Two months have come and gone since Iowa State's victory in the 2021 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, a win that cemented the 2020 season as the most historic in the program's history.
Iowa State Head Football Coach Matt Campbell spoke with the media over Zoom on Tuesday to share his thoughts on all that's taken place since that win in the desert and what the preparations have been like for the 2021 season.
There was a lot to cover.
The three-time Big 12 Coach of the Year touched on some his program's biggest names choosing to return for another year, his newly structured contract, how a Pro Day will help NFL-hopefuls and more.
"Appreciative" of a new contract
After a historic season of on-the-field success for Iowa State, the offseason — like most in the sport — was swirling with questions, one of the biggest being Campbell's future in Ames.
The 41-year-old head coach had just finished bringing Iowa State to its first New Year's Six Bowl, tying a program-best 9-3 record and turning down NFL offers in seasons prior to the unprecedented season he just had in Ames, and so began the annual speculation cycle.
To put Cyclone fans at ease, Campbell agreed to a new eight-year contract, extending his original contract by three years, with Iowa State on Feb. 8, locking him in to be in Ames through Dec. 31, 2028.
The restructured deal gave Campbell $3 million for "staff salary enhancements" over the next three years.
On Tuesday, Campbell said he was grateful for Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard and Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen's understanding of what the program needed to continue to grow.
“From a President Wintersteen and Jamie Pollard standpoint, I really appreciate them taking the time to listen to what is really important to continue to grow our program," Campbell said. "What is really important is we have great people, and keeping really great people invested in our program and continuing to develop the young people within our program, that’s the key."
Campbell offered a sincere appreciation of support from the university leadership's commitment to what he and his staff have built over the years.
The financial terms of Campbell's contract were not discussed Tuesday and have not been released from Iowa State Athletics.
“From my end, just the consistency, to continue to have that consistency within our program is really important to me," Campbell said.
Changes to spring practice
The idea of having a spring practice season and months of offseason development isn't something Campbell takes for granted; in fact, it's something he is excited to have back after COVID-19 took away that chance last spring.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first arrived in the U.S., players and coaches were sent home spread across the country, making it impossible for coaches to truly observe and fine tune the physical development of players.
Now that Campbell and his staff will gain the period of March, April and May back on their side, it's a chance to gain back lost time.
“I think one of the things that we missed out on because so many kids were in so many different areas and doing different things through this quarantine process a year ago is that you really had 3 months where you didn’t have your hands on the development of your players,” Campbell said.
In order to maximize development, Iowa State has been focused on strength and conditioning, and Campbell said full-on football practice won't truly begin until around April.
This adjustment in approaching spring practice and growth will have to take its time. Just because practice and hands-on coaching can return for this spring, Campbell said he and his staff have to be mindful of changing their approach.
"We're wholesale changing," Campbell said. "One of the things that quarantine did was me as a young coach, I always felt like we were off in spring practice. There were a lot of things I did because we had done it before and I didn't want to make the change because we were having success, and then it was like, man, last year I watched from a health and safety standpoint the rewards we got kicked back to us from what happened in quarantine a year ago."
Campbell, along with his staff, are taking this time to rebuild habits and get the team prepared for what will be one of the most anticipated seasons in the program's history.
Pro Day opportunities
There were many key departures in the offseason for the Cyclones, with names like JaQuan Bailey, Kene Nwangwu, Dylan Soehner, Lawrence White and others all opting to declare for the NFL Draft.
Campbell was happy each of them made the best decisions for themselves and their families and is looking forward to hosting a Pro Day once again in March.
COVID-19 took away many schools' chances to hold pro days for scouts and former players last season, and for players like Soehner, Bailey and Nwangwu, Campbell said they deserve to have one this spring.
“Those are three names of three guys that we all feel have an opportunity to play at the next level and all guys that can truly benefit from [an NFL] Pro Day where they’ve got the opportunity, especially in this unique year where you didn’t have scouts that were able to come to practice and maybe see these guys preform, and to be able to have that occur live is really big and obviously we're really excited for them," Campbell said.
Iowa State's Pro Day is scheduled for March 23.
Key names coming back
Iowa State was hit with departures but made up for it by getting many big names to return for the 2021 season including Mike Rose, Charlie Kolar, Brock Purdy, Chase Allen and Sean Foster, among others.
Campbell's thoughts were the same as the players who chose to leave: he's happy to know they made the best decision for themselves. For some returning faces, it was a matter of adding educational opportunities and for some the weight room development Iowa State could offer all while playing football with people they love.
Conversations with many of these names were in flux in August, but Campbell said they became more detailed in the winter months, especially around the Big 12 Championship and the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
Does Campbell think these big names returning has anything to do with the possibilities Iowa State left on the table last season, like a chance for a Big 12 Championship or a shot at the College Football Playoff?
He hopes instead it shows how strong the character and culture is in Ames.
“I hope it’s a reflection of our culture. I hope it’s a reflection of, ‘Man, I really love playing football here at Iowa State. I really love the fact that I can grow on the field and I also have the opportunity to grow off the field, and I feel like there’s a benefit to me coming back here,’” Campbell said. “I feel like we’ve proven a whole lot, to be honest with you."