Oct 5, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell watches his team play the TCU Horned Frogs at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
The following is a complete transcript of Matt Campbell’s 25-minute teleconference on April 7, 2020. Questions are indicated by italics while Campbell’s answers are in bold.
I’ll be really honest with you I’m really proud of our players and our coaching staff and really every aspect of our organization to create a new sense of normality. Again, this is where your culture really comes into play and that’s something I am really proud of. Our ability to No. 1. Create a line of communication and accountability No. 2. the ability to engage and No. 3. the ability and the opportunities to continue to get better. I feel like we’ve continued to chip over those areas in the past three weeks and have made a lot of growth. Really proud of what that’s looked like.
I’ll comment a little bit on last week, a really hard but powerful decision by our athletic director Jamie Pollard. For me, it’s one of the things that I’ve really loved about being here at Iowa State and what I loved about Iowa State from the day that I stepped foot here. I’m really grateful to be apart of an athletic department that’s trying to do what’s best for what’s most important. What’s most important is the people whether it’s our student-athletes or our staff across the board. Those are hard and tough decision but I certainly have the utmost trust and belief in Jamie.
Q: How did the conversation go with Jamie Pollard the pay cuts?
Campbell: I’m really fortunate to have here is a great relationship with my athletic director. We talk a lot and so you certainly know what challenges we’re facing as a university and a department. Again, you also know the challenge when you make a decision like Jamie made that certainly can be a challenge to the people within the organization as well. I think it goes back to trying to do what’s right and what’s best for the overall picture. At least for us, our situation, ya know it you feel like it’s the right decision. Like I said earlier, I am humbled and thankful to be able to help and be apart of that and help him spearhead what’s the best decision for us.
Q: How much did you talk over with your staff about everything that Pollard had talked to you about in terms of the pay cuts before you went back to him?
Campbell: Again, really when the decision got made I met with all of our staff and it affects everybody a little bit differently but my job, my responsibility is to protect the people within our organization and also guide them. In almost every department, every piece of our football organization gets effected a little differently and so that’s one of the things that it’s hard, ya know. My biggest thing is I just wanted to be honest and upfront and kind of explain to them where Jamie was coming from and why I was in full support to do what he thought was best for our athletic department and certainly our university.
Q: What kinds of things are you doing now in terms of football things with the players like meetings, workouts, etc?
Campbell: The beginning parts I would tell you is that my challenge to our staff first and foremost was a line of communication. Ya know, I think the one thing we can hold each other accountable for with not seeing everyone physically every day is a sense and a line of communication and touchpoints throughout the day and throughout the week. That was the No. 1 thing, was establishing a line of communication and accountability. We’ve done a great job of that in three weeks.
The second thing was we can still teach. That’s the great thing about coaching, coaching is teaching. Even my kids are doing school right now from home and so there are still ways to be able to teach and connect with our players. So the second phase for us has been the teaching piece and we have been doing some of that. The thing that I’ve asked our coaches is to just be simple. In times of chaos, simplicity becomes the answer. How do we get better? We find the ability to be simple. Ya know, whether that’s football or our strength and conditioning program right now is a sense of simplicity that allows our guys to continue to grow. I think we’ve done a great job of that.
Then, the last piece of it is for everybody in our whole organization, we live in a world like all of you that goes 100 miles an hour and for the first time, I almost feel like its a sabbatical in a sense where our world has slowed down. I think the great thing from my challenge to our players and our coaches and really myself its an opportunity to get better. That opportunity to get better is different in a lot of different ways like maybe it’s to be a better father or better husband or maybe I need to be a better player or I need to have better attention to detail, or be a better coach or have better technique but what we do have is time. We have the opportunity to really sit and get better at something. My whole challenge to my organization if we can come back and we come back better then we will have a chance to continue to improve. That’s really been our mantra over the last couple of weeks.
Q: What are you teaching your team and how do you do that from afar?
Campbell: There’s so much to teach from. You have the ability from FaceTime to Zoom to Google Docs to a million different ways to do it. From our continuing education in nutrition to continuing strength and conditioning and to continuing to find ways to relate and teach from a football standpoint. We’ve got all those opportunities and technology has allowed us to be able to connect and teach and be able to present in their lives even though we physically can’t do that. It definitely forces a sense of personal accountability from the student-athletes. Again, we’re really fortunate to have kids that really want to continue to find ways to get better. It forces us to better and more creative teachers. Something I think our staff, even though at times has been painful early on, I think they’ve really started to get better themselves and enjoy it. Again, maybe even spearhead us in some ways down the road we may be able to continue to use to get better.
