Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Sad Story

  In July of 2005, Jamie Pollard was named Athletic Director at Iowa State University. The football team had been coached by Dan McCarney for the last 10 years. McCarney’s first 5 years on the job saw his team win less than a quarter of their games with a 13 and 32 record, but in the next 5 years his Cyclones went 32-30 with 4 bowl appearances and the first 2 bowl wins in school history. The school even had a chance to win their North division of the Big 12 conference in 2004, but lost their chance by losing an overtime game to Missouri on a missed field goal and an end zone interception.

  The 2005 season saw the Cyclones go 7-5 including another chance at a Big 12 North division crown lost by a missed field goal in an overtime game. The Cyclones had a poor 4-8 record in 2006, Pollard publicly said it was impossible to sell hope to the football fans and McCarney quit before he was fired. Pollard managed to replace McCarney with the hottest name in the assistant coaching ranks, Gene Chizik (defensive coordinator from Texas). Chizik’s hiring was lauded by all, he went 5-19 in his 2 years as the head coach and left for Auburn where we won a national championship in his second year on the job.

  To replace Chizik, Pollard turned to Paul Rhoads, a native of nearby Ankeny, Iowa who was the defensive coordinator for Auburn. Pollard was also lauded for this selection since instead of hiring a hot name who only had eyes on the Iowa State job as a steppingstone, had hired a local son who would consider Iowa State his dream job. Sort of like a Dan McCarney...

  In his first year as the Iowa State football coach, Rhoads’ team went 7-6 including a bowl game win against Minnesota. The highlight of the season was a huge upset of the mighty Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln where Rhoads postgame speech made every national sports show as an example of the inspiration he gives his team. In his second year the Cyclones went 5-7 and no bowl game. The apparent step backwards drew very few complaints from the Iowa media because among the 5 wins was a huge upset against the mighty Texas Longhorns.

  The state’s pundits gave the Cyclones very little chance of the 6 wins needed to get to a bowl game this year because they had one of the toughest schedules in all of college football. Their new Big 12 conference schedule requires they play each of the other 9 teams in the conference this year instead of only playing 8 of the 11 teams as in years past. The Big 12 conference has 10 teams while the Big 10 conference has 12 teams. Luckily, neither conference competes in Math.

  The predictions of a losing record for the Cyclones looked to be on the money after they needed a 4th quarter comeback to beat the minor league Northern Iowa Panthers by a single point. But after comebacks to beat the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Connecticut Huskies found ISU with an unexpected 3-0 record, talk turned to bowl game possibilities and the possibility of beating the Longhorns in a rematch. With a week off to prepare, for the nationally televised game, the Cyclones had an awful game, finding themselves behind 13-0 after the first quarter and 34-0 at the half on the way to losing 37-14 in a mistake riddled performance which featured an interception, 2 fumbles, a missed field goal (when the game was still a relatively close 13-0), and a blocked punt. When the Cyclones traveled to play the Baylor Bears the next week, the team managed to stay close in the first half, only losing 21-14, before getting trampled in the second half en route to a 49-26 defeat. Last week the Cyclones travelled to Missouri to play the Tigers and were down by 14 points 6 minutes into the game and were never close in the 52-17 beatdown.

  With the 3-0 start a distant memory, the Cyclones played the Texas A&M Aggies on homecoming weekend yesterday. I hadn’t planned on watching this game and was reading with the Law & Order: Criminal Intent marathon on the TV when my mother-in-law called to ask me if Matt was at the game (he attends Iowa State and has gone to a couple of the games) and asked me if I was watching the game. I answered no and no, she hung up, and I figured that there must be a reason she was asking. So I turned on the game and sure enough the Cyclones were winning 7 to 3 late in the first quarter. I watched the rest of the first half and slowly but surely the Cyclones gave up a field goal, a touchdown, and another touchdown without scoring any points of their own to trail 20-7 at the half. At that point, we took Daisy and Baxter for a walk. When we got back, the Cyclones were trailing 33-17 and that was how the game ended.

  Everything I hear and read concerning Paul Rhoads says what a great coach he is and how inspirational he is to his team, but all I see is a team that is getting worse each year and is not competitive. I get all the talk about having a tough schedule, but when you’re the worst team around, that means the other teams are better than you, you are the only team that doesn't get to play you, and of course the schedule will be tough. I have no idea if Rhoads is a good coach or not, but I'm suspicious when a new coach wins a lot of games his first year and then goes downhill. It makes me think the old coach left a lot of players who needed to hear a different voice, but the voice is slowly getting tuned out. If Iowa State doesn’t win 5 games this year, I wonder if Pollard will ditch this football coach the same way he did McCarney or will he think he can still sell hope and give Rhoads more time.

  I think Pollard hasn’t found the right football coach for Iowa State yet. In 1989, the Kansas State Wildcats were an awful football team that hadn’t won a game in 2 seasons when they hired an assistant coach from Iowa named Bill Snyder. In 3 years, Snyder’s team had a winning record and was a perennial winner and sometimes national championship contender. After 2 straight losing seasons, Snyder retired in 2005, but was rehired in 2009 after a 2 more losing seasons. In his third season after being rehired, the Kansas state Wildcats are 7-0. The right coach is out there if Pollard will keep looking.