MATT CAMPBELL: Beyond the process

Sep 8, 2018; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell watches his team play against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

 AMES — Matt Campbell keeps an orderly office.

 There’s a lot going on in there — from football schemes, to staff management, and culture enhancement — but everything has its place.

 No signs of dishevelment. Several books find spots on the desk, or a side table, but nothing appears haphazardly placed.

 And that’s by design — and a product of dogged discipline.

 So when I, like everyone on the Iowa State football beat, enjoyed a half-hour one-on-one interview with the Cyclones’ head coach, I had to ask how he manages to achieve order amid all the chaos of recruiting, attending to current players’ needs and, lest we forget, being a husband and father, Campbell’s answers proved illuminating.

 “Same clothes. Same breakfast. Same routine every day,” Campbell said earlier this month about his ability to banish decision fatigue. “So, yes, because you’re 100 percent right. It literally helps — there’s a million decisions that have to get made, and to have a routine, I’m a guy that has to have that. My alarm clock’s set for the same time every day. I’m getting up. My process is the same in the morning. What I have for breakfast, what I wear — once the football season (starts), everybody laughs, but literally I wear the same thing every day because I don’t even want to think about it to be honest with you. It is what it is. I know what I’m wearing and boom we’re off to work. So I think I probably have a lot of those traits and it’s become that because I don’t want to have to think about it and to be honest with you, it doesn’t have any bearing on what else is going on and there is so much that you want to put your time and intent on, that some of those things I don’t want to have to think about.”

 Campbell spoke about welcoming back offensive coordinator Tom Manning, recruiting synergy with other ISU sports and many more weighty topics, which I reported on here and here.

 But this article is more about Matt Campbell the man, which, as you might expect, closely mirrors his approach to coaching.


 Yes, he’s slept on his office couch more than once.

“Yes, right there, right on that coach,” Campbell said. “Probably curled up, with like a jacket in the back.”

 Yes, after having his second straight eight-win team read Pound the Stone by Joshua Medcalf last season, he’s carefully curating another book club selection for the 2019 season.

 And yes, that process — like the over-arching set of habits he follows religiously — is a vitally important one.

 “This is really good,” Campbell said as he held up a hardcover copy of biohacker and entrepreneur Dave Asprey’s recent book, Game Changers.

 Campbell’s also been reading Tony Dungy’s latest book, among others, but won’t hastily settle on a selection he feels will help his team deepen its commitment to a cohesive culture, so stay tuned in that regard.

 “For the next month in a half I’m reading every book I can get my hands on that’s good,” Campbell said. “Some of them are for me, but some of them are for our kids, so I’m trying to figure that out.”

 While he does that and the countdown to spring football continues, please enjoy this quick Q and A that reaffirms Campbell’s love of the Netflix series, House of Cards, and explains how he makes the most out of every moment he can spend with his wife, Erica, and children, Kaetlyn, Isabella, Rudy and Rocco.

 Q: How do you go about evaluating yourself — and the staff and the season? When do you began examining all the decisions made, both good and bad?

 A:  “I think that part for me is constant. It’s instant through every game and every decision you make and you debrief after that. And then once the season’s over, you take a deep dive into it. That’s even, for me, like I said, I started that as soon as the Drake game was over. like, ‘Where are we? What am I doing? What an I doing well? What am I not doing well? How can we get even better?’ I think for us, it’s not, man, worry about what we did well, it’s where can we continue to fill in the gaps — and where are the gaps in our program and our organization, and how can I continue to a great job to fill those in and be better and allow the program to be better? 

That’s really important to me and, again, I enjoy that aspect of that evaluation piece, but you talk about every way, shape and form, I think you have to, because if you don’t, then arrogance takes over and you think you’ve got it figured out. And in this sport, this profession, you’re going to get humbled really fast. And I know. I’m still young, to be honest with you. I’m growing all the time and I’m not perfect. There’s a lot I can do better to continue to allow us to become the best version of ourselves we can be.”

 Q: A lot of people talk about “balance” in life, which is kind of a misnomer, right? As in, if you love your job, you’re not trying for some 50-50 split, but if you hate it, well, maybe that’s what you’re looking for. How do you define success both in your profession and in being a family man?

