Jul 16, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell (middle) takes a photo with his players during Big 12 media days at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell picked up the book. He noticed its heft — the strength of its message, the impact of its words.
Powerful, the soon-to-be second-year Cyclones coach thought to himself.
Then, he set the book aside. His young team simply wasn’t ready for it.
The timeframe: January, 2017.
The quest: Building a winning culture at ISU in the wake of a 3-9 season.
The then-shelved book: Legacy by James Kerr, which delves deeply into the “whys” that help shape the uncommon level of durable success achieved by the New Zealand All Blacks national rugby team.
“I remember it was going into year two here and it was like we’ve still got to understand what it takes to represent these values before we can even dive into how these values build a program and build something that’s bigger than ourselves,” Campbell told Cyclone Fanatic early Friday afternoon. “So literally I remember picking it up, reading it and I’m like, ‘There’s so much good stuff here, but I can’t take myself there now right now, because we’re not even ready to handle this.’”
They are now.
“On a whim,” Campbell said, he perused his bookshelf after the Cyclones second-straight eight-win season and dusted Legacy off for this fall camp.
It’s not overwhelming anymore, he thought. It’s perfect for what his team faces now as they attempt to #ProveIt in terms of maintaining and fine-tuning success amid burgeoning expectations.
“I said this is where our program — if we want to go, we have to make the next step in these margins,” Campbell said. “That’s been big for us.”
Thus, Legacy became this fall camp’s Campbell book club collection. One concept that appears throughout the book involves “sweeping the shed.” The term physically describes how the winningest rugby club ever stays after matches and picks up everything in the locker room. The attention to detail is meticulously maintained and it happens without fail. Win or lose (but historically, it’s mostly after a win).
Campbell didn’t feel his team was ready to be impressed — and driven by — that and other elements of the book following season one, but the Cyclones have progressed enough collectively to make its lessons fully applicable in season four and moving forward.
“I think this has been a really reflective year for me and for us in general,” Campbell said. “I think it’s one of those things for us that I was looking for, “What’s that perfect book to really display what I feel like — and where I feel like we’re still not there yet — and how do we use that to help us?’ This book, we’ve changed more and built more in this book than any book we’ve used so far.”
One of the reasons Campbell felt the 2019 Cyclones were ready for Legacy hinges on the degree of consistency his players have honed and developed. Couple that with true, quality three-deep situations at most position groups and a championship mentality can take root.
“I think that has been the monumental change in our program, is the consistency to the process, right?” Campbell said. “What’s it take for me to be the best version of me every day? What’s it take for our team to be the best version of us every day? The more individuals you’ve got buying into that, the better you’re gonna be — and the more those individuals can bring those guys that sometimes need lifted up, the better you’re gonna be. I think what you’ve got in our locker room right now is a group of men — some young men and some men — that are maybe some of the greatest leaders from that standpoint that I’ve seen. So I think that’s been a huge positive and something, obviously, if you don’t have player ownership in your program, I think it’s really hard to have. I think that’s probably been the greatest growth.
“That consistency’s happened because the player-driven leadership — it’s not coach Campbell saying, ‘Do this.’ It’s these guys saying, ‘This is what it takes here to win and this is what will allow us to be successful,’ and then holding themselves and others accountable to do it. That’s been a huge change.”