AMES — Matt Campbell and his staff’s whirlwind efforts while recruiting have landed several intriguing commitments in the last two weeks.
Tuesday as the dead period settled in, ISU’s new head football coach blocked out some media time and I was among the reporters to enjoy one-on-one access.
Campbell spoke frankly about social media savvy, alternative uniform possibilities, and his new offensive coordinator, Tom Manning, among other things.
What follows, in Q & A form, provides a good overview of the 36-year-old Cyclone coach’s approach to culture change, recruiting, and staying engaged with the fan base via Twitter and other social media tools.
CF: What made Tom Manning the man for the offensive coordinator job?
Campbell: “Tom was a co-coordinator at Toledo. Did a great job with our running game there and between him and (now-Toledo head coach) Jason (Candle), both guys did a great job leading that, and my background, still being involved offensively a little bit, I think there was no question Tom’s like a rising star in this profession, obviously. Just ready, I think, to take the reins. Having the ability to have (wide receivers coach) Bryan Gasser with us — Bryan’s been such an integral part to why we’ve had success, and obviously (running backs coach) Lou (Ayeni) and (recruiting coordinator) Alex (Golesh) both understanding and being around the successes that we’ve had together on offense and knowing that, I think it was a no-brainer from our end of things.
“Quite honestly, couldn’t have felt any better and couldn’t have had a better guy to name as the offensive coordinator. Now we’ll hire a quarterback coach and try to bring somebody in that’s the right fit for us and for our program. I’ve talked to some people and I think I have a really good idea of what we want to do. Just a matter of finishing rounding that staff out on the offensive side. I think a really exciting staff and a dynamic staff.”
CF: Culture’s an important element of success for you and a lot of people. What made the culture you initially experienced while a player at Pitt a “bad” culture at that time and what constitutes a “good” culture?
Campbell: “Number one, what constituted that was the alignment. I think there was a lack of trust, a lack of communication and the alignment was off. What constitutes a great culture, in my terms, is you’ve got to build on a foundation, number one, of trust. And I think that has to run in flow from player to player, player to coach, coach to coach, and then ultimately back down, coach to player. I think that’s one of the things that’s absolutely critical to have if you’re ever going to grow. If not, it will never happen. There’ll be no growth, because it empowers everything you do, from your recruiting efforts to how you lead young people on a day-in, day-out basis, if there’s no consistency, if there’s no foundation to (work off of), then I think you just constantly go ‘round and ‘round in the same direction.
“So I think that term for me is what I learned a little bit and didn’t know I was learning at Pitt at the time, but as I reflected back on it what made that maybe not work and what made the program’s I was able to be around at a young age, both as a player and as a coach work. I think those things are really important.”
CF: How important is social media to you and your staff — both in recruiting and reaching out to fans?
Campbell: “I think the biggest thing, number one, is that’s how we communicate today, right? We’re so different — and that’s been hard for me because I’m not a social media guru. I’m not. From Twitter to Facebook, I get it, but anything on top of that right now, I’m still learning, I’m still growing. First of all, recruiting, that’s real. That’s the only way that you’re recruiting today and if you’re not, you’re not in it. And if you think you are, you’re mistaken.
“Number two, I think from a fan base standpoint, what have I been really impressed with here? The passion of our fans. The excitement of our fans. And I’m not a guy that’s going to sit on Twitter all day long and think about, ‘What’s my next Tweet,’ because I don’t. But to at least give our fans a glimpse of what’s going on and what’s happening and try to engage a little bit, I think that’s important. And I think that’s important as you try to build your fan base and continue to build the brand of your football team. I think those things are really important.”
CF: How much of you and your staff’s social media engagement is planned or spontaneous? Is there an overarching strategy?
Campbell: “I think it’s more (spontaneous). I don’t think we have the social media plan in place, but I think all of us have, certainly, excitement about it and love to share the positivity when good things are going, and even when things get tough I think we’re not afraid to be honest.”