 A: “I think you have to make the time that you are home and you are present, present. I think that’s where I’ve had to grow a lot and I think my wife is the one able to bring that reality into — you’re right, it’s not gonna be and that’s hard, because I think if you want to be really good at your job and you want to, especially in this profession, you have to pour a lot of time and effort and energy into the players. You’ve got to be available 24/7 to their needs and there’s 110 of them, 120 of them, and they all matter. So my belief in doing this right is you have to be there for them and you have to be available to them. And our staff continuity and having a staff that creates that culture where I am a grinder; I’m the guy that comes in early and the guy that leaves late, but it’s not because I want to be that, it’s because that’s the only way I know how to do that. So, I think once those opportunities do present (themselves), like, ‘Oh, man, there’s a week and two or three days you get a chance to be home,’ you’ve got to make sure that you maximize those times.

 “I do read to my kids at night. My boys now, it’s playing (with) football helmets with them in the house, or it’s like, man, it’s a Sunday and you could do this here or you could go home and in the offseason, that’s where prioritizing those times and understanding they have to be a part of that priority — that is important. But the process that it takes to win and be successful in my opinion, it does take what it takes and I’m not gonna shortcut that, because it’s the only way I know. That’s how I tick. Now, other people do it different ways and that, certainly, you’ve got to give them credit because that’s how they do it, but I think you’ve got to know who you are and not try to be somebody else. 

 “So I think that part is really big — big from my end, and I think that balance piece, you’re right. I think that is a misnomer. One of the things I love about this job is I’ve never felt like I worked a day in my life. I really haven’t. Just because we get along, the staff gets along. I think a lot of times guys say this and, ‘Ah, we work a lot like we do,’ but I think everybody here, there’s times that our comfort zone is being here together (more) than it is being anywhere else. So we’re really fortunate that we have that kind of relationship that allows that work that we put into this together to be a real positive experience for everybody.”

 Q: Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh said in an “Off the Record” podcast with Chris Williams that you pick a series or two to binge watch when you have rare downtime. What have you been watching — and how weird does it feel to even have something remotely resembling downtime?

 A: “It’s funny because my wife and I, I think it’s become one of our escapes from, like, there’s gotta be a time to shut off. For me, it’s that time after the bowl game, where you get a couple weeks to — at least for me, it’s like a week in a half, where, ‘Ok, number one, I’ve gotta go be dad. And number two, my wife and I need our time to be able to just have a chance to shut off.’ So what we’ve found is our shut off, a little bit of it is binge watching — something on Netflix. So House of Cards is my all-time favorite. So we did, we finished that and it was only six episodes, which I was a little disappointed that it was only that. But I love the political piece of it and I love all that stuff. I have a great interest in that, so we did that and the other guilty pleasure is Grey’s Anatomy, so we had not watched any of those from this fall, so we caught up on that whole season. 

 “That’s so far, but we’ll have another break here for spring break and I know we’ll binge watch something else. There’s a lot out there, so we’ll sort of see what we go with, but since House of Cards is over with for good, that will be tough to get over, but that was as good as it got, that series.”

 OK, I misled you. I saved one football question and answer — and it’s about ISU’s offensive line.

 Campbell told me and others last fall he felt last season’s group would show strong signs of improvement, but might be a year away from being able to truly shine consistently. He was right … and hopefully on both counts. 

 “I thought that that group took a huge step forward this fall,” Campbell said. “I think that you even look at the bowl game: First time, big-time opponent where I felt like they dominated the bowl game. Now, the false starts and the penalties, I’m not saying they’re a finished product, but I’m saying physically moving people and all of a sudden taking over a game — which my expectation of really good offensive lines do, we did that at times this year. And we showed up in some ways where I haven’t seen us do that. I give coach Myers a lot of credit. I think he challenged that group, back to the basics, which was really positive. 

 “And it’s nice to have five guys back that are veterans, but now you also see a Trevor Downing, who was nipping at their heels all fall to play, and Joey Ramos, who’s nipping at their heels to play, and all of a sudden there’s like real competition. So, yeah, those five guys played and those guys got a lot of experience, but now all of a sudden they’re going to work every day because they see these guys right behind them. So I think that group’s got a chance to take the step that maybe the D-line took last year, where a year ago you’re like, ‘Well, the D-line did some nice things.’ And then last year, boom, they exploded onto the scene. I think this offensive line has the ability to take that kind of step this year. … At those positions, you can’t skip a step. It takes what it takes. And that’s development, that’s growth, that’s confidence and I think the offensive line certainly earned the right this year to take that step this coming fall, because they did get better. There was a lot of growth that happened.”


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.