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AMES — Matt Campbell was in full coach-speak Tuesday at his first Iowa State media day.
He talked about players “invested in what’s going on” and “taking ownership.” He noted the “culture” he’s trying to create here, and the “process” of building a successful program.
This guy is 36, the youngest head coach in a Power Five conference? He sounded like an old coaching salt.
Which is all well and fine, but can he win? Well, the answer to that is already yes. Campbell was 35-15 at Toledo. Anyone who sniffs at that doesn’t understand the Mid-American Conference has good football.
Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Brian Kelly won in the MAC. You may have heard of them. But there have been others who left that league and tripped after taking a step up.
If Campbell can win at Iowa State, where winning at football has forever been more of a concept than a reality, we’ll see. But it feels like something’s happening here.
Campbell generated that feeling by assembling a coaching staff at warp-speed. Some of his assistants were working the phones to recruit for him here before they even booked hotel rooms in Ames, let alone found permanent housing.
“I think he was able to get most of (the staff) together in a day-and-a-half,” said Cyclones offensive coordinator Tom Manning.
Six of Campbell’s Toledo coaches followed him here, another worked with him for a year at Bowling Green, and the other two were former Toledo assistants. Included was running game coordinator Lou Ayeni, the only Iowa State holdover from Paul Rhoads’ 2015 Iowa State staff.
Manning joined the ISU staff last December as a 32-year-old. But defensive coordinator Jon Heacock is 55, and passing game coordinator Jim Hofher is 58.
Heacock was once the head coach at Youngstown State, and for nine years. Hofher was a head coach at Cornell University and the University of Buffalo.
“Matt is a dynamic football coach,” Hofher said. “He has proven to be a dynamic head coach.
“As a player and a coach, he’s won every place he’s been. That doesn’t happen by accident when it’s at multiple schools.”
Manning was the FootballScoop Offensive Line Coach of the Year last year. The other finalists were from Alabama, Oklahoma and Stanford.
Manning got to know Campbell at Mount Union, the winningest college football program of any kind over the last 20 years.
“Coach Campbell was a Division III player,” Manning said. “Myself being a Division III football player, we’re just regular guys.
“We were on a private plane to go to a recruiting event, and I kind of reached over to Coach Campbell and said if we ever stop thinking this is so cool, we’re in a lot of trouble.
“That was kind of a reminder we got to this place by being who we are and believing in what we do, and never let that change.”
Which again, is well and fine, but can Campbell win here? The first question was if he could recruit here. In the past, the quickest way to see how the Cyclones stacked up in Big 12 recruiting was to start at the bottom of the list and work your way up.
But the current staff gathered a decent 2016 class given the short time they had to reel in players. Tuesday, Campbell said he’s already seen things from true freshmen running backs David Montgomery and Kene Nwangwu to make him comfortable he has depth behind stellar Mike Warren at running back.
Last week, four-star safety Kam White of Clinton, Miss., said he was going to be a Cyclone. Out-of-state 4-star guys have come Iowa State’s way about as often as polar bears and palm trees.
It’s crazy to expect too much this season because the offensive line is neither experienced or deep. But fresh air is blowing through the shiny Bergstrom Football Complex.
“We’re just trying to get better day by day,” Campbell said.
OK, that’s an old-salt young coach talking, and it’s not a fresh take. But if getting steadily better actually happens around here for a change, that will be the definition of fresh.