In the year 1892, the Iowa State Cyclones played their first football games. During that season, they played two games, finishing with a record of 1-0-1, under head coach Ira C. Brownlie. Over the past 130 years of Iowa State football coaches history, there have been some memorable moments, thanks to these coaches’ leadership.
As we reflect on the Cyclones’ football journey, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the top 10 coaches who have led the way and made their mark on the Iowa State football coaches history.
Best Iowa State Football Coaches in History
From coaches who were with Iowa State in its early years, to some great coaches of recent years, here is our top 10 list best Iowa State coaches ever.
10. Clay Stapleton
Coach Stapleton coached Iowa State’s football team from 1958-1967. During that time, he led the team to a 42-53-4 overall record.
Although the record is not very impressive, Clay Stapleton coached 99 games in his time as the head coach, which ranks second all-time in games coached in the history of the Iowa State Cyclones football program.
Following his time as the head coach of the Iowa State football team, Stapleton would go on to serve as the Athletic Director for the school from 1967-1970.
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) January 21, 2016
9. Mike Michalske
Following Clay Stapleton on the list is Coach Mike Michalske. He coached the Cyclones from 1942-1946 and posted a career record of 18-8-3.
His tenure at Iowa State would be Michalske’s only head coaching job in his career. Despite only posting a .500 career record as the head coach of the Iowa State football team, Mike Michalske was a very knowledgeable and decorated member of the football community.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its second induction class in 1964.
As a player, he was 3 times NFL champion with the Green Bay Packers.
1929: The #Packers sign Cal Hubbard, Mike Michalske & Johnny Blood, all future Pro Football Hall of Famers who would form the nucleus of the first team to win three straight NFL championships 🏆🏆🏆
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) July 29, 2018
8. A.W. Ristine
A.W. Ristine coached the Iowa State Cyclones football team from 1902-1906. In that span, the Cyclones posted a record of 36-10-1.
Unlike other coaches on this list, Ristine does not have nearly as impressive of a resume, as his time as Iowa State’s head coach was his only coaching job.
With that said, Albert Welles Ristine did lead the Cyclones to an 8-1 season in 1903, as well as a 9-1 season in 1906.
Despite this short coaching career, Ristine still finds himself tied for fourth all-time in total wins and first all-time in win percentage among Iowa State head coaches.
7. Charles Mayser
Coach Mayser served as the Iowa State head football coach from 1915-1919. During his campaign, the cyclones posted a record of 21-11-2. Mayser was very versatile in the sports world, he also had head coaching experience in baseball and wrestling.
He coached the Iowa State baseball team in 1919 and 1920, as well as the Iowa State wrestling team from 1916-1923. Coach Charles Mayser was a true jack of all trades, he even served as the athletic director at Iowa State from 1919-1923.
Mayser makes this list given the fact that he had one of the better winning percentages as an Iowa State football coach while simultaneously serving as the head coach of the baseball team and wrestling teams, as well as being the school’s athletic director.
6. Dan McCarney
Next on the list is Coach Dan McCarney, who coached the Cyclones from 1995-2006. Over that time he posted a career record of 56-85.
Despite the subpar record, McCarney led the Iowa State football team to five bowl games during his time as head coach, which is tied with the current head coach, Matt Campbell for most in school history.
Before this, the school had only been to three bowl games. Dan McCarney would become the third head coach at Iowa State to win a coach of the year honor, as he was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year following the 2004 season.
“Coach McCarney represents the present and the past. He cared about you in the moment, but he still cares about you today. That sums up who he truly is as a person.” – Zach Butler
Players create endowment for Dan McCarney at reunion.
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) June 11, 2022
5. Johnny Majors
Coach Majors served as the 24th head coach for the Iowa State Cyclones football team. He would lead the team from 1968-1972.
Over those years, the team posted a record of 24-30-1. Majors’ time at Iowa State would serve as his first head coaching job during his long and successful coaching career, which included three SEC championships at Tennessee, as well as a National Championship in 1976 with Pittsburgh to complete a perfect, 12-0 season.
Coach Majors would become Iowa State’s first coach to win a coach of the year award, as he was named the Big Eight Coach of the Year in 1971. To cap off the list of accolades received by Johnny Majors, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as part of the 1987 induction class.
