“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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.