Louis Ayeni is poised to spend his first season as the running backs coach at Iowa State after coaching stints at Northwestern and Toledo. As a player, Ayeni played running back and safety at Northwestern before spending a few seasons as an NFL safety with the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams.
The Cyclones’ new assistant joined Paul Rhoads' program in January as he took over a group of running backs that features Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy. He took some time to chat with ESPN.com about his initial interest in the job, his coaching influences, his spring focus for his running backs and his strengths as a coach.
What got you interested in the job?
Ayeni: Coach Rhoads did a good job of talking to me about the tradition, the fanfare and the ability to take Iowa State to another level. They did a good job of explaining the culture of it, which is a great football family, great fan base and great facilities. Those three things set it apart and got me interested in the program.
How was your first spring?
Ayeni: It was good. We had a bunch of new coaches on staff and I thought we jelled pretty quick together. We saw some great growth as spring went on, and there’s a lot of optimism as we move toward the season.
With the running backs, what did you want to instill in those guys?
Ayeni: In the spring it was simple; we had two main goals. No. 1 was consistent and constant improvement we want every single day. From practice 1 to practice 15 we wanted to show that we’ve improved every single day. No. 2 was earn our roles, earn the trust of our coaches, earn the trust of teammates and earn the trust of the head coach. The best thing about these kids is they came in with a positive attitude and great investment every single day -- it made it fun to coach them. I think we jell well together with me being a young guy and those guys being young.
Did you go back and look at past film to get a look at what you had in your meeting room, or did you just show up, blank slate?
Ayeni: I watched the film, but I thought I’d watch more of their good stuff than bad stuff. I took their best plays and watched them because I wanted to see what they’ve done and if I could take them a step higher. I showed them all their big plays and how it could be a bigger play to show them we’re going to take the next step and how to be consistently good. Because when you’re consistently good, that’s when you become great.
How do you feel about the overall depth at the position?
Ayeni: I like where we are at; they’ve done a great job. Aaron [Wimberly] is as talented as anybody, not just in the conference but maybe the country. DV’s [Nealy's] skill set -- there’s not a lot of people who can do all the things he can do. Rob Standard is a guy who is very versatile and a bigger back that adds a different dimension. Tyler Brown is a young guy with a lot of speed and I have two freshmen, Martinez Syria and Michael Warren, coming in. Those guys will add to our room -- add to our room and our bench. We’ll have a good little stable when all is said and done.
When did the coaching bug hit you?
Ayeni: It didn’t; it kind of found me. I always dreamed of playing. I got done playing and my mom said I should go back and get my master’s, so I went back to Northwestern and was a G.A. and I found out I was pretty good at it. I was fortunate to be around good people -- played for Randy Walker at Northwestern, played for Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, Mike Martz in St. Louis, then the privilege of working with Pat Fitzgerald and Mick McCall at Northwestern -- and they were the ones who molded me into this thing. Then Tim Beckman gave me a chance at Toledo, and I got to work with Matt Campbell, who kind of molded me as well. All those guys have kind of molded me, guided me and directed me. Now I get to learn from Paul Rhoads and Mark Mangino. When you’re around good people, good things happen, and that’s what’s happened with me.
Do you think your defensive background helps you?
Ayeni: Absolutely, being able to play safety in college and the NFL helps me recognize things and see things these guys don’t see. I played running back all my life and a lot of times these guys are getting coached by guys who didn’t play the position. I can see things from their eyes, what they see. I understand them and it creates trust, then being a guy who played defense in the NFL, I understand what defenses are trying to do. It’s a good advantage for me as a coach and should help me become a better coach, a better teacher as I go forward.
Being a younger guy, I’m sure you feel like you have a lot of room for growth, but what do you feel is your biggest strength right now?
Ayeni: My biggest strength is the way I communicate with our players, our coaches. I can convey a message. I’m a loyal guy -- loyalty is my biggest asset -- and I can lead men.