AMES — Matt Campbell couldn’t stop gushing about his seniors.
“Sometimes we all forget what we’ve come from, and what we’ve come from is really challenging,” the sixth-year Iowa State coach said Friday. “This group chose to come to Iowa State, and it was the laughingstock of college football.
“They didn’t come here when it was, ‘Man, they just played in the Alamo Bowl. They just won and played the Fiesta Bowl.’ They came here when it was no hope. They chose to blaze a trail.
“It’s got a special place in my heart because they believed in me. They believed in us. They believed in our staff when not a lot of people believed in this place.”
It was then pointed out to Campbell that the circumstances he described his players joining were very much the same as when he left Toledo as an up-and-coming coach in his mid-30s to take over a program that he himself described as a “laughingstock.”
“It’s hard to find consistency in our sport,” Campbell said. “It's hard to find loyalty, and that’s one of the things that’s been really special for all of us to go through this journey together. It’s been a heck of a ride.”
As Campbell’s name is firmly in the middle of coaching carousel rumors from USC to LSU, his words Friday night after the Cyclones’ 48-14 senior night win over TCU lends itself to interpretation — even if its something more akin to astrology than hard science.
Campbell was intentional in announcing what poem he read his team featuring a senior class that will be unequivocally regarded as the best and most accomplished in Iowa State history.
Will Allen Dromgoole’s "The Bridge Builder" ends with this passage:
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
The English majors and football-obsessed are left to wonder — who is the bridge builder and who is the youth?
With that, let's get to your postgame questions:
What is your honest opinion on the Campbell rumors?
The bottom line is this — Campbell has had considerable success at Iowa State, and that is an incredibly attractive quality for athletic directors who have high-profile jobs to fill and deep pockets from which to dole out exorbitant salaries.
There’s also this — there has, to my knowledge, never been this much public smoke or behind-the-scenes chatter in the coaching industry that Campbell could leave Iowa State.
Where things go from here, only time, and perhaps more reporting, will tell.
“It’s one of those things where it’s not even remotely a conversation because on our end we’re constantly working on the present,” Campbell said of his message to recruits about the speculation. “(Athletic director) Jamie (Pollard) and I will sit down I’m sure and talk about what’s the future hold, how do we continue to move this thing forward.
“Then you continue to make the best decision of how you do those things the right way. I think it’s always been about we’ve built this thing to last for the long haul.”
Three ways to interpret that:
Campbell is going to try to get more money for himself, his assistants and/or his program, leveraging his success and outside interest. Just like goes on at programs all across the country.
Campbell is considering leaving and is highlighting that the program is built to outlast a single person (especially, perhaps, if there’s an internal promotion to keep continuity).
It’s coach speak, and we’re all crazy for trying to divine hidden meanings about what a guy said after his football team beat another team named for a weird-looking lizard.
An outside party can see Campbell’s reasons to stay or go.
On the depart side of the ledger, the roster full of guys he brought to Iowa State and had unmatched success with are all on their way out, leaving Campbell likely taking a temporary step back at best and a mini-rebuild at worst.
There’s also the uncertainty of the Big 12, even with the league’s solid expansion plan. Also, is there any worry that you just bumped up against a ceiling at Iowa State after a 7-5 season with so much talent and expectation? Programs like USC are some of the richest — both in resources and tradition — in the country. That’s enticing.
The reasons for staying are clear, too. While the roster is turning over, Campbell and Iowa State have proven themselves to be excellent talent evaluators and recruiters. They’re bringing players of a caliber not often seen at a high rate.
Campbell has proven he can win at a high level at Iowa State, which very well may move up the pecking order in a Power 5 conference no longer featuring Texas and Oklahoma. Campbell has a lot to like at Iowa State, and leaving could be a risk.
Ultimately, only Campbell and his tight inner circle know what his priorities and goals are. Everyone else is just guessing.
Assuming Matt Campbell stays, what other changes in the staff could you see?
If Campbell does return for a seventh season at Iowa State, I wouldn’t anticipate any major shift in the composition of the coaching staff.
Jon Heacock is as respected nationally as a defensive coordinator as perhaps any of his peers.
And while Tom Manning drew heat from Iowa State fans this season, it’s worth remembering that Campbell simply left the OC job open for a year while Manning tried his hand in the NFL before returning. Not to mention Iowa State’s offensive numbers and production have been strong.
I don’t know if it’s in terms of staffing, but I do wonder if Campbell looks to revamp how they do things with the offensive line. That group battled injuries this year, but it’s consistently been an area of weakness.
We’ve seen Campbell make dramatic overhauls of his program before — whether it’s changing defenses mid-year, scrapping the strength and conditioning program or rethinking the entire way his program practices — and that would seem to be an area that will need some serious self-evaluation.
Who from the senior class might come back for another year?
There are 23 seniors on the roster and only two — Jaquan Amos and Darren Wilson Jr. — did not go through senior day festivities ahead of Friday’s game. Seven of those remaining 21 have exhausted eligibility, and Campbell insinuated that he did not expect any of the final 14 to return.
“My assumption would be pretty close to that number,” he said.
So don't expect to see Brock Purdy or Mike Rose back in cardinal and gold (or black, as it were Friday).
Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (515) 284-8000. Follow him at @TravisHines21.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa State mailbag: Making sense of Matt Campbell's postgame comments