Success is a matter of trust for Matt Campbell — on paper and in practice

Nov 4, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell stands along the sidelines during the first quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

AMESMatt Campbell vividly recollects when the tide of trust turned for his football team.

Three games — all losses — into his first season at Iowa State, cornerback Brian Peavy stood up and spoke out.

The earnest question resounded and sparked heated and necessary discussion.

“‘Gosh, we have one staff and then we have a new staff and we’re still 0-3,’” Campbell, who inked a new six-year contract Sunday, recalled Peavy saying. ‘Let’s open forum.’ I said, ‘Well, there’s one common denominator that didn’t change. What is it? And, you know, players. So how and what affects this whole thing?’ I thought that meeting that day was kind of an airing of the grievances. It was like a Thursday and it was really good. I thought there was a lot of accountability taken. You saw our football team start to really go from that point on. We got a win in that game and not to say it was ever perfect, but from that meeting on, and that point on, that football team and we grew together. And I think the trust and the belief in each other, you know, I think really grew that day and started to really rise from that point on.”

Trust serves as perhaps the most important pillar for Campbell’s philosophical coaching foundation.

Players found a way to trust in his and his staff’s “process.” Coaches curried that trust by showing it in the players. It’s a two-way street that borders on symbiosis — and it’s a critical component to the hint of success the Cyclones have enjoyed in year two of the Campbell era, which at least on paper, now appears to be a lengthy one.

Campbell’s annual salary climbed from $2.1 million to $3.5 million. Vitally, his staff will get a $1 million collective bump on an incremental basis and facility upgrades are on the horizon.

Now, the ink won’t likely fully dry on the contract for months, but the arrangement already provides another precious pillar for ISU’s sturdier football foundation: Stability.

“One of the things that was really important was the ability to make sure that we continue to grow forward with our football staff,” Campbell said. “Taking care of our staff, our players and the future — the vision of what we’re gonna do with facilities going forward, and the ability to continue to build this program and take the momentum that we’ve been able to create and continue to push that forward.”

Athletics Director Jamie Pollard worked out the deal with Campbell and presented it over a Sunday meal. And talk about trust: the bond between Pollard and Campbell is deep and taut.

“One of the big reasons for me to come to Iowa State was Jamie Pollard,” said Campbell, whose 7-5 team will discover its first bowl destination in five years Sunday night. “That’s really honest. When I had the opportunity to sit down and meet with him, for me it’s about people. And when you make decisions you make decisions by putting yourself around great people. And what I really liked about Jamie, if you know me, I’m not even interested in talking about this subject. Like, this is a subject i don’t even like to talk about; it’s not even interesting to me. I want to to win. And all I cared about the last four to five to six weeks of the season is winning football games. And one of the things I really appreciate about Jamie is not talking about this subject. Not pushing this subject on. Not sitting down to have to talk about it. The only thing (he’d) ask me a week ago is, ‘Hey, next Sunday can we sit down — would you come over and have a chance to just sit down and talk?’ That’s why I want to be here. That’s why I want to be around people like that that really get it.”

No nonsense. No need to test any waters. Saying what you mean and meaning what you says is more than enough.

That’s how Campbell and his staff helped steer players such as Peavy, Allen Lazard and Joel Lanning toward expanded leadership roles. That’s how ‘buy-in’ became possible. That’s why ISU is suddenly a program on the rise.

“We just all stuck together,” Lanning said a few weeks ago. “Bought into what coach Campbell said and never looked back, honestly. He’s just preaching the process and we’re just following him.”

None of that happens without a vision. Campbell said he’s convinced his genuineness first won over the hearts and minds of his players. Results had to follow — and they have, to an extent.

When Peavy spoke up that September day in 2016, ISU had lost 10 of its last 11 games dating back to the previous season and coaching regime. Now the Cyclones are on the cusp of potentially lodging their most wins in a season since 2000 and trust is a firmly-established strength, not a quality being chased from the locker room, to the practice field, and to game days.

“There’s not been one day that I’ve ever been disappointed that I came to Iowa State,” Campbell said. “That goes to our fan base. That goes to the ability to build this, and there’s been some tough days, you know, but there’s been some great rewards, too. To watch this senior class and what they’ve been able to do to kind of flip the culture has been really rewarding.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.