Q: For a staff and program whose mantra is routine and to be the same every day what is the challenge that comes from pivoting to a new challenge but with something that is literally unprecedented in the last 100 years to try and deal with?
Campbell: I think the first thing is that in a way there’s almost been a brand new challenge that you tackle it like a new opponent. It starts with a little bit of anxiety and then you sit down and say “How do we win this challenge? How do we give our kids the best opportunity to thrive through it?”. I think the one thing we can do is you have to find a routine. If you’re sleeping in until 11 o’clock every day it’s probably going to be really hard for you to come back and thrive from this situation. I think finding ways to connect with them and it all starts with the communication and holding people accountable through a standard. We’ve worked really hard with our guys over the last three weeks and I think we’ve made great progress. I think that’s been our starting point of trying to create a positive routine with academics, nutrition, strength and conditioning with football and continuing to put their days together and holding them accountable with communication and that’s been really positive for us.
Q: In a best-case scenario what do June, July and August look like and if that doesn’t pan out how much time do you think a program needs to be prepared to be successful and healthy?
Campbell: You’re probably asking the wrong guy on this one. For me, I coached (Division III) football at Mt. Union and I played football at Mt. Union where you didn’t have much engagement and you didn’t have spring practice or many guys on campus throughout the summer. In August everyone was accountable for their own workouts and what they needed to do. Then on August 1 you were getting ready to go out and play football.
Fortunately for us, we were pretty good so we held a standard of excellence in the off-season and we knew what that looked like and felt like and then we got ready by September to go and kick everybody’s butts. We didn’t need much time. I probably lean on that end because I’ve had that experience and been that guy as a player and I’ve been that guy as a coach. Ya know, obviously all this time that you can get at this level sometimes that’s good and maybe sometime we’ll feel out when this is all said and done that there is some merit to giving our kids some of this time.
Right now, we’ve got to plan if you get them back in June or you got them back in July or if you don’t get them back until August what would that look like. I don’t like to waste a lot of time on hypotheticals because you can get lost in that. But, I do think you want to have a plan and certainty a plan in each of those time frames and go back and work more on the present. That’s how I feel about everything in all honesty. Right now, we have a really good plan for what’s happening presently. If we came back in any of those time frames I think we feel we have a really good plan of how we would approach it from a football and a strength and conditioning standpoint.
Q: How did you get to a point where you feel comfortable with the idea of starting from scratch in August that a student-athlete doesn’t need to be held accountable for 11-12 months to play football?
Campbell: I’ll probably make a lot of people upset but because I’ve lived it. I’ve seen really high-end football be coached and played and to me, there are great things of having our kids present but I also think we’re not so far away from the days, even in DI football, where kids went home and got a job then they came back in August and you had two-a-days and you physically and mentally got prepared to play a football season. I think there are really good coaches in this profession that have been through all of the cycles of where we’ve gotten to today. I think we’ve got some really intelligent people and enough people medically to make sure we never put a student-athlete in harm’s way and that we can make great decisions and have a great game plan to get our young people prepared to play football sometime this fall.
Q: So you had a job when you were an athlete?
Campbell: I did, yeah. I worked for four summers. I worked a job tearing down and rebuilding bridges. I think it can be done, I’ve seen it done.
Q: Have you seen any guys emerging as leaders now?
Campbell: To me, that’s the thing that’s where all these things we’ve talked about over the last four years and have worked really hard to lay a strong foundation to is adversity shows the gaps that you have for the strengths that you have. I think one thing I’ve been really proud of us is watching our kids continue to find ways to engage whether it’s Madden online, trick shot challenges or their ability to pick up a FaceTime to stay engaged and some of the older guys picking up some of the younger guys over the last couple of weeks. That part has been really rewarding for me. That’s as good as any win that I’ve seen us have as a football program because this is real life. This is real-life adversity. I think sometimes we even forget that these kids are going home and some of these young people their parents are struggling, maybe they’ve been laid off or maybe they lost their jobs so they’re home helping out.
We have some guys that are actually working right now to try and help out. That’s real leadership, that’s standing up. You have to remember that our society hasn’t seen or felt this and what happens is adversity hits and true leaders stand up and begin to lead. We talked a lot about that before our kids left and I don’t know if our kids really felt, it was right before spring break, so I don’t know if they knew how serious this was. But I think the reality set in really fast and to watch our guys not just with each other but emerge as great leaders at home taking care of their parents or stepping up and helping with childcare and stepping up and getting a job and that’s the things I’m really proud of.