We lost a legend today. Johnny Majors resurrected the Cyclone football program, leading Iowa State to its first-ever bowl game in 1971. #RIPCoach
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) June 3, 2020
4. Pop Warner
Going back a very significant way into history, Glenn Scobey Warner, better known as “Pop Warner”, served as Iowa State’s fourth head coach. Pop Warner is more commonly known today as a nonprofit organization, which is the largest youth football organization in the United States.
The organization was founded in 1929 and named after Coach Pop Warner himself. Moving on to his coaching career, Warner coached at Iowa State from 1895-1899. Throughout that span, his team posted a record of 18-8.
Interestingly enough, Warner would actually serve as the head coach for Iowa State and Georgia simultaneously from 1895-1896, due to the fact that Iowa State’s season would start about a month and a half before Georgia’s.
Yet another coach with an impressive resume, Warner would serve as a head coach from 1895-1939. Over those years, he would win four National championships, three with Pittsburgh and one with Stanford.
Warner’s illustrious coaching career would conclude with their induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. He is one of the few coaches to come through Iowa State that would earn such an honor.
3. Clyde Williams
Continuing through the list of the best coaches in Iowa State history, we land on Clyde Williams. While Williams was an Iowa Hawkeye as a student and athlete, as far as his career goes, Clyde Williams was a true Iowa State Cyclone.
Coach Williams would serve as Iowa State’s football coach from 1907-1912, receiving a promotion after serving as an assistant coach in 1906. During this span, he was also the head coach of both the basketball and baseball teams at Iowa State.
Immediately following his time as a coach, Williams would finish off his career as Iowa State’s athletic director.
During his time as the head coach of the football team, Coach Williams would have a career record of 33-14-2. However, it is not his record or the fact that he coached multiple teams that put Clyde Williams on this list.
He makes the list because Coach Williams led the Cyclones to conference championships in 1911 and 1912. To this day, those are the only two conference championship titles that the Iowa State football program has.
His name was on the stadium of Iowa State until 1975 when the current Jack Trice Stadium was opened.
2. Earle Bruce
As we near the end of the list, we come to yet another coach with a long and impressive coaching career. Earle Bruce coached the Iowa State Cyclones from 1973-1978, which would serve as his second college football head coaching job, after spending 20 years as an assistant or coaching high school football.
After his time at Iowa State, Bruce would win four Big Ten Championships with Ohio State, immediately following his time at Iowa State.
During his time as the Cyclones’ head coach, Coach Bruce would post a career record of 36-32, which would include two Big Eight Coach of the Year awards, in 1976 and 1977.
He was the first Iowa State coach to win the honor multiple times and currently sits as one of two coaches in the history of the program with multiple coaches of the year awards while with Iowa State.
Following his time as a head coach at the college level, Coach Bruce would tie it all together with an induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, as part of the 2002 class.
Earle Bruce has died at the age of 87 following a battle with Alzheimer's disease. https://t.co/nIozUhnJvD
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) April 20, 2018
1. Matt Campbell
It only seems fair to finish the discussion about Iowa State football coaches history with the current head coach, Matt Campbell. Coach Campbell has been the head coach of the Cyclones since 2016, which followed his time as the head coach at Toledo.
During his current span at Iowa State, Coach Campbell holds a record of 45-37. He is Iowa State’s only coach in history to win three coaches of the year awards, as he was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2017, 2018, and 2020.
Matt Campbell is only 42 years old and has already had a very impressive coaching career, even though the team is currently on a bad streak of games. It will be very fun to watch him continue to build his resume in the years to come.
Cyclone Nation, you won’t want to miss the 2021 Virtual Cyclone Tailgate Tour next week!
— Matt Campbell (@ISUMattCampbell) May 13, 2021
Throughout the history of the Iowa State Cyclones football program and each of its 33 coaches, fans have seen it all. From mediocre to great coaches, coaches that accomplished a lot with Iowa State and coaches that were very accomplished elsewhere. The list of the top 10 coaches in Iowa State’s history truly does encompass the school football program’s history.
Whether it be coaches that spent their entire head coaching careers with the Cyclones, or only just a small portion of their careers, each of Iowa State’s 33 head football coaches has brought something of value to the program.