Two weeks ago, we introduced the first edition of a new Hawkeye Nation summer feature called “Would You Rather?” a play on the kids game in which someone asks a simple question to prompt discussion and debate.
The discussion was fun, smart, and civil, which was kind of unexpected since it took place on the Internet. Now we’re back with the next edition.
So let’s get right to it, Hawkeye fans:
Question: Would you rather the Hawkeyes still have wide receivers coach Erik Campbell on the coaching staff? Or would you rather they had been able to keep running back Jewel Hampton healthy for four seasons?
The case for Campbell: During Kirk Ferentz’s 19-year tenure as Iowa’s head coach, he’s produced first-team All-Americans or All-Big Ten at nearly every position. The Hawkeyes have produced NFL players from the offensive line, defensive backfield, linebacker, special teams, running back, and tight end, among other positions.
But one position that has consistently underwhelmed under Ferentz is wide receiver – except, that is, during the five seasons Campbell served as wide receivers coach.
From 2008-12, under Campbell’s direction, the Hawkeyes produced three of the seven most productive and/or exciting wide receivers in program history in Marvin McNutt, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, and Kevonte Martin-Manley. (The other four, in alphabetical order, are Tim Dwight, Quinn Early, Danan Hughes, and Kevin Kasper.)
Although Campbell’s Iowa City stay technically lasted five seasons, his best accomplishments took place over his first four, before Greg Davis arrived and Ferentz allowed the new offensive coordinator to stick an umbrella into the moving spokes of the offense.
Who knows what Campbell could have accomplished had Davis never arrived. At Michigan before Iowa, Campbell helped recruit and/or coach wide receivers such as Braylon Edwards, Amani Toomer, Mario Manningham, and other NFL-caliber talents – and on special teams, NFL Hall of Famer Charles Woodson.
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Campbell has been gone for five seasons. Since then, Iowa’s receivers have reached nowhere near the heights they did during Campbell’s time. Since he’s been gone, Iowa’s passing game has been dominated not by its receivers, but by its tight ends. Only Matt VandeBerg stands out among wide receivers (and Tevaun Smith briefly for this play). Beyond VandeBerg, it’s been a revolving door of wide receivers whose names most of us will never remember.
Bottom line: With Campbell, Iowa finally had the ability to produce skill players at every offensive position. Without, you never know what you’re getting from one year to the next.
The case for Hampton: Hampton tore his ACL twice during his three seasons at Iowa, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for him or his team.
As a freshman in 2008, Hampton carried the ball nearly 100 times, averaged more than five yards a carry, and scored seven touchdowns. Then the injuries hit.
He’d play only two more games in his Hawkeye career. He transferred after the 2010 season. Eventually, amid what was supposed to have been a crowded Iowa backfield and a loss of opportunities for touches, Hampton chose to transfer to Southern Illinois.
Finally healthy, Hampton rushed for 1,121 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Salukis. He spent a couple of years on the practice squad of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and finished his career in the Canadian Football League.
The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, entered a dark period at running back. The initial thought might have been No Hampton, No Problem. They had Marcus Coker, whose emergence in 2010 and awesome 2011 (1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns) had Hawkeye fans thinking big. But Coker ran into legal issues and transferred.
The Hawkeyes thought they had Brandon Wegher, who as a freshman in 2009 rushed for 641 yards and eight touchdowns. But he transferred for personal reasons. They thought they had Adam Robinson, who rushed for 15 touchdowns and nearly 1,800 yards from 2009-10. But he, too, faced legal issues and was kicked off the team. As it turned out, the Hawkeyes didn’t have another 1,000-yard rusher until both LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley did it in 2016.
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Because it was 2011, and not 1971, Hampton recovered just fine from his ACL injuries and became an NFL-caliber running back. The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, were left with Mark Weisman, a talented but one-note running back who was ridden so hard during games that he appeared to wear down late in seasons. For at least one of those seasons – and maybe two, depending on injury redshirts, petitions, and NCAA rulings – Hampton and Weisman could have given the Hawkeyes a 1-2 backfield punch they badly needed as Iowa transitioned into Davis as offensive coordinator.
Bottom line: The Hawkeyes went 4-8 in 2012. It’s the only season they’ve missed qualifying for a bowl game since 2007. A healthy and present Hampton could have taken some of the pressure of Weisman, Davis, and quarterback James Vandenberg, eased the pain caused by the departures of Coker, Robinson, and Wegher, and elevated the Hawkeyes to enough wins that, today, we might be talking about their streak of 10 straight bowl games. Hampton wasn’t Shonn Greene – who is? – but he was a talented back who left just when the Hawkeyes needed him most.
So now it’s your turn. Would you rather Campbell had stuck around, or Hampton?