“I’m not just a football coach. I’m not just here to win games and neither is anyone else (in our program). I could not be prouder of who you are and what we are becoming together... (doing things the right way every day) is our culture, that is what makes us Cyclones.”
-- Iowa State head football coach Paul Rhoads
They were everywhere. Nearly 30,000 Iowa State football fans swarmed Memphis, Tenn. leading up to the Cyclones’ AutoZone Liberty Bowl game on New Year’s Eve. The massive gathering of Cardinal and Gold affirms that Iowa State football is flying at an all-time high, piloted by a head coach whose popularity in his home state transcends the program’s fan base and has earned the Cyclones national recognition. Iowa Staters know that Paul Rhoads is one of their own.
Rhoads was born 10 minutes from Jack Trice Stadium and went to high school 20 minutes from Iowa State’s home field. From the start, Cyclone fans have readily embraced their head coach. Iowa State has drawn record crowds in excess of 50,000 for 13 straight games. The record home attendance average of 55,274 last season broke the record set by Cyclone fans in 2011. The Cyclone season-ticket base has grown to more than 40,000 for the first time.
The 2012 AutoZone Liberty Bowl was Iowa State’s third postseason appearance in four years under Rhoads. The Cyclones have won six straight regular season non-conference games; including consecutive wins over intrastate rival Iowa. On Oct. 6, Rhoads’ players ended the nation’s longest winning streak at 12 games, with a 37-23 victory at No. 13 TCU. The win marked the first time in school history that the Cyclones had beaten a ranked team in three consecutive seasons. Each of those games was one of Rhoads’ “signature wins” since coming to Iowa State in 2009. Rhoads’ Cyclones have silenced the doubters, making three bowl games in the last four years.
It goes without saying, that recruiting high achieving student-athletes has been the bedrock of Iowa State’s success under Rhoads. The linebacking duo of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein were first-team All-Big 12 selections for the second straight season in 2012. Defensive tackle Jake McDonough was a first-team all-league choice and strong safety Durrell Givens was a second-team honoree. Six Cyclones were honorable mention picks.
Former Cyclone cornerback Leonard Johnson starts for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His former teammate, offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, started for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Former Iowa Stater Reggie Stephens is Osemele’s Baltimore teammate. He’s coached four Cyclones who have played a game in the NFL.
On Nov. 18, 2011, Iowa State stepped up on to the biggest stage it had ever played upon. The Cyclones played host to No. 2 Oklahoma State in prime time. The game was nationally televised. It was played to a global ESPN audience. It was on a Friday night, meaning there was virtually no other game to divide that worldwide audience. It was a game with huge BCS implications further stoking the rapt attention this contest commanded. In short, it was the biggest game in Iowa State history.
Before the world, the biggest game in school history became the biggest win in school history. Iowa State rallied from a 24-7 deficit to beat Oklahoma State. Coming into the game Iowa State had an all-time 0-56-2 record against teams ranked among the top six spots on the AP poll. The incredible comeback affirmed Rhoads’ transformation of a Cyclone football program that unmistakably bears his personal brand.
Yes, the Cyclone nation is “All In.” In 2011, more than 50,000 fans flocked to Jack Trice Stadium for every home game, a school first. The final home attendance figure of 53,647 was an all-time record. The extraordinary scene of thousands of Cardinal and Gold clad fans on the field after Iowa State’s thrilling 44-41 triple overtime victory over Iowa in September could only have been trumped by the multitude of joyous Cyclones of all ages who walked the Jack Trice Stadium field that November night, savoring what they had never seen before.
Rhoads’ team, which was an underdog in 11 of its 12 BCS games in 2011, capped off a memorable season by playing on the biggest stage in the nation’s biggest city, Yankee Stadium in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in New York. This was accomplished despite playing the second-toughest schedule nationally.
But as Iowa State’s Jeff Woody rambled into the Oklahoma State end zone at 10:51 p.m. CDT for a 37-31 victory on ESPN, announcer Joe Tessitore’s emphatic, “touchdown, they did it” told the world what Rhoads’ fellow native Iowans already knew. Rhoads’ Iowa State football program has gone where no Cyclone team has gone before.
Iowa State’s season earned the program a new respect. Klein was named the 2011 Big 12 Conference co-defensive player of the year. Wide receiver and kick returner Aaron Horne was the Big 12 Conference offensive newcomer of the year. Offensive lineman Osemele was a first-team All-American. Knott, whose only BCS scholarship offer was made by Rhoads after seeing the linebacker on film in the head coach’s first week at Iowa State earned first-team all-Big 12 honors.
