TRANSCRIPT: Matt Campbell at Big 12 Media Days

Below is a transcript from Matt Campbell’s press conference from Wednesday at the Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

MATT CAMPBELL: Let me first and foremost say just very thankful and grateful to be here, obviously to represent Iowa State University, our athletic department and certainly our football program.

I do think before getting going it wouldn’t be right for me to not say a sincere thank you to the leadership that we have gotten from the Big 12 really over the last two years. You know, from what Bob Bowlsby and Ed Stewart have done from a leadership perspective, from the challenge of last fall to the ever-changing landscape in college athletics, their communication, their leadership has been second to none.

So certainly extremely grateful. From my end, brought two of our players here with me today to represent Iowa State football. On the offensive side, Breece Hall. Breece is a junior tailback who has continued to do tremendous things for our football program. I think as a coach, you’re always grateful when one of your best players is a young man that’s growing in every aspect of his life: Who he is, what he stands for and how he leads on and off our football field. Really proud of what he’s accomplished in his continued growth.

And then secondly on the defensive side is Greg Eisworth, Greg from the State of Texas. Greg is going in to be a four-year starter at the safety position, three-time All Conference player. Most importantly, Greg will graduate with his graduate degree early this fall. Greg is one of those young men for us that has been what I would call a transformational leader. Iowa State Football would not be where it is without Greg’s leadership. He’s been a transformer and really proud of everything that he stands for on and off the field.

Really from my standpoint since the month of January, we’ve had 118 players going through the off-season program, led every step of the way by our 25 seniors. Our seniors do a great job, their leadership on and off the field, to demand the standard day-in and day-out has been exceptional. There’s great pride I take four football team this year, especially the leadership from the top.

With that said, I know we are getting ready to finish the summer season, get into fall camp and certainly excited about that.

So any questions you might have, I’ll certainly open up to you guys.

Q.  How confident are you that the players are going to build off last season and kind of embrace what y’all did but not buy into the hype that, hey, you guys are contenders and not just scrappy little underdogs anymore?

MATT CAMPBELL: Yeah, I don’t know. I think that confidence is gained and earned through the off-season, right, and that confidence is gained and earned through the summer and fall camp.

That’s really what football is, right. And I think sometimes we get lost in terms of college football. You’re dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds, and you still have to be great teachers from a leadership perspective on my standpoint. And what I’ve always said about our program is we’re certainly outcome aware, but that’s never what we’ve talked about in our program. What we’ve talked about is how do you put your ego aside, how do we understand process, and how do we understand our purpose. And if we can define those two things and then work to get better in those areas, then we are going to give ourselves an earned opportunity to have confidence going into the fall.

And so I still think we are in the process of earning the confidence to be ready for the fall season right now.

Q.  I think a lot of people who are around the country or not Iowa State fans are probably surprised you’re still here in Ames, right? So I guess that’s my question, is why are you still in Ames, what does it mean to you to still be there and what you’re still building?

MATT CAMPBELL: For me, I think very simply put, I didn’t get in this profession to be somebody. I got in this profession to do something.

For me, I’ve always said, and I tell this to I think our society, you’re either trying to be somebody else or you’re trying to do something. I think from my end, what I love about football is to teach. What I love about football is to coach. And what I love about creating a culture where young people feel confident and safe to show up every day and work to become the best version of themselves, where coaches get to show up every day and work to become the best version of themselves, that’s what I love.

And I think we have worked really hard to create a culture that allows that growth to happen within our walls, and really, that’s what I love about the sport and that’s really what I love about what I get to do day-in and day-out.

Q.  Brock not here today, and neither is Spencer Rattler, two really good young quarterbacks in the league and the country. I was wondering if you could just talk about Brock, his progression, and then you saw Spencer twice last year, as well. If you could talk about what you saw out of him in terms of his evolution.

MATT CAMPBELL: Yeah, Brock not here, going to the Manning Camp, actually, tomorrow. I think a lot of that had to do with his obligation to where he’s got to be and certainly opportunities that he has. But when you talk about Brock Purdy, I think you talk about where our program has come and the growth we’ve been able to make, it’s literally been on the coattails of Brock Purdy. We would not be where we are today without his consistency and his leadership and his demand to be the best in everything he does.

I think what I love about Brock more than anything is he’s never satisfied, and he’s an elite competitor. What I loved about his growth a year ago, I think anytime that you care so much, and I think myself, our coaches, the players that have invested greatly, sometimes you care so much, that sometimes you’re almost paralyzed because you don’t want to screw it up, you don’t want to make a mistake.

What I saw last year is as we got to November, December and finishing the season, I saw Brock Purdy as a freshman that played with so much confidence and so much carefree mentality that it was such a joy for me as a coach to see that come back and him enjoy playing quarterback at Iowa State again.

I’m just to proud of who he is and what he’s become, and I really think he’s got a chance to really put a great finishing touch on what’s been an incredible job journey for him as we get into this season.

