Football

What We’re Asking: Matt Campbell

Dec 5, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell waits to do a TV interview after the Cyclones defeated West Virginia 42-6 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, December 5, 2020. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports

It has been 587 days since Matt Campbell last officially spoke with the media in person. That conversation took place under the December sun in Florida, immediately following his team’s 33-9 loss to Notre Dame in the 2019 Camping World Bowl. It was before the global pandemic, a berth in the Big 12 title game and Iowa State’s rise to the nation’s preseason top-10. It feels like a lifetime ago.

But today, that changes. Campbell will meet with the media face-to-face today for the first time in a year and a half. This meeting, coupled with the official start to fall camp on Thursday, marks the start of the home stretch towards the most highly-anticipated season in Iowa State football history.

Over the next several weeks, reporters will meet with each of the program’s position coaches and both coordinators. Thank goodness those conversations will no longer be happening on Zoom calls.

Every morning before I head to Ames I’ll post a feature like this one, breaking down a few questions on my mind going into the proceedings. Then I’ll follow up each afternoon/evening with a piece reacting to the answers given.

I can’t wait to get started, even though this first edition probably won’t be as football-heavy as the others with numerous housekeeping items to get to.

So let’s get to it. Here are five questions for Matt Campbell in his first official meeting with the media of the 2021 football season.

1 – What’s his reaction to the drama of the last few weeks spurred by Oklahoma and Texas’ decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC?

Unfortunately, the elephant in the room across the Big 12 (and kind of the country) is sure to be the first thing Campbell is faced with. This possibility wasn’t on anyone’s radar when Campbell spoke to reporters at Big 12 Media Days in Dallas.

Those were simpler times. They, too, feel like a lifetime ago.

My best guess is that Campbell will have something to say about the reality of the situation in college football today, blocking it out because it isn’t happening between the four walls of the Bergstrom Football Complex and controlling what’s controllable.

The man rarely deviates from his message, and I doubt he’ll pick this as a time to start.

I am interested in knowing if this entire saga has become a motivating factor for people inside the program, though. They’ve surely heard how many people on the national scale have been saying Iowa State football doesn’t matter or make a big enough difference to have a seat at the table in college football’s soon-to-be restructured hierarchy.

Just when it seemed like Iowa State, with one of the best returning rosters in the country, was past the days of being doubted, the entire institution has been discounted by talking-heads and Twitter fingers from coast to coast.

There’s no doubt in my mind it has become fuel on the Cyclones’ fire as they look to reach heights the program never has previously.

2 – What percentage of his roster is vaccinated?

Another one that, like it or not, has to be discussed considering where we stand right now in our recovery from the pandemic.

Conferences across the country are starting to finalize their COVID protocols for the season. Unvaccinated players will likely face protocols similar to last season’s, while vaccinated ones are saddled with considerably fewer restrictions.

The biggest difference this season is that a COVID outbreak inside the program won’t result in rescheduling games. Most leagues will force teams to forfeit in the event of widespread infection or roster depletion due to contact tracing.

Vaccination has become a competitive tool in the world of college football. Teams with the highest vaccination percentages will have the fewest players forced to miss practices or games. Guys who refuse to get the vaccination will do so at the cost of hurting the team on Saturdays.

Again, like it or not, that’s the reality the Cyclones face in 2021. Campbell has stated previously that a large percentage of the roster has already been fully vaccinated. Still, I’m interested to see if he’ll put a true percentage on it, as many coaches across the country have over the last several weeks and days.

3 – How has he seen the changes to name, image and likeness legislation manifest inside the program?

We are more than a month into college players across the country benefiting from their likeness.

We’ve seen the nation’s No. 1 recruit in football and basketball’s 2022 classes reclassify to join college programs this fall. Nick Saban said his quarterback, who is yet to play a snap for the Crimson Tide, will make roughly seven figures this season off his name.

Enough time has gone by for Campbell to gauge how these changes will impact Iowa State football moving forward.

There is little chance the Cyclones will ever have a player generate as much money off their name as they can in Tuscaloosa, but Campbell could always level the playing field by using his newly-raised salary to buy a few boxes of Brock Purdy, Breece Hall, Charlie Kolar or (breaking news as of, hopefully, early next week) Mike Rose and Greg Eisworth shirts from the Cyclone Fanatic store.

I’m joking, of course—kind of.

4 – What has been the message to the team when it comes to handling the outside hype of being a top-10 team in the preseason?

For this one, I’ll give my best Campbell impersonation.

*clears throat loudly*

“The reality of the situation is we’re not focused on what’s happening outside of our walls,” I say as Campbell. “People on the outside are going to talk, but inside our locker room, we’re focused on becoming the best version of ourselves each and every day. That means winning in the margins, staying within ourselves and our culture, trusting our process and coming into each day with a purpose to get better. We’re lucky to be back to a little bit of normalcy where we can focus on those things without restrictions. We just want to be the best version of ourselves, and the reality is if someone else thinks that makes us one of the best teams in the country, then that’s for them to decide. So we aren’t worried about what they have to say, though, because it doesn’t impact anything that happens inside those four walls.”

*returning to my normal voice*

Willing to bet you wouldn’t know Campbell didn’t actually say that if I hadn’t told you I was making it up. I’ve listened to this guy talk a few too many times, I think.

5 – What has the program carried forward from last year’s COVID-19 adapted fall camp into this year’s more traditional setup?

Campbell talked extensively during the spring about how much the program has adapted its approach after last season’s learning experiences. The Cyclones did considerably less hitting, a lot more trying to improve physically as individuals and working on the fundamentals of their on-field approach.

It will be interesting to know how many of those things will be brought into the program’s traditional fall camp setting. Previously, Campbell has been an advocate of a really intense and difficult fall camp setup.

I’m not sure that will be the case anymore after seeing how much last season’s changes benefited the team, especially down the stretch in November.

Learning how much that has changed will go a long way in setting the tone for our follow-up conversations with the other members of his staff.

Jared Stansbury

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Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.