NOTEBOOK: Campbell sticks to the script, coaching rumors, and Butler’s record chase

AMES — If there’s anything we’e learned about Iowa State coach Matt Campbell in his three season at the helm it’s this: Once he has adopted a script, he will not deviate from it.

Not. One. Inch. And that’s a good thing — given the results.

 Take Tuesday’s news conference in advance of a “unique” 12th game against FCS non-scholarship Drake.

 Campbell — whose Cyclones (7-4) notched six conference wins for the first time in program history — fielded various questions aimed at sussing out just how much playing time some previously unseen (or rarely seen) players might enjoy.

 ISU’s coach answered each query pretty much the same way.

 And really, should we expect anything different?

 “I think the biggest thing for us is we’re still la team that can continue to grow and get better and we have to use very opportunity to continue to do that,” Campbell said. “It was certainly disappointing I guess early in the season when we didn’t get the opportunity to play what’s now become our 12th game, but now getting that second opportunity to play 12 football games, I think we owe it to our team — not just the young guys on the team, the entire team — to continue to be the best version not ourselves we can be.”

 So how much might we see (finally) of dynamic true freshman quarterback Re-al Mitchell?

 Won’t say. 

 Will some other true freshman get to flash their skills as well?

 Don’t know.

 Will Kyle Kempt play more at quarterback?

 Probably, but it’s far from certain.

 What is known is Campbell and his staff have wisely taken full advantage of the new redshirt rule that allows players to play in up to four games and still retain that cardinal-colored garment, if needed.

 “(It’s) a phenomenal rule,” Campbell said. “Whether you’re going to use, as a coach, the bowl game. whether you’ve used those opportunities early in the football season and for some teams in the middle of the season, I think that rule has really, for a school like us, for a team like us, that development is key to your success. Yes, it’s great as a carrot, but boy it’s helped us in some critical spots. 

 “If you look at our special teams and (with) some guys like Will McDonald, who ultimately is gonna redshirt, but boy came up huge for us early in the season with his opportunities. A guy like Zach Petersen, kind of a stalwart for us, to Chandler Pulvermacher, who down the stretch run has been a really big player for us. There’s guys that have really kind of saved us in some ways and been huge additions to our ability to manage our roster the right way, play our best players, and continue to develop and grow. So I certainly say a 12th game or a 12th opportunity, no matter what, how, or who — it gives you that opportunity to continue to find ways to best develop your roster.”

 So one last time, coach: Hove you given thought as to hoe you might use your younger and less experienced guys as a six-touchdown favorite against the Bulldogs?

 Campbell didn’t flinch.

 “No, not really,” he said. “Like I said, I’m way more looking at the reality of this team. Can we continue to improve, what’s Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday? That’s where my vested interest is. It’s always been that way. Rather than who, it’s the what and the how. I’m way more interested in that and watching our team have another opportunity to continue to get itself better before we get to bowl preparation.”

 In essence, the Cyclones get to act “as if” they’re working toward a date in the Big 12 title game that — until the Texas loss — they were fully in down the stretch.

 And comporting oneself “as if” a lot of inspiring things (real or imagined) loom on the horizon has served this team quite well.

 “I think the important thing is we get another week of practice,” Kempt said. “The kind of sentiment I kind of brought up to them earlier last week was the fact that we get to have another good practice (week) and it’s on the same week as the Big 12 championship is, so it’s almost like a preparation for us in terms of what’s that like to play on this week, practice this week. At the end of the day we get to go out and play in Jack Trice (Stadium) again and have another opportunity to get better. So I think it’s very important for this team.”


 ISU’s coach was asked about the inevitability that his name will continue to crop up during coaching searches at both the college and pro levels.

 His response?

 “I get it’s your job, it’s everybody’s job to ask those questions,” Campbell said. “I think my actions have spoken louder than my words. All these coaches come up here and say words, right? You hope your actions speak louder than your words do. That was my reasoning for coming out like that and it will certainly continue to be my stance as we go into the off season. With our team, those communicative pieces are important. Your kids will understand that. We talk a lot about challenging topics all the time. I think our kids really understand where I lay on a lot of those topics. If it’s ever a situation that I feel like it needs to be addressed, we address it immediately. We certainly did in those situations and will going forward. We address it head on rather than behind closed doors.”

Campbell was later asked by The Des Moines Register if he plans to be coaching the Cyclones next season.

 “If Jamie (Pollard) would have me, yes,” Campbell told the Register.


 The burning question — will star receiver Hakeem Butler return for his senior season or choose to go to the NFL in 2019 will hinge on feedback he receives from pro reps in the offseason.

 He also emphatically said he won’t be sitting out whatever bowl game the Cyclones play in — despite the fact some NFL prospects do eschew postseason play to avoid one last risk for injury.

 “You could get hurt walking up the steps in the Berg,” said Butler, who is on track to match or break at least two single-season receiving marks. “Why would I just miss out on a game? I worked so hard all year for this game, why would I just give it up?”

 As for the record books, Butler said he’s “very grateful” to be in a position to make history.

 He enters Saturday’s 15 yards from Lane Danielson’s single-season standard of 1,073 yards set in 2002 — and is one touchdown catch shy of matching former star Allen Lazard’s single-season mark for TD catches (10) set last season.

 “He wanted me to break it and I want to break it,” Butler said of Lazard. “I don’t want people to remember Allen.”

 Surely, they’ve messaged back and forth about it, though, right?

 “We haven’t talked about it,” Butler said, smiling. “He just Dm’ed me something — some funny video or something, but we haven’t talked about that, It’s an awkward thing between us, I guess.”


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.