“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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