GRAY: Devotion to a growth mindset allows the Cyclones to persevere through tough, tight losses

Aug 31, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell talks to quarterback Brock Purdy (15) during a game against the Northern Iowa Panthers at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones won 29-26 in three overtimes. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMESMatt Campbell took Brock Purdy aside and delivered his message.

Both Iowa State’s head football coach and his star sophomore quarterback had just addressed the media in the bowels of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on the heels of Saturday’s pulse-quickening 42-41 setback against the No. 10 Sooners.

 What was said is private. What matters is the media-viewed conversation occurred — and likely reaffirmed the collective faith the Cyclones (5-4, 3-3 Big 12) fervently maintain in each other entering Saturday’a 2:30 p.m. matchup with Texas at Jack Trice Stadium.

 “This season’s not over,” Purdy said during Tuesday’s media availability. “We’ve still got a lot to prove, so we’re ready to roll.”

 Same page. Same goals. Dial in the details and promote an ongoing growth mindset — not a myopic results-dictated one.

 Yes, ISU’s four losses have come by a measly 11 points. And, yes, they all could have and perhaps should have been wins. But instead of dwelling on missed opportunities, the Cyclones are fueled by the process that’s turned them into a really good football team, regardless of what the record shows.

 “That’s what — you say what are you really proud of?” Campbell told me after Tuesday’s news conference. “It’s that. I know it’s one of the things, to be honest with you, it’s one of the things that I enjoy more than anything that we get to do, is watch this group of kids grow together. Sooner or later, it’s going to pay off, but if this is our foundation — if this is who we are — when it does pay off, then it will be that way for a long time and that’s hugely positive for this organization and this team.”

 Call that spin if you like, but one thing is certain: Campbell firmly believes in. So do his players. Toughness endures. Wins and losses both fade into the same realm: The past.

 “If you are result-driven and you see the record, you’re going to be depressed, you’re going to feel bad about yourself, you’re going to think this season was a waste and all that kind of thing,” said Purdy, who is one of two quarterbacks (along with LSU’s Joe Burrow) to boast two games this season with six total touchdowns accounted for in each. “But the way he preaches to us about being process-driven and seeing what our culture is, what we stand for and just keep pounding away, that’s powerful stuff to us and we know that if we just keep doing that then the rest of the pieces will fall into place down the road.”

 Perhaps those dominoes will start falling the right way from an ISU perspective again against the Longhorns (6-3, 4-2), who outlasted Kansas State, 27-24, last week at home. 

 Texas is the only Big 12 team Campbell and his staff haven’t beaten since arriving in Ames, so a win would not only boost the Cyclones’ postseason profile, but would also be important to this three-plus season new era.

 Win Saturday and it’s still possible to set a high-mark standard for victories under Campbell and offer further proof to the outside world that the great growth he notices isn’t merely an internal observation.

 “We could win more games than we ever have here, with this staff, and it’s really encouraging,” said tight end Chase Allen, who scored his second touchdown this season in the Oklahoma loss. “That’s our mindset now. Who knows what happens in the conference and chips will fall where they may. We’ve just got to beat Texas this week. That’s what we’re thinking.”

 Signature wins don’t come by wishing them into existence. Grit, attention to detail and a commitment to being accountable lay the foundation for success. And it doesn’t matter if that sounds trite, because it’s true.

 “We never let our heads hang low,” said redshirt freshman cornerback Tayvonn Kyle, who notched his first 1.5 tackles for loss in his career against the Sooners. “We know what we’re capable of. I just get excited each week, every day, every week, each time a new week starts over, it’s a brand new feeling each and every time.”

 That’s the hope. The grindstone replaces shiny objects and an ability to remain still in the moment banishes painful losses to the recesses of memory. The future remains bright — and Campbell fully “gets” how being so close to being an results-validated elite team frustrates fans eager to celebrate a long-awaited, nationally-noticed breakthrough.

 “I get it,” Campbell said. “I do. I completely understand it, but I also understand this: They’ve seen a a lot of bad football for a long time and I think they’re smart enough to know what good football looks like and what good culture looks like and what really good kids look like. And to me, that’s the thing that’s maybe a joy for me to walk into these walls is knowing what these kids put in to being the best they can be — and when you’re inches and fractions away, you can stomach it, because you know it’s our job to just keep pounding away to get it done.” 


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.