Can Matt Campbell turn around Iowa State?
Two years ago, Matt Campbell and his Toledo team arrived at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa, nearly three hours early.
Most of his team went into the locker room and waited until it was time to begin the pregame process, but Campbell, spurred by nerves, decided to take a walk. He walked through the tailgating lots and noticed the general excitement of the home fans.
He watched Iowa State players do the spirit walk. He got to experience the game day atmosphere at Iowa State. Following the game, which Iowa State won, he called his wife.
"Erica, you're not going to believe this place." Campbell said. "Incredible. The culture, the fans, facilities, people. This is a really special place."
Two years later and Campbell returned to Ames with his wife and kids by his side as the new head football coach at Iowa State.
Campbell was introduced on Monday, completing a whirlwind weekend for Campbell and the Iowa State athletic department. The Cyclones wanted to complete the coaching search as quickly as possible, but out of loyalty to Toledo, Campbell wanted to wait until the end of the season.
They two parties were able to meet on Saturday. After a few hours of getting familiar with each other, athletic director Jamie Pollard knew it was time to take the next step.
"He reached his hand across the table and shook my hand," Pollard said. "We hadn't even talked compensation yet and he said, 'I want to be the Cyclones football coach.'"
Pollard said Campbell fit all the characteristics Iowa State wanted and needed in a coach. Campbell has Midwest roots, is known for his high character, and has proven himself both in recruiting and on the field.
"There's not a person that we talked to that could say one bad thing about Matt Campbell," Pollard said.
As with any coaching change, the transition can be difficult for the athletes. On Saturday afternoon, Iowa State players were playing their final game for beloved coach Paul Rhoads. By that evening, reports were already surfacing of the new hire.
"We're obviously going to let the new coach come in and give him a chance," said quarterback Joel Lanning. "He deserves that chance. Obviously he's had success where he's been at and we're going to embrace it."David K. Purdy/Getty Images
It's bittersweet for several players, who just said their goodbyes to Rhoads and his staff. But after his press conference and talking to a few players, it appears that Campbell is making a solid first impression.
"Sitting in here and listening to him talk the whole time, he said some great things," Lanning said. "He's going to get us [going] in the right direction."
Sophomore standout wide receiver Allen Lazard had a special relationship with Rhoads, who had recruited him since his sophomore year of high school. He also thought Campbell was off to a good start.
"[He] made a good first impression," Lazard said. "He's a good public speaker that's for sure. I need to take some notes from that. But he seems like a great guy and I can't wait to see what the future holds."
Campbell reached out to a few of his players the night before, to introduce himself and touch base.
"He's a player's coach," Lazard said. "Just the way that he reached out to me and a few of my teammates, [it] just shows you that he really cares about the culture of this program and the foundation that Coach Rhoads left for him to build on."
Some fans expressed fear that whomever Iowa State hired may use the job as a spring board to a better job somewhere else. Campbell tried to put those fears to bed at his presser, saying he was in it for the long haul.
"I'm truly honored to be a Cyclone," Campbell said, "and I'm truly honored and humbled to be the head football coach here."
As Campbell's introductory press conference came to a close, a fan attending the presser provided Campbell with a crucial reminder for any newcomer to the state of Iowa.
"I know you know this, but this is a Cyclone State," the fan said. "This is not a Hawkeye State. It's a Cyclone State."
Campbell's response is one that should resonate with Iowa State fans.
"I do know that," Campbell said. "I love rivalry and if you look at my track record in rivalry, it's pretty darn good. Fair enough?"
Chris Wolff is SI's campus correspondent for Iowa State University. Follow him on Twitter.