How it all happened: Campbell, staff turn around 2016 recruiting class in 65 days

Head football coach Matt Campbell spoke about the new recruiting football class at Signing Day on Feb. 3. There are 36 incoming players.

Luke Manderfeld

There wasn’t much time for the ISU coaching staff to take in what it meant to be coaching at Iowa State when they first arrived in Ames. There was too much to do. They had to meet with players, move their families to town and hammer down a plan.

But it was recruiting that dominated the to-do list. And on one of the recruiting trips, a trio of coaches finally looked at where they were. 

Recruiting director Alex Golesh, head coach Matt Campbell and offensive coordinator Tom Manning sat in Iowa State’s private plane, preparing to fly to all parts of the country to meet with numerous recruits. 

All three come from similar backgrounds: small-town Ohio. They also came up through small football programs, finding success all along the way. 

But on that plane, in the midst of recruiting one of the best classes in ISU history, it was finally time to take it all in.

“We kind of looked at each other and Tom Manning was like, ‘Man, oh, man, what did we do to deserve this,’” Golesh said.

The answer was simple in Golesh’s mind: They won. All three coaches had ties to Campbell’s successful regime at Toledo and had major success in their former positions.

And just two months into Campbell and company’s time at Iowa State, it’s easy to tell why they all found themselves at at a Power Five school. 

The coaching staff has already turned around Iowa State’s recent woes in recruiting. When it entered in late November, the Cyclones’ 2016 class ranked 84th in the nation, according to

On National Signing Day on Wednesday it ranked 46th, one of the best classes in ISU football history. 

Campbell said they spent 23 days out the staff’s 65 days at Iowa State on the recruiting trail. He also had a 75 percent commitment rate for recruits who came to campus.

But the whirlwind of two months didn’t come without sacrifices. The coaches had sparse time for family, players and rest.

“Well, we didn’t sleep,” Campbell said.

The first 48 hours

It didn’t take long for the new staff to kick into gear on the recruiting side. 

On Nov. 28, 2015, a Saturday, Campbell was offered the job at Iowa State. Golesh, who was coaching at Illinois at the time, knew he was going somewhere with Campbell, he just didn’t know where.

When Golesh found out his new home was in Ames, he immediately started to compile a recruiting board with players from Illinois, Toledo and Iowa State, knowing there was no time to spare if they wanted to reel in some of their most-wanted players.

“I combined our lists,” Golesh said. “And then kind of went from there. It was really that Sunday night where we worked on really compiling a board of what they recruited here, what Iowa State had recruited.”

Golesh estimates that the staff went through 500-600 recruits that the team was interested in. The coaches also consulted with running back coach Louis Ayeni, a holdover from former coach Paul Rhoads’ staff, about Iowa State’s class at the time.

Since there was a week between Rhoads’ firing and Campbell’s entrance, it created havoc with the former staff’s commits. 

“This is not a knock on the previous staff, but it was kind of a mess — in terms of recruiting,” Golesh said. “There was a period there between when the previous staff got let go and when Matt was hired. We had no idea what happened in that time.”

The staff had to differentiate from recruits who had committed to other programs from the recruits who were still at-large.

And they did all this half-staffed. Since it was so early in Campbell’s tenure, there were still about half of the coaching positions open.

Golesh said there were just seven coaches working at the time.

By Wednesday the next week, it was wheels up and the staff started to recruit all over the nation, armed with a solid recruiting plan. Those first 48 hours proved crucial for the next two months. 

“You’ll have to wait until I write my book, but that 48 hours was really, really interesting,” Golesh said. “It was just evaluate, be thorough, evaluate, be thorough, evaluate, be thorough.”

Building a coaching relationship

As the staff went through the dog days of recruiting in January, its ability to keep one another’s spirits came more and more into play. 

Every night, Golesh reached out to all of the staff members around the nation — the staff went to 28 states while recruiting — and received a summary of their progress. He compiled all of the reports and conversed with Campbell.

“I think there were some goofy texts and maybe some goofy videos,” Golesh said. “We try to keep it light.”

The light-hearted nature was necessary. When recruiting started Jan. 14, some of the coaches spent constant days and weeks on the road without even knowing what they were going to do the next day. 

“Every night when you walk into a hotel, you’re like, holy camoly,” Golesh said. “Where am I going tomorrow and what am I doing?”

But when the fatigue started to set in at times, there was another coach a text or phone call away from pulling each other up.

“What separates us from everybody else is we genuinely love each other,” Golesh said. “And it doesn’t really matter who gets the credit for all of this. It’s really not about that because at the end of the day, we’re going to win together and we’re going to build a football program together. And where that goes will all solely depend on if these kids truly believe in us. And the only way they believe in us is if we believe in each other.”

Who did they get?

The staff picked up 30 recruits in 65 days at Iowa State: 16 on the offensive side of the ball and 14 on defense. Five of them came on mid-year signing day Dec. 16, and the rest were officially announced Feb. 3. 

Campbell’s focus on this class was a combination of talented players on the field who have a good attitude off of it. He keyed in on team captains and players who had a history of winning.

In the incoming recruiting class, Campbell said there are 25 team captains, 33 all-state selections, 13 state-champion contenders and six who won state championships.

While grabbing winners, Campbell also filled positions of needs, picking up five offensive lineman, four defensive linemen and eight defensive backs.

“To do what we were able to do, to hit the numbers we were able to hit, to get the young men that we were able to get into our program, it’s incredible,” Campbell said.

On to the next one

Although Campbell and his staff put together a successful first class at Iowa State, there isn’t much time to think about it.

“I’m going to be honest with you, we didn’t celebrate a whole lot today,” Campbell said. “We move on to 2017, and in my standpoint, try to continue to play catch-up in 2017. We’ll take this momentum. We’ll continue to move on.”

The momentum comes from one of the best recruiting classes in ISU history and one that has created buzz around the ISU fan base. After all, the staff moved up 40 spots in’s rankings in about two months.

But despite the success, the staff is already looking ahead.

“I told Matt last night, ‘I feel like we’re behind on 2017,’” Golesh said. “And I don’t mean to take it for granted because I think what we did is really, really neat. I think we’re behind. You know, I told these guys, we need to get these 2017 guys on the phone today.”