Sep 22, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell paces the sidelines during their game the Akron Zips Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Zips 26 to 13. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — ISU football coach Matt Campbell conducted a wholesale reappraisal of his burgeoning program last month, digging deep into the fundamentals — and seeking ways to take yet more steps forward.
Back-to-back 8-5 seasons — and a first-ever six-win conference season in 2018 — didn’t remotely lead to resting on any perceived laurels. It demanded a deeper commitment to growth and a next-level approach designed to ascend to greater heights in 2019 and beyond.
“We spent a lot of time, to be honest with you, in January, taking maybe the deepest dive we’ve ever had in this football program and where we’re going and what we’re doing, which has been really fun to do, to be honest,” Campbell told Cyclone Fanatic earlier this week.
And an unexpected event augmented that “fun” process: the return of offensive coordinator Tom Manning after a successful one-year stint coaching the Indianapolis Colts’ tight ends.
“I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t thinking that,” Campbell said of Manning’s return, which was announced three weeks ago. “That wasn’t in my mindset and people — I’ve read where people have said, ‘Yeah.’ Well, if they knew it before I did, then that shocks me, because it literally wasn’t until almost their last game that they played into the playoffs where he had reached out and said, ‘Listen. Hey, I know there might be some movement on your staff. I really miss being there and would you be interested in having me back?’ I think for me, as I looked at, where were we? How would that fit? And, yeah, (how) can this make us better? My responsibility to our kids is, these kids have sacrificed everything here now; our kids starting to be the best versions of themselves they can be. It’s my job to make sure that we’re aligned to give them the best of us we possibly can give them, so I think going to learn — obviously being in a year they had great success offensively. Tom’s a great learner. He’s a guy that’s also a really good teacher and to be able to have him back with us — and we’re aligned really well anyways, but to have that alignment strengthened that much more, I think, is really big for our program in general.”
Manning helped steadily rebuild ISU’s offense in 2016 and 2017, upping average scoring output to 27.7 points per game in his first season (ninth best in program history) and 29.2 points in 2017 (third best).
He told Voice of the Cyclones John Walters on a recent CyCast that he gained a wealth of additional knowledge as an NFL assistant and will use that to augment his ability to lead the Cyclones’ offense.
But why come back after helping the Colts — who won nine of their last 10 regular season games — return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014?
“At the end of the day, I just felt that this is really where I’m supposed to be,” Manning said on the CyCast.
Campbell agrees, even if his reunion with Manning came as a bit of a surprise. The longtime friends will try to keep ISU’s Brock Purdy-led offense on an uptick despite losing standout running back David Montgomery and star receiver Hakeem Butler, who are NFL Combine invitees.
And rest assured they’re fully engaged in another offseason “deep dive” to ensure the returning talent turns on-paper and in-real-time potential into more positive results.
“I think it gives alignment to our program.” Campbell said of having Manning back in the fold. “And Tom’s a guy that, number one, I trust. Number two, has had this role and responsibility before; knows what the expectations is, but also, you talk about his relationship with (passing game coordinator) Joel Gordon and his relationship with (offensive line coach) Jeff Myers and (tight ends coach) Alex (Golesh) and (receivers coach) Nate (Scheelhaase). You see, maybe, the most unified staff, on the field, off the field, but the whole picture, as good as we’ve had it since I’ve been here. So for Tom wanting to come back, that was awesome, but I think he’s a guy that I’ve got great a deal of trust in and I think our players trust him, too.”