“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
Paul Rhoads, who was born 10 minutes from Jack Trice Stadium and went to high school 20 minutes from Iowa State’s home field, has proven to be the perfect leader of the Iowa State football program.
Through hard work, determination and fiery passion, Rhoads has catapulted Iowa State football into the national spotlight. The personable Rhoads has led the Cyclones to three bowl game appearances and multiple “signature” wins in his first six years as the Cyclone mentor.
Setting new standards in Cyclone football has become the norm for Rhoads. In his short period in Ames, Rhoads has recorded three victories over ranked opponents on the road, half of the school’s all-time total of road triumphs over rated teams (six). In all, Rhoads has registered four wins over ranked opponents in his six seasons.
In the 17 seasons prior to Rhoads’ arrival (1992-2008), the Cyclones won just nine conference road games. The Cyclones have already recorded six conference road victories under Rhoads. Rhoads has also shown an uncanny ability to scout and develop talent. A slew of Cyclones have earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors, including four linebackers (Jesse Smith, Jake Knott, A.J. Klein, Jeremiah George) and one tight end (E.J. Bibbs), in his brief time at ISU.
Knott, Bibbs and Kelechi Osemele (offensive lineman) all earned All-America honors under Rhoads’ watch.
Perhaps Rhoads’ greatest accomplishment as the Cyclone head coach is his ability to energize an entire fan base. This was no more evident than the nearly 30,000 Iowa State football fans which swarmed Memphis, Tenn., leading up to the Cyclones’ 2012 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’ enormous popularity has made Jack Trice Stadium the place to be in the fall. Eight of the top-10 most attended games in school history have occurred in the last three seasons (2012 and 2013). ISU’s top-three single-season attendance figures occurred in the last four seasons, including a school-record season attendance average mark of 55,361 set in 2013.
Heading into the 2015 campaign, where Iowa State will debut a beautiful south end zone stadium expansion at Jack Trice Stadium, the Cyclone football program can boast a school-record streak of 26-straight games of over 50,000 fans in attendance at home games.
A total of seven Cyclones who competed for Rhoads at Iowa State have played a game in the NFL, including Osemele, who earned a Super Bowl ring and was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie team as a Baltimore Raven in 2012.
Rhoads’ 2014 season was highlighted by a high-powered passing offense which generated the second-best season passing total (2,981) in school history. Tight end Bibbs was one of the best in the nation, leading all “power five” tight ends in catches per game (4.5) and touchdowns (8) en route to All-America and First-Team All-Big 12 honors.
The John Mackey Award semifinalist played in the 2015 Senior Bowl.
The 2014 season also featured Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Kamari Cotton-Moya, who led the team in tackles with 77 at the free safety spot. Cotton-Moya joined David Sims (2009 Defensive Newcomer of the Year), A.J. Klein (2011 co-Defensive Player of the Year) and Aaron Horne (2011 Offensive Newcomer of the Year) as Cyclones to earn a Big 12 postseason individual award under Rhoads’ leadership.
The Cyclones also took home the coveted Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk trophy for the third time in the last four years with a 20-17 come-from-behind road win at Iowa.
Rhoads and the Cyclones capped off his fifth season (2013) with a pair of Big 12 victories, marking the first time since 2000 where ISU ended the season with back-to-back league wins. ISU blanked Kansas (34-0), the first shutout involving a pair of Big 12 opponents since 2011 and the fourth-largest shutout over a conference opponent in school history.
The Cyclones then went on the road to defeat West Virginia in a triple overtime thriller (52-44). ISU was down 24 points in the game, staging the biggest come-from-behind win in school history and the largest comeback among all FBS teams in 2013.
First-team All-Big 12 linebacker George led the league and ranked fourth nationally in tackles (11.1), joining Smith (2009) as Cyclones to lead the Big 12 in stops under Rhoads.
The 2012 AutoZone Liberty Bowl was Iowa State’s third postseason appearance in four years under Rhoads. Against TCU during the regular season, Rhoads’ players ended the nation’s longest winning streak at 12 games, with a 37-23 victory over the 13th-ranked Horned Frogs. 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.
The linebacking duo of Knott and Klein were first-team All-Big 12 selections for the second straight season in 2012. Both are now playing on Sundays in the NFL. Defensive tackle Jake McDonough was a first-team all-league choice and strong safety Durrell Givens was a second-team honoree.
The 2011 season was highlighted by the biggest win in school history. 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 a game with huge BCS implications further stoking the rapt attention this contest commanded.
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.
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 emphatically shrieked, “touchdown, they did it!,” telling the world what Rhoads’ fellow native Iowans already knew. Rhoads’ Iowa State football program has gone where no Cyclone team has gone before.
The extraordinary rush of thousands of Cardinal and Gold clad fans on the field after Iowa State’s thrilling win mirrored the scene of ISU’s 44-41 triple overtime victory over Iowa earlier in the season.
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.
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 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.
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.
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, ending his inaugural season 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.
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.”
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. Smith led the Big 12 in tackles and was a first-team All-Big 12 selection, while David Sims was named the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
The 2010 season saw the Cyclones go 5-7. Iowa State was 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.
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. Jake is a member of the Iowa State football team.
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. He was inducted into Ankeny High School's Hall of Honor in 2014.
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: Seventh
Record at Iowa State: 29-46 (6)
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)