It would be difficult to categorize Iowa State’s rise over the last five seasons under Matt Campbell as anything besides one of college football’s best stories.
The Cyclones have risen from longtime bottom-dweller, and arguably one of the nation’s worst Power 5 football programs, to become one capable of competing for conference championships and winning major bowl games.
For many (or at least those of us with deep ties to Iowa State) that is something to be celebrated. It is rare to see things like this happen in a sport like college football where the status quo largely rules and the sport’s most powerful programs generally reign supreme.
But, as we learned this past season, the Cyclones have skipped the stage of being the sport’s plucky underdogs or a football equivalent of a March Madness Cinderella to instead be one of the sport’s heels.
The villainization of the Iowa State football program was first limited to the Group of Five loving members of the national college football media. Now, as explained during the latest edition of Josh Pate’s Late Kick podcast, which is part of the 247Sports network, that animosity has extended into another group I had not previously considered.
“Well, I’m talking to someone over this past week, and he said something I really hadn’t thought about from this angle,” Pate said. “He said, ‘Yeah, everyone pretends they love Iowa State, but the deeper you get into the administrative world, the deeper you get into the coaching world, what if I told you some folks secretly have disdain in their heart for Iowa State?'”
Before we go any further, I want to make sure to state that Pate clarified that he has zero animosity towards Iowa State. He even pulled out an Iowa State t-shirt during the podcast (which I can assume is also posted somewhere in video form, but I only listened to the audio) and went on to make a comparison to Hulk Hogan dominating the 1980s pro wrestling scene wearing red and yellow and how Iowa State should use that as a marketing tactic.
So, these thoughts on Iowa State and the animosity towards the football program within the college sports world are not his. And Pate does not belong to the Group of Five loving national college football media that tried to burn the Cyclones at the stake as a team undeserving of the accolades it achieved last fall.
My first thought when I heard him talk about people having this secret animosity towards Iowa State was, ‘Well, duh, it isn’t any secret the folks on the other side of the state aren’t exactly fond of the Cyclones.’
I mean, we all remember Brian Ferentz and what he had to say about “those guys in Ames” a few years back. But, Pate addressed whether folks out east factor into this — and, apparently, they do not.
“I’m not talking about Iowa Hawkeye fans, and I’m not talking about programs in the Big 12. You’ve got your own reasons. You have to compete against them,” Pate said. “Here’s the reason some people don’t like Iowa State. Iowa State shatters what we on Late Kick refer to as the window-mirror theory, and the window-mirror theory has been simply this. There are many programs, much, much more resourced, let’s say than Iowa State, who will look you in the eye and look their fan bases in the eye and they’ll tell you, ‘It’s not our fault we’re not winning. This system, this college football system, this complex, it’s built to keep us down. It’s built to benefit, only the big few, and it’s meant to keep us down.’ And Iowa State ruins that for a lot of people.”
Oh, hell yes, now we’re getting somewhere. The reason some people in the college athletics world don’t like Iowa State is that Iowa State has exposed some folks and programs for being the frauds that they are.
Having a football program like the one Matt Campbell has built evaporates the smokescreen college administrators and coaches have been using for years to explain why they simply aren’t very good at their jobs as just a crutch or an excuse.
Don’t get me wrong. Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc. do not fit into this category. These programs have all the resources, all the things necessary to be successful.
What do they do with these resources? They freaking win. A lot.
The category I’m referring to is comprised of programs such as Tennessee, Nebraska, Florida State and on down the line that have all the things needed to be successful. They’ve got money, they’ve got facilities, they’ve got history, and yet they live in a cycle of underwhelming on-field success and constant excuses for why that might be.
Basically, Iowa State looked at the other programs with these excuses and decided to hit them with a pair of Atomic Legdrops like the previously mentioned Hogan did to Randy Savage during Bash at the Beach in 1996 (I’ve been hanging out with Chris Williams too much) and created a new world order of programs who don’t just say they are about it, but really are about it.
