He had to grow up just 11 miles of cornfield away from Jack Trice Stadium. He had to watch the chip growing on this program’s shoulder when it always played second fiddle to the University of Iowa in the heart of flyover country. He had to experience what it was like here as an assistant coach early in his career, to go through 3-8, 2-9 and then the 1-10 season.
He had to live through all of this to comprehend the cynicism and embarrassment that surrounded the moribund Iowa State football program.
So Paul Rhoads is from Iowa. So he’s got roots. So one of the benefits to coming back here was to be near his ailing mother, who died from Alzheimer’s last year. So he knew an alum could have had a child during the school’s 1978 bowl game and not seen another bowl game until that child was 22 years old.
Since taking over Iowa State from Gene Chizik in 2009, The Cyclones have gone 22-21. In most major college football programs, a record like that—including two losing seasons—would get the coach fired.
Iowa State is delighted with Rhoads because despite the losing record and a single bowl appearance, he’s brought a major turnaround.
In the two seasons that Chizik led the Cyclones, they went 3-9 and 2-10. Many of those losses were lopsided blowouts, including a 56-3 thrashing by Texas at home in 2007. In 2008, blowouts included a 59-17 loss at Oklahoma State and two weeks later, a 52-20 loss to Missouri in Ames. The average margin of loss was 11 points and Iowa State had given up 811 points in two years.
Since 2009, Iowa State has “signature” wins over Baylor and Nebraska in 2009; Texas Tech and Texas in 2010 and Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in 2011.
The program that used to be the laughingstock of the Big 12 is now a giant killer. They’re a team to be taken seriously again, and that hasn’t been the case since their meeting against Miami in the 2004 Independence Bowl.
Winning in a place like Ames, Iowa is a lot like winning in Lubbock, Texas. Good coaches will win a few games here and there, but doing it consistently and building a successful program in flyover country takes something a little more special.
In 2012, Rhoads has Iowa State at a respectable 4-1. Texas Tech broke their two-game skid against the Cyclones, but Rhoads’ team rebounded quickly and knocked off TCU. In each of his four years in Ames, Rhoads has taken the scalp of at least one big-time opponent. He’s proving that he has that something more special.
Kansas State comes to Ames on Saturday. Most books have the Wildcats as about a touchdown favorite.
Rhoads’ team is playing with confidence and they are totally unfazed by the prospect of hosting a Top Ten team. After all, they did that last year and probably cost Oklahoma State a berth in the BCS Championship Game.
Might it happen again?