DALLAS – There are two new coaches in the Big 12 Conference. One was drafted – Baylor interim coach Jim Grobe who classifies as an emergency hire. The other coach volunteered to take over a program that has been fortunate Baylor spent more time in the Big 12 Basement.
Matt Campbell left a successful situation to take over at Iowa State, which has 41 victories over the last 10 years. In his four seasons at Toledo, Campbell won 35 games. Will that prosperity travel to Ames? In mid-July, with every team 0-0 and hopes high, all things are possible.
Campbell is energetic, confident and charismatic. Asked if he was hip and cool, he referred to his age – 36.
“That’s unique saying hip and cool,” he said Monday at the Big 12 Media Days. “I think if people knew me (they’d say) I’m probably not hip and cool but I am the young guy. Tell my wife that I’m hip and cool.”
Campbell became a hot commodity last season. The Rockets opened the season with a 16-12 victory over Arkansas in Little Rock.
“Obviously that was a great win for us, and I think the country found out about us,” Campbell said. “But it didn’t shock anybody in our walls because I think we had built our program to play at that level and to not be afraid of anybody we played. I do think we have to create that mentality at Iowa State and we have to continue to understand that every time we step on the field we expect to win.
“You probably say that in this room and people may chuckle, but the reality is that’s where we’re going and that’s what we are building.”
Part of that building will start in the weight room. Campbell said last year’s Toledo team had 27 players who could bench press 400 pounds. Iowa State has one player who can push that much iron.
“Culture” and “process” are favorite words for a new coach and Campbell is no different. The process of installing what he hopes will be a winning culture started with spring practice.
“It’s his team now and we had to start doing things his way,” junior defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya said. “The culture is attitude and effort, expecting the best out of yourself. He loves his players and he’s straight forward in everything he does. He’s energetic, he’s younger.”
But, is he hip and cool?
“Yeah, he’s hip and cool … if you don’t know that, you’ll find out,” Cotton-Moya said.
Iowa State lost its last four games of 2015, failing to build on a 24-0 victory over Texas. The Cyclones’ 3-9 record led to the dismissal of popular coach Paul Rhoads.
“From losing the last game to coach Rhoads getting fired, that whole week … I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” junior quarterback Joel Lanning said. “The way the season ended, well, it just sucked. But with the new staff and all the energy, we can’t wait to get this season started. We’re looking forward to it.
“Coach Campbell has all the confidence in the world because he comes from a winning program.”
Ironically, two Toledo losses might have enabled Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard to land his new coach. The Rockets were knocked out of the Mid-American Conference championship game by a 35-30 loss to Western Michigan.
“When we got the phone call about the Iowa State job, I was still in my office that evening watching that game and trying to figure out what had just happened,” Campbell said. It was heartbreaking to lose that football game. Things happened so fast after it. You have no idea what would have happened or what wouldn’t have.”
And in 2014, the Rockets lost at Iowa State, 37-30. The experience in Jack Trice Stadium, even in defeat, stayed with Campbell.
“We got (to the stadium) early,” he recalled. “The passion, the energy, the crowd, the environment, I was blown away by that experience. It’s a special fan base, a special group of people. We fast forward two years later and with the craziness of our season coming to an end and this was the one school that really peaked my interest because of that experience.”
The MAC, known for its high-scoring shootouts, could be considered Big 12-Light. Moving Iowa State up in the standings and getting back to becoming bowl eligible will be a tougher task than what Campbell faced in a Group Of Five conference.
“I think we come from a conference and at least we understand the schematic piece and the intangibles,” he said. “But we’re entering a much, much higher scale and in a conference where you’re doing it at an elite level, and it will certainly be a great challenge for us.”