After two seasons at Iowa State, Matt Campbell is taking steps to ultimate goal

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell walks off the field after the timeout he called for his team on Nov. 3 at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State would go on to lose to Oklahoma 34 to 24.

Brian Mozey

Matt Campbell had a mission when he signed his contract on Nov. 30, 2015 to become Iowa State’s new football coach.

That mission was to make Iowa State a nationally recognized football program and give Cyclone Nation a national championship. After two seasons on the sidelines in cardinal and gold, Campbell still continues to look at that goal.

As he’s reflected on the past couple of seasons, Campbell has experienced his share of successes and defeats, but all of them have one common factor for him. He’s learned from each and every experience.

“This has been a learning process since the day I stepped foot on Iowa State campus,” Campbell said. “My coaching staff and I have continued to go in the positive direction, which is key to this team’s success.”

The first season didn’t go according to plan for Campbell and his staff as Iowa State went 3-9 over the 2016 season. The Cyclones didn’t reach a bowl game that season, which was a rarity for Campbell at Toledo. During his four complete years, Campbell reached a bowl game three times and won two of them.

Right after the 2016 season, Campbell set up a program to make the football players work harder than ever before, so the team was ready when the 2017 season started. Senior wide receiver Allen Lazard said each individual player worked on their strengths and weaknesses starting in December 2016, after they cleaned their lockers out.

Lazard specifically wanted to work on his leadership skills and figure out how he could influence players to work hard both on and off the field. Since Campbell couldn’t make practices in December, because of NCAA rules, the players on the team got together to work on needed drills.

Iowa State never took its foot off the gas during December and throughout spring practice and eventually into fall camp. The Cyclones kept pushing every day because they continued to see that 3-9 record from 2016 and knew this team was better than that record.

“Our success this season came from how hard we worked this past offseason,” Lazard said. “There was never a day that we gave up or stopped working because we knew our potential could be high for the 2017 season.”

All of that hard work during the offseason paid off this season as Campbell achieved his first part of the mission. He was able to get Iowa State onto the national radar.

That attention came on Oct. 7 when Iowa State traveled to Norman, Oklahoma, to take on the Oklahoma Sooners. The day before, the Cyclones found out redshirt junior quarterback Jacob Park was taking an absence from the team due to personal health reasons.

So, Campbell had redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Kempt start in replacement of Park. It was Kempt’s first college start behind center and it was against Oklahoma, a team that was ranked third in the country at the time.

Everyone was counting out Iowa State before the game even started because of the lack of experience for Kempt and the dominance of Oklahoma quarterback and, now, Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield.

“That game changed our confidence for the rest of the season,” said sophomore running back David Montgomery. “Our confidence grew more and more with each win and it showed the results of working so hard during the offseason.”

That didn’t phase Kempt and Campbell told him prior to the game to leave everything out on the field.

He did just that.

Kempt threw for 343 passing yards and three touchdowns leading Iowa State over Oklahoma in a 38-31 win. That win put Iowa State on the national map along with the performance by the Cyclones in the month of October, defeating then-No. 4 TCU at Jack Trice Stadium on Oct. 28 during homecoming week.

Campbell led this team through a perfect 4-0 record in October leading the Cyclones to the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since 2005. The TCU win also punched Iowa State’s ticket to a bowl game at the end of the season. It’s the first time the Cyclones are bowling since 2012.

“It’s great to see that our team is reaching bowl games and growing as a team,” Campbell said. “This is the first couple of steps to what we hope to be in the future.”

At the end of the regular season, Iowa State finished with a 7-5 record and a 5-4 Big 12 record. This is the first time since 2009 that the Cyclones finished the season with a winning record and this is only step one of Campbell’s process.

Due to the overwhelming turnaround of the football program, Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard decided to give Campbell a new contract for six years worth $22.5 million.

It was a contract that left a statement for Iowa State and the future of football in Ames, Iowa.

“I could not be more excited for our fans and our student-athletes to have someone like Matt [Campbell] leading our program,” Pollard said in a press release after signing Campbell to a new contract. “He stands behind what he says and I look forward to helping him fulfill his dream of making Iowa State football one of the best programs in the nation.”

Now, Campbell’s focus is on ending the 2017 season in the right way by winning the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. He’s happy that the seniors on the team are able to finish out their careers with a bowl game, but he’s not happy with what bowl game Iowa State is in.

Campbell’s goal since coming to Iowa State has always been to send the Cyclones to the College Football Playoffs and contend for a national championship. He knows it’s going to take time, but that objective continues to be in the front of his mind when he’s recruiting or planning practices throughout the week.

The other goal he’s had since wearing the cardinal and gold has been to reach and win a Big 12 Championship game. Iowa State controlled its own destiny at one point where winning the rest of the regular season would’ve allowed the Cyclones to head down to Arlington, Texas, to play in the Big 12 Championship title game.

For Iowa State, it dropped three of its last four games in the regular season and that chance slipped right through Campbell’s hands.

“[The opportunity to reach the Big 12 Championship title game] was one of our main goals before the season started, so not reaching that goal after our performance in October was disappointing,” said redshirt senior linebacker and quarterback Joel Lanning. “That only just fuels the fire for next season, but we’re excited about the upcoming bowl game against Memphis.”

Campbell said he likes how this program is buying into the process and knows this team is heading in the right direction. For him, it’s just being patient as a coach and everything will fall into place.

After the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 30, Campbell is looking forward to starting a new spring practice season with new players and new leaders. He’s sad to see some key players like Lazard, Kempt, Lanning, Jake Campos and Kamari Cotton-Moya leave, but he also knows their legacy will live on at Iowa State.

Campbell has made it pretty clear throughout the past couple of weeks that he has zero plans to leave Cyclone Nation any time soon. He’s in Ames until all of his goals have been accomplished.

“This is only the beginning,” Campbell said. “I can’t wait to see the future of Iowa State football because it’s only going up from here.”