CF: How was that “chaos” that included meeting with each player and hitting the recruiting trail in advance of the dead period?
Campbell: “I think we got accomplished what I hoped to get accomplished in two weeks. Number one for me, was first and foremost, find out what was going on in this program. Talked to everybody that touches this program, everybody that has an impact in this program and we’re still finishing up, but direct contacts, we did a great job in the first day and a half of getting that done.
“Next is, who are your players and get a chance to know them — recruit them a little bit. Understand that those are the guys, they’re going through a lot, too. Not just everybody else and i think sometimes that’s unfair to leave them out of the equation. So I wanted to make sure I had a chance to sit down and talk to every football player and I got that done, I think, in three days. Just a chance to start to develop a relationship and just (let them) know this door is open to them and find out who they are. What was going well? What wasn’t going well? What needs changed? All those kind of things in the program to get an idea of when we put this final plan in place, making sure that we’re dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s and not just going on a whim of saying, ‘This is how we do it and this is the only way to do it,’ because that’s unfair.
“Then the recruiting piece, I’ll be honest with you, I think before we even touched down here I thought we had a good plan of what we wanted to get accomplished in two weeks, understanding maybe a little bit of the big picture and then try to staple that into our success.”
CF: It’s been intimated that you and your staff would be interested in using alternative uniforms. What can you say about that?
Campbell: "I’ll tell you this: I’m a traditionalist in a multitude of different ways, but I really believe in the uniform piece and the excitement that can bring. I think there’s great tradition here in terms of logo and those kind of things, but I think there’s a lot of coolness that we can do to unify our fans, excite our fans and excite our own players. That’s football today. Sometimes, I know some of the staunch traditionalists, they have an issue with that and I get it. But I also get that we’re dealing with a different culture — 18-22-year-old kids. And quite honestly, even in the recruiting process, kids like to see new. Kids like to see exciting and I think that’s something that I’ve always been a huge part of and if you saw us at Toledo, we had a million different things going on, but staying within the tradition and the culture of what the tradition of Toledo football stood for.”
CF: How important will the Midwest and upper Midwest be to your recruiting efforts going forward, short-term and long-term?
Campbell: “I think the biggest thing is making sure — and it’s like I told our staff at this point, this recruiting class, I’d rather sign not enough guys than sign guys that can’t play. So, number one, do you fit? Number two, have we evaluated you and do I feel like you have a chance to be an impact player at this level on this football team and make a difference? So, I think that’s our starting point because we are coming in accelerated in this process. Number (three), and we talk about long-term — where do we go and how do we set up? It does have to start in our four-hour radius and then expand out from there. And I think what a great time to do that with some of the changes in some of the programs that have maybe been some of the footholds in some of these area. We’ve got to do a great job of recruiting and developing those relationships and empowering ourselves. And then find out, where do we go from there to get the players that we feel are capable of getting ourselves there.
“The great thing about recruiting is it’s changed. It’s changed from 10-15 years ago. It’s so national. It’s so empowering. But the key is don’t short change yourself. Don’t short cut and that’s what’s great about having a staff, a little bit, at least so far, that’s all been together in terms of: this is what we look for in each position. These are the dimensions. These are the qualities. These are the characteristics. This is what wins. Recruit to that standard and don’t bring me anything that’s short of that standard. If it’s short of the standard, then that’s on you and we’re not going to do that. And ultimately it’s on me, because I’m not going to allow it. So I think from my end of it — and not to say you’re always going to be 100 percent. You’re not. I know you’re not. But the reality of it is is having a plan in place and attacking to that plan. And I think we’ve been able to do that and I think as the dust settles here and we find out what signs tomorrow and then obviously going forward, what kind of inroads have we laid in two weeks?
“And then finishing it off. I think we all know you’re only as good in recruiting as the next day. So we’re going to have to do a great job from here on out finishing off our recruiting class, but I do think we’ve made some good strides in two weeks.”