Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Rhoads adjusting to life as Iowa State's coach
AMES, Iowa -- A recruit who recently visited Iowa State and its new coach, Paul Rhoads, struck up a conversation about a track and field video game for the Nintendo Wii console.
The recruit showed Rhoads how to play the game by moving his hands so fast they became blurry.
It was kind of familiar to Rhoads. His life's looked the same way lately.
"Just an absolute blur," Rhoads told the Associated Press on Monday. "We've got a lot done. We've got a lot more to do, and every single bit of it has been an enjoyable experience."
Rhoads, hired in December in the wake of Gene Chizik's abrupt and unexpected departure for Auburn, has barely had time to breathe since accepting the job.
He's had to cobble together a coaching staff, meet as many of the current players as possible and assemble his first recruiting class -- no small task considering he's only been on the job since the week before Christmas.
Rhoads is nearly finished putting together his staff, save for a defensive coordinator. The biggest splash Rhoads has made so far was the hiring of offensive coordinator Tom Herman, the 32-year-old spread attack guru who ran one of the nation's most productive offenses at Rice.
Rhoads said the reasoning behind Herman's hiring was simple -- to put points on the board.
It also doesn't hurt that, by running an offense that allows skill players to touch the ball more often and put up big numbers, the Cyclones might open the door to what Rhoads called "a different kind of recruit."
"As a defensive coach, you want to see that scoreboard light up a little bit, and they were doing that at Rice. They were doing it with less, also," Rhoads said. "The No. 1 word I've used to describe what our program needs to be to achieve success is 'unique."
Rhoads said the current players have been "left behind" a bit since he took over because the coaching staff has been out of town recruiting and the student-athletes had holiday break.
The current players, Rhoads said, will become the staff's top priority once recruiting season is finished, which comes Wednesday with national signing day.
Despite the upheaval caused by Chizik's departure, Rhoads said only one player -- linebacker Ernest Ferguson -- has left the program.
"They've been very receptive, and in a word they're very hungry," Rhoads said. "They really want to be successful and they really want to be coached to be in that position."
Though Rhoads can't comment on recruits until they sign their official letter of intent, he said his first class will likely be split 50-50 between players who committed to Iowa State under Chizik and players inked by himself and his staff.
While some recruits were committed to Iowa State no matter what, Rhoads said, others had to be resold on the staff, the team's schemes and how they'd fit in.
Part of the reason fans felt so betrayed by Chizik's departure was his assertion that his jump to Auburn was a homecoming. They won't have to worry whether Rhoads would make a move for the same reason -- he's an Iowa native with strong ties in the area.
Rhoads grew up in nearby Ankeny, about 20 miles from Jack Trice Stadium. His father, Cecil Rhoads, was a high school coach for 3½ decades and is a member of the Iowa High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
Rhoads was also part of Dan McCarney's original staff at Iowa State. He worked under McCarney from 1995-99, spending the last four as the secondary coach.
He caught his big break before the 2000 season when he was hired as the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh. Rhoads spent eight years with the Panthers, and in 2007 he led a defense that finished fifth nationally in total defense.
Rhoads made the jump to Auburn in 2008. Though he helped the Tigers finish 15th in the country in scoring defense, they stumbled to a 5-7 finish that led to Tommy Tuberville's exit.
Athletic director Jamie Pollard said Rhoads' experience and plan for turning the Cyclones around made him a perfect fit at Iowa State. Rhoads then made an immediate -- and positive -- impression on Cyclones fans with a fiery and sometimes emotional introductory press conference.
"The biggest challenge, I think, is probably overcoming stereotypes of what people commonly believe this job can't do, and what this program can't do," Rhoads said. "Anybody that has any competitive bone in their body steps up to a challenge like that."
The task Rhoads faces at Iowa State is a daunting one. Not only does he have to change the fortunes of a team that's gone 9-27 over the past three seasons, he also has to reassure a fan base that put its hopes in Chizik -- only to get burned.
"As much as there was betrayal felt and anger felt and all that ... I think all that has all dissipated quickly," Rhoads said. "These players are resilient, I know, and the fans are the same way. They may be guarded, they may be 'We'll wait and see,' but for every one of those there might be 10 that are jacked and ready to go and can't wait."