Against Big 12 foes in the country’s toughest conference, Iowa State finished in the top half of the league in scoring defense in 2011. The Cyclones also finished in the top half in conference play in pass defense (third), pass efficiency defense (fifth), kickoff returns (third), kickoff coverage (third) opponents third down conversions and fourth down conversions (third), fewest penalties (third), time of possession (fourth), turnover margin (fifth) and red zone defense (fourth).
Looking back, Rhoads turned heads when he arrived as Iowa State’s new head football coach in December of 2008.
When Rhoads had his first team meeting in the spring of 2009, he told his Cyclone team that “I am proud to be your coach and we will prepare diligently to win a bowl game.”
Win a bowl game? In 2009? The Cyclones had been 8-27 over their three previous seasons.
“I’m sure a lot of us thought he was just trying to motivate us with inspirational talk like that,” cornerback Leonard Johnson told The Des Moines Register. “He was stressing winning a bowl game, but we’d just lost 10 games in a row. That seemed a little out there.”
Indeed. The New York Times rated Iowa State 112th among 120 NCAA FBS teams nationally to start the 2009 season. The Big 12 media ranked the Cyclones dead last in the league’s pre-season poll.
At the Dec. 2008 press conference introducing him as Iowa State’s new head football coach, Rhoads compared his return to ISU and his native state, to a Hollywood script. On the last day of 2009, his team wrote the best possible sequel. Inspired by its coach, an Iowa State squad that didn’t win a conference game and lost its final 10 contests in 2008, bought into Rhoads’ vision of immediate success. Iowa State’s 2009 season ended with a Cyclone bowl game victory. The reward for keeping that faith was a seven-win season and a victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl played in sunny Tempe, Ariz. on New Year’s Eve.
“Let me say it again, I am proud to be your football coach,” Rhoads told joyous Iowa State fans from the 2009 Insight Bowl victory platform after ISU beat Minnesota, 14-13.
By then the Cyclone bandwagon had already left the station.
Go back two months before the Insight Bowl, to the Iowa State locker room following the Cyclones’ 9-7 win at defending Big 12 North Division champion Nebraska on Oct. 24.
Above the ear-shattering noise of a wild celebration, Rhoads implored his team to hear him clearly. Injury and illness had depleted the Cyclone squad (the Cyclones played without starting quarterback Austen Arnaud and starting tailback Alexander Robinson) after the team had just scored Iowa State’s first win in Lincoln, Neb. in 32 years.
“We had people tired everywhere, we had people sore everywhere,” an emotional Rhoads told his jubilant players, his voice wavering from a mix of elation and exhaustion. His next words have become synonymous with the Phoenix-like ascendency of the Iowa State football program under Rhoads.
“Listen to me, listen to me,” Rhoads said in a hoarse voice, struggling to be heard above the clamor of victory. “I am so proud to be your football coach.”
That statement, which ignited another round of uninhibited uproar, is just what Iowa State fans across the country wanted to hear. The echo of those words has boomeranged back from Cyclone fans. The feeling is mutual. The moment, poignant for its spontaneity and sincerity, was caught on video and featured on networks across the country. CBS would call it one of college football’s top moments of the decade. The clip has been viewed more than 417,000 times on YouTube (click here to see). Fans have embraced Rhoads for his down-to-earth demeanor and personality in seasons that have exceeded expectations.
The historical significance of Rhoads’ success in his first Iowa State season was underscored by his place as the first Cyclone football coach to win seven games in his initial campaign since 1907. He was the first coach in ISU history to post a winning record in his initial Cyclone season since 1931. Each win in his first Iowa State gridiron campaign vanquished another streak of recent futility. The win at Kent State was ISU’s first road victory since 2005 and the Cyclones’ victory over Nebraska the program’s first conference road win since the same season.
Rhoads is a former defensive coordinator and the 2009 Cyclones made remarkable strides on that side of the ball. Iowa State held three conference opponents to 10 points or less for the first time since 1965. Iowa State was 68th nationally in red zone defense in 2008. In 2009, the Cyclones ranked second-best among 120 FBS teams in that category. Iowa State’s defenders were ninth nationally in turnovers forced. The defense’s anchor, linebacker Jesse Smith, earned first-team all-conference honors. Strong safety David Sims was named by the league’s coaches as the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Offensively, Rhoads implemented a version of the spread attack that in 2009 made Alexander Robinson Iowa State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004. Quarterback Austen Arnaud finished his career ranking second on the all-time Iowa State list in passing yards and total offense.
