AMES — Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning coached one of the best tight end groups in the NFL — the Indianapolis Colts — last season.
He helped mold two Pro Bowlers and a pair of promising athletes into top performers for a resurgent franchise, but lacked one precious item.
Manning, now back with the Cyclones alongside head coach Matt Campbell, spoke to reporters Thursday and braided fabric that tapered to that shrill, noise-making instrument adorned his shoulders.
He was back in his element. As the Cyclones’ offensive guru and running backs coach. Loving every minute of it since spring ball kicked off roughly two weeks ago.
“I didn’t wear a whistle all of last year, so that was something different to me,” said Manning, a longtime cohort of Campbell’s, who helped steer ISU to two straight eight-win seasons. “It’s nice to have it back. I’ve kind of blown it a little extra just because, but it’s been really good. It was fun to get out there the first day and be with the guys again and really be with some of my really good friends in coaching.”
Manning brings more than a unifying bond to the team.
His stint with the Colts taught him lessons that translate back to ISU.
In essence — and unexpectedly — he served on a fact-finding expedition that can only make a pretty productive offense even better in 2019 and beyond, despite the loss of top running back David Montgomery and elite receiver Hakeem Butler.
“What Tom has brought with him, to be honest with you, is he just spent this year with the Colts where there were really four guys that were productive in an offense that was one of the best in the NFL,” ISU’s tight ends coach Alex Golesh said. “Fact check me, I don’t know that to be the case, but saw four guys really ultra productive — a Pro Bowler and a former Pro Bowler and an H-back type body amid a guy that had played basketball at VCU. These guys, kind of random pick up off the street guys and are crushing it, I think for Coach Manning to walk in and say, ‘Man, this is what we recruited for three years,’ and now these guys are kind of ready to go, I think it’s huge.”
That’s true at all positions.
Manning said his return to Ames and the tight-knit group of coaches that surrounds him proved to be a strong draw.
Coaches and players alike — new and veteran — bounce ideas off each other and no notion broached is spurned out of hand.
“I think that’s really in the culture that Coach Campbell has always set,” Manning said. “Our job as a coaching staff is to challenge each other and to make sure we’re doing the right thing. And there’a no idea that’s not welcomed. We might not always agree on it, but I think that’s how you spur creativity, is to have everybody feel like they have an integral part in what they’re doing and to actually give everybody a meaningful role.”
That’s somewhat unique, in that Campbell doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. Sure, he’s the head coach, but input is welcomed from all fronts — assistants, GAs, and players alike.
“Our job as coordinator, myself and (defensive coordinator Jon) Heacock is to create that same culture in our room(s),” Manning said.
So what did time in the NFL teach him — whistle, or not?
Lots of things.
“It was very valuable just to see a different perspective on a lot of things,” Manning said. “And obviously to learn some things and to grow professionally, but at the end of the day I think, coming back, I think it’s given me maybe a fresh set of eyes on some things that maybe we could incorporate or maybe not. It’s been good. It’s been really fun to be back.”
Those things may include some heavy 12 and even 13-personnel sets at times. ISU’s developing into the type of bruising program Campbell envisions it as. Manning’s mission hinges on keeping that goal on course — with some levity sprinkled in along the way, as warranted. .
“He’s still one of the funniest coaches I’ve ever had,” tight end Chase Allen said. “It’s so great just to have him back and have his energy around.”