“Here’s why a lot of people don’t like Iowa State, they look at the results there, and then all of a sudden, what they’re telling you is the problem out the window, they’re pointing out there, their fan base, all of a sudden looks and they see this program in Ames, Iowa, doing a lot more than their team is doing with fractions of the resources their team has and all of a sudden, they take the window and they say, ‘Stop looking out the window, go look in the mirror, because this team up in Iowa has basically shattered the window,'” Pate said. “‘They’re slowly making us realize the problem with our athletic department. The problem with our football program, it’s not college football, it’s not the complex that’s built against us, we’ve just made really bad hires, and then we’ve added more bad hires and we’ve got people making decisions around here, that don’t need to be making decisions,’ but that’s murky. You have got to really roll up your sleeves and dive in. It’s a lot easier to just say, ‘Well, you know, college football these days, we were never going to be able to compete.’ Yeah, well, they’re going to be in Ames, Iowa, one of the favorites to make the playoffs this year. They’re going to be one of the favorites to compete for and maybe win a Big 12 championship.”
Pate followed that up by taking us back to the wrestling analogies. It’s a long quote, but he knocks it out of the park:
“There’s this old adage Jim Ross used to say it all the time in WWF, ‘You cannot sell goods from an empty cart,'” Pate said. “A lot of folks have really fancy-looking carts, and they got sparkles all over it and, boy, that the cover on the back, probably alone, no telling how much that’s worth. Look at these wheels and then we got back up wheels for those wheels. It’s a smooth ride look at the yoke. Anything could pull this. We can put a Dodge Ram in front of it. You don’t have anything in the cart. You don’t have anything to sell. You cannot sell goods from an empty cart.”
“Iowa State conversely, they just trot along, it’s not the most expensive cart in the world, you probably wouldn’t look at it and envy it, but what’s inside when Matt Campbell talks about that culture over five stars, it’s nice to have five-star talent, it’s nice to have the facilities, it’s nice to have the army of analysts, but a lot of folks probably look at Alabama and think, ‘Alabama wins cause of that.’ No, they don’t. If they did, Texas would be in the national playoff conversation, every single year.”
“The reason Alabama wins is the same reason Iowa State wins, it’s the nucleus. What is your culture? What is your defined process? I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again. A lot of folks overthink the room, and when they hear Matt Campbell talk about this process over results mentality and the grind and, day by day, folks don’t think that can be the secret formula, there’s no way that can be the secret formula cause any idiot can figure that out. You’re right, any idiot could figure that out. The secret for success is so basic in life and in football, it’s so simple, but it’s not shortcut-ish, there’s no easy way to implement that culture, you got to do it the hard way. And it’s really hard.”
All I can think about after this is Campbell, Jamie Pollard and Brock Purdy’s faces photoshopped onto the faces of Hogan and The Outsiders with their arms raised officially announcing the formation of this new world order. That visual could only be made better if it was a video with college football media members yelling “What the hell is going on?” into a microphone in complete shock about these guys in Ames, Iowa, disrespecting college football’s cycle of excuse-making and blaming deficiencies on a system built to keep the disadvantaged programs down.
To take it a step further, I want to see Iowa State joined in the new world order by a program like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a North Carolina, which has similar yearly revenue, a similar lack of historical college football success and a team poised to be pretty awesome next season (and into the future under Mack Brown).
“There is no amount of money that allows you to bypass what the process is and the formula for success. You can’t do it,” Pate continued. “He gets that at Iowa State, and he gets left alone at Iowa State, and that’s probably one of the hidden benefits of a program like that. When you’re at the University of Tennessee, for example, it’s really hard when those folks are invested to the financial degree they are to look them in the eye and say, ‘I’m gonna need three years, guys. Give me three years.’ ‘No, we’re not giving you three years. (Gus) Malzahn was in the national title game in his first year (at Auburn). Why in the world is it gonna take you three years?’ Don’t let the outliers become the standard would be my first piece of advice. But secondly, Iowa State is a model that should be followed a lot closer. And it’s not about winning the press conference, and it’s not about necessarily having the best icing. It’s about having the cake to put the icing on, they got the cake to put the icing on. A lot of these programs, they invest in the icing and then wonder why they’re 7-6. You’re 7-6, you don’t have any cake. You get a bunch of sauce. You don’t have steak.”
So, that basically concludes one of the more epic (and really smart) rants on why Iowa State has found success while other programs around the country continue the cycle they have found themselves in since the early-2000s.
Shout out to Josh Pate, man. That guy is a legend in my book now between somehow expertly executing high-level wrestling and food analogies in one college football monologue.
Now, I can’t stop imagining Campbell in place of Hulk Hogan during the in-ring interview that concluded Bash at the Beach 1996…
“We are the new blood of college football, brother. Not only are we going to take over the whole college football business with Matt Campbell and the new blood, the monsters with me, we will destroy everything in our path.”
Long live college football’s new world order.