re just a great football family,” said Herman. “When Kirk was a senior, he told me he wanted to coach and asked if I could help him find a job.”
That led back to Creehan, who by then was head coach at West Virginia Wesleyan.
“Is he anything like his dad,” Herman recalled Creehan asking. “I said, ‘Yeah, even better!’”
So, Creehan hired Campbell as a graduate assistant for wide receivers. And, from then on, doors continued to open.
Before Michigan, Campbell spent two seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Old Dominion, after spending 2017-19 as an offensive analyst for Penn State. From 2012-16, Campbell was the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Alderson Broaddus. He was promoted to head coach during the 2017 off-season but moved on to Penn State after five months.
Campbell made his way to Michigan in part on the recommendations of former offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who he had worked with at Penn State, and Ben Herbert, former director of strength and conditioning at Michigan, who he went to high school with at West Allegheny.
“I’m always grateful to who gives me the opportunity,” he said. “And there have been many.”
Of his Mercyhurst memories, a few stand out, including being part of the transition from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in his senior year. He’s also particularly keen on another senior-year milestone: playing for the first Mercyhurst football team to beat both Gannon and Edinboro in the same year.
“We owned Erie,” he laughed.
Now, as he readies for his biggest role on college football’s biggest stage, Campbell said it again, “I’ve been preparing for this since 3rd grade. I’m more than ready. Let’s go do this!”
PHOTO: Kirk Campbell ’08 confers on the sidelines with Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy # 9 at the Rose Bowl. (Photo Courtesy University of Michigan Athletics)