You know, you talk about Spencer, I think the only thing you can say is the utmost respect. I think you see almost some great similarities across the way. You know, watching him grow throughout last football season, and probably nobody had a greater advantage of that in the Big 12 than myself. You saw him early in a conference game, kind of working through it, and we know what kind of coach and coaching he’s getting there, it’s exceptional and maybe as good as any quarterback coaching as you’re going to find. And you just saw him gain confidence as the season went, and I think you saw the team rally around his leadership and his confidence.

The utmost respect for Spencer. Elite athleticism, elite arm strength, and you see a young man that at the end of the season had tremendous confidence in the offense.

Q.  Wanted to get your thoughts on Breece, what he was able to do last year, leading the FBS in rushing yards, but at the same time you saw Robinson from Texas step up towards the end of season. Do you believe both those running backs could be in a fight for the Doak Walker, All-American, Heisman race?

MATT CAMPBELL: Let me answer Breece first. I think that Breece is one of those young men in terms of our program that you’ve got to remember was just a sophomore and obviously that rushing stuff is all great, but that always happens because there’s offensive linemen and tight ends that do a great job, too. And that’s certainly not taking anything away from Breece because Breece has been exceptional.

I think Breece is an incredible athlete. I’ve always said when your best talent and your best players have elite work ethic, you give your team a chance to be successful. And Breece has done that for us.

When you talk about awards and you talk about some of those things for running backs or any players, I think those are probably great conversations for everybody else because I think all we’re trying to do is, man, how do you get these guys to reach their full potential and be the best they can be, and certainly Breece has done that for us.

Q.  Last two or three years, we’ve asked you questions like how close are you guys to getting over the top. Did you answer that question last year even though you didn’t win on this field, but you went to the wire with Oklahoma and beat them in Ames, is it a matter of doing it to the level that you can win a Big 12 Championship?

MATT CAMPBELL: I think, again, when you say part of your program is being outcome aware is — you know, part of being outcome aware is you work so hard to become the best, and you want to strain to be the best.

I think what we understand is there’s a unique way we have to do that in Ames, Iowa, and that’s a little bit different. We have to work week-in and week-out to be the best team we can be. You know, I think as we’ve continued to grow and recruit, our team approach to how we have to play the game offensively and defensively and certainly in special teams, I think has grown with us.

So you know, I think what we’ve done is we certainly understand that there’s a pathway to become the best, but right now, you know, you’re talking about an Oklahoma team, and certainly some teams in this conference that have tremendous football teams and tremendous players in an Oklahoma team that certainly had a tremendous amount of success.

I think what we’re learning is how we have to do it, and that part’s been a real fun journey for us.

Q.  You’re guaranteed if you make it to the Championship Game, you’re going to repeat against an opponent you’ve already played. Is there something — what goes into preparing for facing a team that, like in your case, you’ve already beaten Oklahoma and you have to play them a second time, that you have to approach the game and play a team and beat them just to get a chance to go on and play in the Bowl?

MATT CAMPBELL: Yeah, you know, I certainly think it’s unique, I guess in that regard, but I think if we would go back to I played Division III football, and that happened a lot in the tournament setting in Division III athletics. I think when you talk about high school athletics, you certainly have that same challenge usually as you’re preparing to make a run for a championship.

So I don’t think it’s unique to our sport, I guess is what I would say. It’s always challenging to play, especially in what will be a really good team twice, and yet it’s part of the game and something that I think you’re always trying to find that balance of how much do you change it up to how much do you still want to do what you do best.

So unique challenge obviously in the Big 12, but it’s certainly not unique to football.

Q.  You mentioned 25 seniors. How many of those guys are back because they got a free year, and how big — can you explain — we all know seniors are more important, but just that amount, what it means to the team?

MATT CAMPBELL: Yeah, we’re fortunate. We’ve got eight of those seniors for us that are coming back with that COVID rule, you know, and to me, I felt like every young man that I met with at the end of the season was — everybody is in a different place. And, you know, for those seniors, it was certainly a chaotic start to the season for a lot of guys and I thought it gave us some normalcy as we got into the season.

But at the end of the year, I think the conversation — two regards. No. 1, you know, professionally from an athletic standpoint, was it in their best interest to leave, and No. 2, interest an academic standpoint, some of these guys have tremendous degrees and some of them were ready to move on with life. Some of them got married, some of them got great job opportunities and were ready to seize those job opportunities.

Yet what I’m most proud of is the young men that decided to come back, very much in the same area they felt that there was a gap somewhere they could improve and take advantage of this, and I think my ask as the coach is don’t come back just to come back; come back to improve. There’s an area you can grow and get better.

What I would tell you is we’re in July now, the probably the most pride I take is in the eight men that made the decision to come back made as much or more growth in our program, and that part is really exciting for me.

Q.  You guys are picked to finish second this season. Why do you believe you have one of the top teams in this league?

MATT CAMPBELL: I would just say this, like from our standpoint, and I know I answered that question earlier, preseason polls and stuff right now really don’t mean a whole lot. You know, I think what we know what we have is we have a veteran football team and there’s a lot of guys that have experience, and yet they have to earn the right to have confidence to be a good football team.

