Matt Campbell discusses coaching rumors, desire to build a program

Matt Campbell greets the Cyclones during their warmups in their season opener against Northern Iowa on Sept. 4.

Matt Belinson

On Sunday, after the Cyclones found out they’d be heading back to Orlando for the 2021 Cheez-It Bowl, Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell dispelled rumors and media speculation about his commitment to Iowa State for the 2022 season.

Campbell was asked about his decision to stay at Iowa State for another season as the college football landscape continues to change drastically.

The Cyclones’ head coach said, for him, it’s always been about actions rather than words when it comes to commitment.

“I think there’s been a lot of things said, and I think when you go back to my belief system, it’s really been your actions speak louder than your words,” Campbell said. “I think even from my end for the last six years, I’ve said and followed through with the same actions.”

The three-time Big 12 Coach of the Year has led Iowa State to five-straight seasons of at least seven wins, an accomplishment never seen in program history, and he owns the best career winning percentage in school history.

Last season, Campbell led Iowa State to a first-place finish in the final regular-season league standings of the Big 12.

In 2020, he set the school record for conference wins (8-1) and tied the school record for overall wins with a 9-3 finish.

“Building a program has always been my dream,” Campbell said. “Whether it was at the collegiate level or the high school level, to me, that doesn’t matter.”

“I know a lot of people like to put words in my mouth or assume they know what I’m thinking,” Campbell said.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Campbell was considered “the top option” for the USC head coaching vacancy behind newly named head coach Lincoln Riley. If Riley had not accepted the job, the Times reported Campbell would have been the next target for the Trojans.

The coaching openings at LSU, Oklahoma and Washington kept the attention of some national media reports, with the circling idea that Campbell was potentially leaving Ames. But two of the jobs filled by week’s end.

The Huskies made former Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer their next head coach, taking Campbell out of the mix.

The intensity swelled on the evening of Nov. 29 after another bombshell coaching move came about, with Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly accepting the head coaching job at LSU.

That left Notre Dame and Oklahoma as the biggest openings left on the board.

It’s been reported in the past by Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register that Campbell would be interested in Notre Dame if the job opened.

But in light of Kelly’s departure Monday evening, Dennis Dodd, a national college football writer for CBS, reported that Campbell was the No. 1 choice to replace Kelly for the Irish. According to Dodd, Campbell “has desired the Notre Dame job for a while.”

In his report, Dodd said, “Before the [2021] season, it was known Campbell would consider leaving for only two jobs: Ohio State or Notre Dame. Ohio State isn’t open. Notre Dame just opened. The question is whether the job falls to him.”

In the aftermath of college football’s coaching carousel flipping on its head, and with Campbell’s name floating around, Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard spoke on the Cyclone Coaches Show on Nov. 29 for the first time since the Cyclones’ regular season ended.

Pollard said he talked with Campbell before the news breaking of Kelly leaving for LSU. The two discussed Campbell’s potential options and what benefits come from staying at Iowa State.

Campbell and Pollard spoke about the challenges that come with potential job openings, including outside meddling from the board of regents, university presidents or boosters as an unintended consequence of “chasing the money,” as Pollard put it.

“Let’s face it, if he’s not on people’s lists then someone’s not doing their job,” Pollard said. “I guess it will never change, but your actions speak louder than your words.”

“Nothing’s forever, and that’s what I always talk to Matt about,” Pollard said. “Who am I, or anybody else, to decide what’s right for Matt Campbell and his family? That’s his call and his call only.”

However, the Fighting Irish will promote defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to head coach Friday. As of Sunday, Oklahoma has not hired a new head coach.

On Feb. 8, Campbell received a contract extension that extended his original deal with Iowa State through Dec. 31, 2028. In the release announcing the February extension, the offer gave Campbell $3 million for “staff salary enhancements” over the next three seasons.

According to the Des Moines Register, the February contract extension included a $200,000 raise to get Campbell to a $4 million base salary for the 2021 season.

The Register also reported that Campbell would owe Iowa State $4 million if he leaves before the original Dec. 31, 2028 end of the February contract extension.

Campbell will enter his seventh season in Ames for the 2022 season.

After contending in the Big 12 Championship game in 2020, Campbell and the Cyclones won the program’s first-ever New Year’s Six bowl game, beating Oregon 34-17 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Campbell’s 30 Big 12 wins are the most by any Cyclone coach in school history.