Q: Who are some of those guys that are emerging as leaders and what are they doing?
Campbell: Well, Trevor Downing going back to work full time on the farm. Ezeriah Anderson is working at the grocery store down in Florida. We’ve got a lot of guys like Kym-Mani King stepping up and doing things out of the best interest of their families. Zach Peterson is working a full-time job. There’s a lot of examples and I would have to get all of those to you but I mean it’s fascinating to watch. I’ve been watching a lot of those guys who have younger siblings trying to help out by providing the childcare for their families and it’s been really heartwarming and I’m really appreciative of the young guys we have in our program.
Q: Are you considering there being a possibility for there being no football? Do you have a plan of what you would do?
Campbell: No. I’ll be honest with you that thought hasn’t even crossed my mind. Do I think it could happen? I think anything can happen as we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks. My thought has been more about a plan of when and if and taking care of a lot of people and players throughout our organization day in and day out that’s kind of where I spend most of my time.
Q: How have you seen the urgent needs of players manifest outside of the game of football?
Campbell: We’ve got 123 kids that are going through our spring with us. So you’ve got kids that these chain of events, whether it be the health and well being of their family members or parents that are really struggling because of what’s happening economically around them and even to the point that we had a couple of kids that it was just safer for them to stay here then it was for them to go home.
In all honesty, football has been on the back burner of my mind. In all honesty, I’ve probably spent the least time on football in the past three weeks than I have in my entire life. Again, your daily processes, what’s continuing to change in the world around you student-athletes? That’s why I say staying connected and having a touchpoint with all of your players in your program to see what is going on because things are changing so rapidly every day. Really, that’s what we spend our time on. That communication line and making sure that we can stay present in their lives. These are tough times for 18-22 year old. I think Travis, you and myself, we can remember going back to that age and gong through 9/11 and you felt a little bit like for the first time in our lives our freedom was compromised. You weren’t really sure what was coming next. Even though that feeling was a little short-lived, I think some of these 18-22-year-olds think they’re invincible at this time. But, all of a sudden the real world hits and real-life adversity comes our way and our society hasn’t really dealt with that like some of the other generations before us have and now we have to. It’s forcing a lot of different situations on a lot of different young people. Again, that’s where I think communication engagement, relationships, being culture driven and caring about people is really, really important. It’s what we said we are. Continuing to have that at the forefront of what we do every day has really been our utmost importance.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
Campbell: My process of how I live my life hasn’t changed in terms of I’m up really early. We staff meet every morning from about 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. as a coaching staff and a football program through, ya know, a Google Doc and we have the ability to go through our roster, make sure we are caught up in terms of our players and their needs and any challenges that might be in front of us. Then, spending a good bulk of time with the recruiting process. That obviously continues to go forward. As soon as that is done, everybody has their own jobs, responsibilities and everyone is responsible for their own set of players and we kind of begin our day. Very limited of that has to do with x’s and o’s but a lot of it is relationship-driven with our players or the recruiting process.
Q: Can recruiting be delayed because of the situation? Are you doing things like virtual tours with kids?
Campbell: It doesn’t change. It all still goes back to the number one common denominator and that’s relationships. We’ve been really fortunate, we’ve worked really hard to get a lot of young players that we’ve been able to pinpoint and engage with at a young age to get them on our campus whether it’s been for a game day visit. We’ve been able to get some really quality visits through January of young people in our program to come see us. We feel really good about where we’re at with the 2020-21 class. Whether it delays decisions or not we don’t know. We just continue to be creative and find ways to continue to connect and engage and get both players and parents questions answered about our program.
Q: What were you encouraged with coming out of winter workouts that you can look forward to in the spring?
Campbell: I put in the equal amount of stock that I have into winter workouts that I do spring practice. I thought it was great for our program to have a little change in terms of Coach Andrews coming in. I think the job he and his staff did was exceptional in terms of what I saw and that week we blocked meeting up into spring break from accountability, discipline and detail and physical growth. We all were really, really excited about what we saw. Quite honestly it would’ve been a different spring for us anyway because the needs of this year’s team are drastically different from other teams we’ve had. I think that’s something that is at least a positive. Those are areas we can still grow on in terms of learning the offense, learning the defense and just some of the ability to sharpen the detail we talked a lot about last football season. Those learning opportunities still exist for us. Those are things we just continue to work on.