And part of that process to earn the right to be a good football team is still in the works right now. It’s how you show up in really January and February and March. It’s the effort and the commitment that you are willing to make to your mind, your body and your craft and times when nobody was looking.

And we’re still there. We’re still in July and getting ready to go into August where, you know, it’s all kind of setting the standards and foundation and principles so you have that confidence to be a good football team when the fall comes your way and those moments come your way.

And so I think that’s where we’re at and what we have really strained on is how do we improve, how do we take the lessons we’ve learned from a year ago and the last couple years in our program, how do we take them, how do we put our ego aside and how do we demand to get better one day at a time. When you have an older group, sometimes that group can do a great job of leading the way, and our group has done a good job so far.

Q.  For all the success, some would say early in the season, there have been some struggles, with aspirations beyond the Big 12, can you identify why you’ve had some early season struggles and how you avoid them this year?

MATT CAMPBELL: Yeah, really good question. I think you can probably go a different directions, but at the end of the day the facts are the facts. It’s been an area for us where I think we’ve kind of tried to look at that from a holistic approach in saying, man, where do we have to get better.

I would say if we were here two years ago or last year coming into this conversation, I would equate, man, we struggled a little bit at the end of the season, too, kind of a year ago. What I think we’ve really looked at is, man, you get 12 guaranteed opportunities in college football. How from the head coach’s perspective do you put a calendar together and how do you put a process together that allows your football team to be their best in those 12 guaranteed opportunities, right. And you can’t control everything else, but, man, you can control the preparation to get to those 12 guaranteed opportunities to be the best you can be.

So I think I would put any issue that we’ve had on my shoulders because it’s probably been a failure of mine that we just haven’t been able to get off to a good start at times throughout our tenure here, but I think it’s certainly something we’ve looked at holistically, and it’s always, man, how do we give our kids the opportunity to be the best version of themselves they can be.

Certainly worked to address that and probably learned a lot through last football season, to be honest with you, about what the answer to that question should look like.

Q.  You guys successfully navigated your schedule last year as COVID is concerned. What were the biggest challenges and with this new variant out there, how does that change your approach for this upcoming season?

MATT CAMPBELL: Well, I would first and foremost say, you know, the challenge that you have is when you’re dealing with a population of people, right, and you’d say, man, 130 players, and then you throw in probably a hundred support staff people in terms of athletic training, academics, all of the things that are involved with a Division I football team, is it’s getting everybody going in the same direction with the same common goal at the same time.

And I still think the greatest challenge that you dealt with was the challenge in your locker room and were you willing to commit to the standard not just the three hours you were involved with football but the other 21 hours you were away from the facility.

I think the greatest thing we learned and I’ve always believed is when you have player-driven leadership, when the players in the locker room say this is the standard, this is how we are doing things and this is the expectation, then you can get through anything. Fortunately for us, a year ago, we had tremendous senior leadership. That was really powerful.

I think from a global leadership perspective, what did we learn? We learned three great values: Simply, engage and be willing to grow. If you can take that, then you’ll have a chance to do great things, and I think our leadership team was able to take those values and our players did an unbelievable job leading.

I think no matter what comes our way, we’ve learned in a short amount of time you have to have the ability to adapt and grow but you still have to come back to who is leading the way. No matter who is coming our way with COVID or the next challenge, it’s going to come down to our leadership and the leadership within our walls.

So great question and hopefully that answers it.

Q.  You talked a lot last year about the schedule, three on, one off, three on, one off. Can you go over that a little bit what that meant for your team and going forward, is this something when you go to coaches meetings or athletic meetings, can you push to try to move that through? Because I know how much you liked that last year.

MATT CAMPBELL: I think one thing we learned just even in terms of last season is, geez, how do you — when everything revolved around what we did was the health and safety of our players. You know, you didn’t have them for three months. You then come back and you’re getting ready to play a competitive season, and everything is revolving around the primary certain of the health and safety of our players.

Again, this is where there’s great credit to Bob and his staff and their ability to adapt and change along the way, which I think is why our conference was able to have tremendous success.

But the three on, one week off model, when you really look at holistically, mentally for the kids, physically for the kids, academically for the kids, I think there was tremendous value. I think when you’re talking about that’s the primary concern, then I think, yes, I think you can stand up and being willing to try to fight for that.

Now obviously we know there’s challenges with that when you’re trying to play a 12-game schedule and all the things that come with that, and there’s certainly a lot of great debating opportunities around that topic. But I know from my end, I saw the greatest benefit is what our greatest source is, and that’s the student-athlete, and I thought there was great benefit to them. And yeah, definitely a unique challenge.

For our end, we’re on five weeks, off a week and then you have to finish with seven straight. That’s certainly different than three on, one week off. All unique challenges and all challenges around myself as a head coach as we get ready to find a process that will allow your players adapt, grow and be ready for when their opportunities come. Again, great question, appreciate it.

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