The 2010 season started just as the 2009 campaign had, with Iowa State picked for the cellar of the Big 12 North Division. On Oct. 23 before more than 100,000 Texas fans in Austin’s Memorial Stadium, Rhoads’ team did what no Cyclone football squad had ever done, beat the Longhorns, 28-21. For the second straight year, a Rhoads-led unit had slain a dragon on the opposing field. The Cyclones were a 2010 overtime loss against No. 9 Nebraska away from a second-straight bowl season despite playing the nation’s toughest schedule. Iowa State finished tied for third in the Big 12 North. Make no doubt, Rhoads’ players believe in their coach, as does the Cyclone football community.
Rhoads has stuck to his guns ever since his arrival, and in the process unified the Cyclone fan base. What you see is what you get.
Born in Nevada, Iowa, just 10 minutes from Jack Trice Stadium, Rhoads came back to Iowa State after a year as defensive coordinator at Auburn. His stellar track record complements his Iowa roots. The man who was valedictorian at Ankeny High School, one of the largest schools in the state (located just 20 minutes south of Ames), Rhoads was the ideal individual to take control of the ISU football program.
Rhoads coordinated the Pitt defense for eight seasons (2000-07) before moving to Auburn in the same role in 2008.
His resume includes a 2004 Big East Conference championship with the Panthers. Five of the defenses he coordinated ranked in the nation’s Top 30 for scoring and three in the NCAA’s Top 12 for fewest yards allowed. His aggressive philosophy allowed Pitt to score 10 defensive touchdowns from 2004-06.
Rhoads' last two defenses (Auburn in 2008 and Pitt in 2007) before coming to Ames ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense and fifth in total defense, respectively. The Sporting News named him the best defensive coordinator in the Big East Conference.
Rhoads coordinated defenses for both Walt Harris and Dave Wannstedt at Pitt. He was approached by Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville to move to Auburn in 2002 after two spectacular seasons at Pitt but turned down the offer. Tuberville again offered Rhoads his top defensive coaching position prior to the 2008 season and he accepted.
Rhoads’ familiarity with Iowa State goes back to his youth growing up in central Iowa but also includes a five-year stint as inside linebackers (1995) and secondary (1996-99) coach with the Cyclones. He was a member of Dan McCarney’s first staff at Iowa State.
Six of Rhoads’ former defensive backs have been drafted by the National Football League, including Pitt’s Darrelle Revis (the 14th overall pick by the Jets) in 2007. He has coached in nine bowl games, including the 2005 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the 2000 Insight Bowl (against Iowa State), and the 2002 Insight Bowl with Pitt. Fourteen of his Panther defenders earned first-team All-Big East honors including H.B. Blades (the 2006 Big East Defensive Player of the Year) and Scott McKillop (the nation’s leading tackler in 2007). Blades and McKillop both earned All-America honors.
The Iowa State head coach lettered three seasons (1986-88) as a defensive back at Missouri Western.
Rhoads earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1989 at Missouri Western and was the recipient of the Chris Faros Scholarship, which honors the football team’s top senior student-athlete. Rhoads added a master’s degree from Utah State in 1991.
Rhoads’ father, Cecil, was a high school coach for more than three decades and has been inducted into the Iowa High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame. His mother, Mary, was a teacher and homemaker. Rhoads is the youngest of five children. Paul and his wife, Vickie, a former basketball player at Missouri Western, have two boys, Jake and Wyatt.
Rhoads has been active in the Central Iowa community and has participated in the work of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Iowa, Children and Families of Iowa and the Iowa Caregivers Association.
Rhoads Quick Facts
Children: sons, Jake and Wyatt
Born: Feb. 2, 1967, Ankeny, Iowa
Education: B.S., Missouri Western (1989) and M.E.D., Utah State (1991)
Year as ISU head coach: Fifth
Record at Iowa State: 24-27 (4)
Iowa State, head coach (2009- )
Auburn, defensive coordinator (2008)
Pittsburgh, defensive coordinator (2000-07)
Iowa State, assistant coach (1995-99)
Pacific, assistant coach (1992-93), pass game coordinator (1994)
Ohio State, graduate assistant (1991)
Utah State, graduate assistant (1989-90)
2012 AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Iowa State)
2011 New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Iowa State)
2009 Insight Bowl (Iowa State)
2005 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Pittsburgh)
2003 Continental Tire Bowl (Pittsburgh)
2002 Insight Bowl (Pittsburgh)
2001 Tangerine Bowl (Pittsburgh)
2000 Insight.com Bowl (Pittsburgh)
1992 Hall of Fame Bowl (Pacific)