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AMES — There hasn’t been a week go by during the college football season where Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell hasn’t spoken to Dan McCarney in some capacity.
Sometimes it’s Campbell dialing up the former Cyclones coach and other times it’s McCarney taking the initiative, but the bottom line is there’s a conversation always happening. Through an 0-3 start to the season, Campbell has used him as a resource on staying the course.
“A lot of his words are words of encouragement and support,” Campbell said. “A lot of mine are just reaffirming where we’re going and what we’re doing and our belief system. He’s just been a great ear to be able to talk to and somebody that’s certainly been a huge support system for us.”
Campbell invited McCarney back to Iowa State in April, speaking at a coaches clinic, and the two have stayed in close contact since. McCarney, who spent 12 seasons at Iowa State (1995-2006), had never coached with or against anyone on the current ISU staff, but has gotten a good read on what is happening at his former school and its direction.
Sooner or later, McCarney said, things will take a turn for the better just like they did for him. Iowa State won a total of 13 games in five years before McCarney led it to a nine-win season and the school’s first bowl victory in 2000.
“I’ve been 45 years in Division I football, 41 as a coach and four years as a player,” McCarney said. “So I’m not really fooled by people. I’m not easily impressed. But I saw it first hand, the job (Campbell’s) doing of leading and cultivating and building relationships and trying to bring out the best in people.”
McCarney is in Ames this weekend as one of eight inductees into the Iowa State Hall of Fame. He is the winningest football coach in school history with 56 victories and led the Cyclones to five bowl games (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005).
“We did some amazing things here and some magical things when we were here,” McCarney said. “It sure as hell wasn’t easy. It was hard.
“I’ve been gone 10 years now and I was told a number of times now there’s been one winning season in the 10 years that I’ve been gone. This is a hard job. It’s a tough place. It makes it even more evident and I’m so proud of what we did here.”
The Iowa City native — and former Iowa player and assistant coach — made stops as an assistant at South Florida and Florida before moving on to be the head coach at North Texas until getting fired last season.
Although McCarney isn’t on a coaching staff this fall for the first time since the late 1970s, he doesn’t considered himself fully retired. He’s gotten calls to potentially join staffs and even got calls to see if he was interested in administration, but for now he’s catching his breath and planning his next move.
“It’s been a lot of fun and I’m just trying to figure that out honestly,” McCarney said. “I think I still have something real positive to give, just what direction or where you go and where you take that energy and experience, what do you do with it.”
In his time away from coaching, McCarney has had opportunities to be a guest of Campbell’s at Iowa State and an honorary captain at Iowa. He also spent a week with former assistant Chris Ash, now the head coach at Rutgers.
Going into the Iowa State Hall of Fame this weekend is just another stop in McCarney’s hiatus. And he’d be the first to deflect a lot of that accomplishment to the people he surrounded himself with in his coaching life.
“It’s not something phony that makes it sound good to the public,” McCarney said. “That’s the truth. I know how many people contributed to what we did while we were here. It was damn tough and it was hard, but we did some pretty amazing things.”
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