This had a short shelf life on Gazetteonline's sports page today for some reason. So ... I brought it back. It's not like I'm going to do additional labor on Labor Day.
AMES — It was 11:15 p.m. last Thursday, and Paul Rhoads’ booming voice somehow wasn’t the worse for wear after a long, emotional day.
“It’s still on the scoreboard!” Rhoads said as he entered a meeting room in Iowa State’s Jacobson Athletic Building to tape his weekly television show. “They can’t take that away from us.”
The Jack Trice Stadium scoreboard, yet to be turned off, showed Cyclones 34, Bison 17. That was over an hour after ISU’s first game with Rhoads as head coach. It was a win over North Dakota State on the Trice field the Jacobson Building borders.
Similar good vibes hovered in the stadium parking lots in the hours before the evening game. The cardinal-clad fans knew their team had a 10-game losing streak, yet the crowd of 48,831 was ISU’s largest for a home opener since 1987.
It seems as simple as this: Cyclone fans are excited about Rhoads being their coach.
In nine months on the job, Rhoads has made an indelible impression on his players, their families, and the ISU family. Simply put, they like him. Perhaps as importantly, he likes them back.
“How about that crowd!” Rhoads told his show’s host, John Walters, and that was off-camera. “Wasn’t that awesome?”
Gene Chizik blew in here from Texas two seasons ago with hype and without Iowa State ties, skipped back to the South last December to become Auburn’s head coach, and left no footprints in Ames other than the players he left behind.
ISU Athletics Director Jamie Pollard, who had shoved out longtime coach Dan McCarney before hiring Chizik, decided he needed someone with some Cyclone blood in his veins. Enter Rhoads, a native central Iowan who was on McCarney’s staff from 1995 through 1999 before coordinating defenses at Pittsburgh and Auburn.
“He reminds a lot of people of Dan McCarney with his passion, his enthusiasm,” ISU radio play-by-play man John Walters said.
“You can just tell it means something to him. Every time he talks to fans he tears up at the end of his speech when he says ‘I’m proud to be your football coach.’ You can tell he means it.”
“He’s a great guy, he’s a straight shooter. He’s got a passion for being here,” said Cyclones kicker Grant Mahoney of Marion, who was given a chance by Rhoads to make a 50-yard field goal Thursday after missing from 57 yards earlier.
Chuck Lamaak of Hiawatha has been a high-school coach and teacher for a quarter-century. His son, Ben Lamaak of Kennedy High, starts at offensive guard for ISU.
“Paul seems to be a players’ coach,” Chuck Lamaak said. “He knows his football. I think he knows how to get along and relate to kids really well.
“Our past staff was good, but very businesslike. I don’t think they really built the interpersonal relationships that you need to build to have kids really respect what’s going on and get that extra out of them.
“You’ve got to have an interpersonal relationship with the guys. Then they’ll go beyond the call of duty for you. I think (Rhoads) is going to get that out of them. That may have been missing the last couple of years.”
Most coaches, even proven winners, shy from sharing their goals with the public. That only makes it easier for people to be disappointed and critical later.
But since he got here, Rhoads has talked of playing for championships, about wanting his team to prepare and perform like champions.
During his TV taping, Rhoads said “If we’re going to win more games than we lose this year, our offensive line will go a long ways in carrying us through that.”
He then added he thinks that line will become the most solid unit on his team. So he doesn’t sound ready to accept any forecasts of last-place in the Big 12 North.
This program has been 3-21 in the Big 12 over the last three years. It doesn’t need button-downed expectations coming from the top. It needs charisma. It needs some personality mixed with determination to face the reality of its daunting challenges.
Maybe it needs a big Iowan with a booming voice to pull things together.
“I just think he’s a great fit,” Walters said, “the right guy at the right time.”