Players, formations, plays.
It is one of many Matt Campbell mottos that has made its way into Iowa State football’s daily vocabulary. It is the saying that perhaps best describes Campbell’s football philosophy best and also previews how he will attack the 2018 season as the primary play-caller without a traditional offensive coordinator on staff.
“He’s evaluating everything as a play caller,” Iowa State running backs coach Nate Scheelhaase said last week. “How guys can help us whether it’s running backs, whether it’s receivers, whether it’s tight ends and figuring out different ways that he can utilize them.”
I have been told multiple times in recent weeks that one of Campbell’s biggest strengths as a coach is recognizing the best ways to utilize his players. He is not going to try and force a square peg into a round hole.
“Players, formations, plays” is the definition of what he wants his team to be. Who are the players we have on the team and what do they each do well? Which formations can we use to utilize that personnel and put them in the best situation to be successful? Which play to run out of what formation to best exploit the matchups we can win?
“That dude, I mean, his memory is crazy. He can look at a defense and say, ‘Man, I remember when I was at Bowling Green and such and such ran a defense like this and this play worked.’ Yeah, it’s crazy,” Scheelhaase said. “Me, I was probably playing high school ball then. He’s remembering stuff and able to latch on to stuff and able to figure out how we can utilize our guys best. That’s how his mind works. Players, formations, plays, you’ve heard him say it over and over again, but it really comes to life when you’re in the meeting room with him and he’s thinking, ‘Now, against this specific defense, this is the blocking scheme that’s going to work or this is the type of tight end that’s best in there and the type of running back that would be good running the scheme.’”
Campbell’s approach to building his offensive staff is certainly unorthodox. According to research done by The Athletic, Iowa State is one of only six schools at the FBS level without a member of the staff holding an offensive coordinator title.
The list of head coaches going this route includes Jim Harbaugh and Mike Leach. Both of them have proven they’re not afraid to push back against the status quo during their college football careers.
Campbell is standing right there with them — at least on this matter.
“I think the thing for me is, I want to make sure this ship stays steady,” Campbell said to The Athletic. “Whoever we end up giving that title to or what group of guys we give that title to, I want to make sure they’re ready to handle it. I’d rather take the bullets until I’m ready to pass that off and feel like somebody’s ready for that.”
Nobody in Iowa State’s offensive meeting room is complaining about Campbell taking the play-calling reigns. If it works, he will further be applauded by the fan base that already loves him. If it doesn’t, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
For now, the other coaches on Campbell’s staff are prepared to agree with their boss — and it is easy to do once you’ve seen his aptitude for players, formations, plays first hand.
“He’s got a lot of football knowledge,” Scheelhaase said. “So, yeah, in that sense, I just listen and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea, Coach.’”