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Football

BLUM: Decisions that shaped Cyclone Football’s rise

According to the Internet, the average human makes 35,000 decisions per day. You just made the decision to click on this article and for that I, and the fine advertisers at Cyclone Fanatic, thank you. Most of these tens of thousands decisions are inconsequential, others are life altering. And the beauty of life is we don’t know which decision will be which. The so called “Butterfly Effect.”

Because I get bored easily and marvel at the hypothetical, I pondered the confluence of decisions that have led Matt Campbell and Iowa State Football’s unbelievable and surreal ride to all-of-a-sudden prominence.

There are a few obvious, well-documented decisions on the football field  that have led to the Cyclone resurgence of 2017.

Prior to the Texas game, defensive coordinator Jon Heacock made the schematic decision to switch the base defense to a 3-3-5, a look that has befuddled some of the best offenses in the country. In the last 14 quarters against Oklahoma (6th in NCAA in scoring), (cough) Kansas (cough), Texas Tech (17th) and TCU (22nd), the Iowa State defense has allowed 20 points total. That is fewer points allowed than Iowa scored (23) in the 4th quarter and OT against Iowa State in September. The improvement has been so drastic and remarkable, there are no words to adequately describe the ascension.

Four days prior to the Oklahoma game, Kyle Kempt received the news that Jacob Park was taking an indefinite leave and he was going to be the starter. This decision isn’t made unless Kempt decides to pay his own way to attend Iowa State because of the relationship he had with Matt Campbell and Tom Manning while Kempt grew up in Campbell’s home-town of Massillon, Ohio, a town smaller than Ankeny, Iowa.

WATCH: ESPN College Game Day’s feature on Kyle Kempt

Speaking of Ankeny, Iowa State isn’t in this position without the decision by Joel Lanning to commit to the Iowa State staff in August of 2012. Lanning was offered by Iowa and Nebraska to play defense, but he wanted to play quarterback. He also had the chance to play college baseball at the next level and potentially play professionally like his older brother Jeff. Joel decided to commit to play quarterback for another Ankeny high school grad in Paul Rhoads.

The 2017 football season doesn’t happen without Rhoads. Not only did Rhoads recruit 26 of the players currently in the Cyclone two-deep, including captains Lanning, Allen Lazard, Jake CamposKamari Cotton-Moya and Brian Peavy, but one fateful decision in November of 2015, changed the arc of the Cyclone football program forever.

In the second to last game of the year and with Rhoads’ job in the balance, Iowa State led at Kansas State 35-28 and had possession with 91 seconds on the clock. Instead of kneeling and potentially running out the clock, Iowa State ran the ball and fumbled. K-State ultimately scored, Iowa State fumbled again and K-State hit a game-winning field goal as time expired to win 38-35. Jamie Pollard made the decision to let go of Rhoads the very next day. It is not a concrete fact that if Iowa State wins against K-State, Rhoads saves his job for another year, but at the very least he is given another week before a decision is made. This alters the timeline of Iowa State history.

Seven days after the K-State misery, Pollard made the lighting fast decision to offer the job to Campbell. The timing is important because Campbell was also in serious talks to be the head coach at Missouri. Pollard and then Iowa State President Steven Leath’s decision to move quickly, fly to Toledo, and find their guy ASAP beat Missouri and assuredly other programs to the punch and secured Campbell. Campbell was introduced that Monday.

Campbell decided to come to Iowa State because he saw first-hand the potential of the program. In what felt like a relatively meaningless October non-conference game in 2014, Campbell made the decision to get to Jack Trice Stadium early as the head coach of Toledo. He walked around the parking lots of a then one-win Big 12 program facing a MAC school and saw over 53,000 die-hards on that Homecoming weekend. It left an impression that would change his life and the arc of the Iowa State program.

That 2014 game against Toledo doesn’t happen without the input and decision of an Iowa native most of you have never thought about. Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien grew up in Iowa City and was the one who agreed way back in the summer of 2005 to schedule Toledo’s home and home series with Iowa State in 2006/2007 and again in 2014/2015. MAC schools get many lucrative offers for non-conference games, but O’Brien’s decision to work with Iowa State was in retrospect one of the first dominoes to fall in the Campbell era. Yes, without a simple scheduling decision Dan McCarney and then Iowa State athletic director Bruce Van De Velde made with O’Brien over 12 years ago, the Campbell era at Iowa State may not have ever happened.

Coincidentally enough, when the Toledo job came open in the fall of 2008, O’Brien considered hiring a couple candidates for the Toledo top job, including Dan McCarney. O’Brien ultimately hired Tim Beckman, then the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Beckman’s first two hires at Toledo were a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State named Alex Golesh and an offensive line coach at Bowling Green named…. Matt Campbell.

The rest is history.

We all make thousands of decisions every day; some are more important than others.

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