By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
Iowa State’s director of athletics, Jamie Pollard spoke during today’s weekly Greg McDermott press conference. Pollard informed members of the media that McDermott will indeed be the head coach in Ames next season. McDermott also spoke regarding the state of his program. The entire press conference transcript is available for you only here at CycloneFanatic.com.
Jamie Pollard’s opening statement
As many of you know, we sent out a correspondence this morning to our ticket holders and our donors. We did that in large part because we feel whenever possible, we should communicate with those individuals first. That was an opportunity for us to be able to do that. in that correspondence, we essentially just gave them a snapshot of, kind of a state of the union for the department. We talked about our funding, especially given the economy, how we have been able to wean our selves, a big chunk from the state. We have invested over $50 million into our facilities. We have had tremendous success academically, in large part due to the Hixon Success Center that we built three years ago, having the best graduation rate in the conference and the best that we have ever had at Iowa State. And then competitively. We’ve having our best year competitively. We’re 22nd in the Directors Cup. If you would have asked me when I took this job five years ago that we could have been in the top 25, I would have said “you’re kidding me.” To be 22nd right now, in the nation, is a very powerful statement for our department. And to be fifth right now in the Big 12, in the all sports standings. We have been last in the Big 12 for seven of our last eight years.
In part of that correspondence though, we also shared with ticket holders and donors that unfortunately, the men’s basketball program hasn’t achieved at the same level that we all would like it to achieve over the past several years. It has been frustrating and disappointing for fans, for Coach McDermott and his staff and for our players. There are a lot of things that have happened, some of which were self-inflicted and some of which were out of anybodies control. At this juncture, it does not matter. It’s not a matter of why, it is a matter of what. It has made us stop and think about why someone is given the opportunity and the privilege to be one of our 18 head coaches. Winning is a big part of that. But so is ones integrity. So is ones character. So is how the student athletes perform in and out of the classroom. In all of those categories, things have gone extremely well. When I look at this team and the character that the student-athletes and the coaches have exhibited through some pretty tough times, there is a lot of resiliency there. There is a lot to be proud of to be at Iowa State. We look forward to Coach McDermott and his staff leading our program to the same level of success that we have achieved in several of our other programs. I look forward to working along side of him for quite a long time.
Greg McDermott’s opening statement
I was hoping to just talk about Kansas State. (Laughter in the room) Jamie and I have had conversations throughout the season, like we always do. He has been unwavering in his support of me and our program. I appreciate that because that allows me to continue to do my job, due to things that we have to do to prepare our team to play. As he has mentioned, there have been some curveballs thrown our way. Some of them we have to evaluate, look in the mirror and think about how we’re doing things and what things do we have to change to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Some of them are from out of leftfield. You don’t see them coming. You just have to roll with the punches when they happen. We have had to do that the best that we can. I am very honored and privileged to coach at Iowa State. It is good to wake up in the morning, knowing that you are coaching somewhere where people really care. That is why Jamie is here. It is because our fans care. They are disappointed that we aren’t winning at the level that I would like to succeed as well. All that I can do is continue to work as hard as I can and be who I am. I am not going to change that. It isn’t my right to care what other people think of the job that I am doing. They are entitled to their own opinion and I respect that. All that I ask is regardless of what they may think of the job that I am doing that they don’t take that out on my team and that they continue to support them. I am a big boy. I can handle that. They don’t deserve that. They deserve the support of every Cyclone fan out there and I hope with this that they can put whatever behind them and jump on full force and support our team from here on out.
Greg, was there ever any uncertainty in your mind that you wouldn’t be the coach at Iowa State next season?
Jamie, people are going to say that if Marquis Gilstrap and Craig Brackins leave then this program is essentially starting over. How do you assess that?
JP: I don’t think that we are starting over at all. I look at our team and say that we’ve got three starters returning. Three other players who have played substantial time this year and plus, we have two other players who have played in the Big 12 for the past couple of years who unfortunately were hurt this year and have red-shirts. There is a group of individuals who are coming back that have played in the toughest conference in the country, hands down. They have been in games. I look at that nucleus and say that isn’t starting over. Also, I’ve thought about this and our staff has heard me say this, just to ask this question of everybody in this room. Who in this room saw Marquis Gilstrap, LaRon Dendy or Chris Colvin play, in person before they signed with Iowa State? Saw them play in high school or junior college. My hand didn’t go up either, so nobody’s hand went up. Yet, we all fell victim of anointing them individuals who were going to take us to the NCAA Tournament. I did to. So now, I can say, who in this room has seen our recruits for next year play in person? We’ve got one. Good for you. My hand didn’t go up either. So why would we anoint them not to be successful next year? I’ve met with those kids and they are all excited to come to Iowa State and be a part of our great tradition and lead us to the place where everybody would like us to be. I share that as just a backdrop. It is never as good or as bad as it probably is. We’re not starting over.
Jamie, why did you feel the need to come out and do this today?
JP: Coach McDermott and I have been in contact, we talk all of the time. We had planned to come out and say something this week and say something to our season ticket holders for several weeks now. Today was the day that just worked well because it is leading into the Big 12 Tournament. We knew that we could be here together. We just felt that it was important to send the message of where we are at and where we want to be.
What kind of response have you gotten from donors/fans regarding Coach McDermott?
JP: I think that Greg hit the nail on the head when he said that our fans are great fans because they are passionate and they care. There are a lot of places where you maybe wouldn’t have to be up here doing this today because they don’t really care. That isn’t the case at Iowa State. What I would say is that the overwhelming message that I get from our fans is that they are just frustrated because they want to win. You invest a lot of time in coming to the games and a lot of money. You want to go home feeling good about it. That has been the frustrating part because we have been close. Sometimes it is easier just to get beat bad versus getting your heart ripped out at the end of the game. That makes it tougher. I’d say that the majority of our fans that have decided to comment, it is more of frustration. They support Coach McDermott, they just want to experience the fun.
Greg, is there something that you need to change or do differently next year to turn things around?
GM: I really believe and I’ll stick to this, the plan that we had in place and the team that we had in place to start the year that everybody was excited about, I really believed that we would have accomplished our goals. I really think that we’d be sitting here talking about if we go there and we win a game, we have a great opportunity to be in the NCAA Tournament if we wouldn’t have already solidified that already. The reality of it is, the team that we’ve played with the last 14 games is not that team. We have had to retool what we are doing and if you watched us play in late November and early December compared to how we are playing now, it is a much different team and it has to be because we are playing with eight guys and our only backups are guys playing in the backcourt are two point guards for all three of those positions. We have really asked Chris Colvin and Dominique Buckley to play a position that they have never played before in their life on both ends of the floor. Part of what we have been able to do this year is to find a way that we can remain competitive in the best league in the country when we are short-handed. In the last six games, we were 2-4 and all four of those losses were by five points or less. We have had opportunities to win and as a coach, you always go back and look at what transpired over the course of that last three or four minutes. What could we have done different? Was it a decision that we made? Did we have our guys in the wrong place? You evaluate that and you carry it over into the next game. At Kansas State, we made some of those plays when the game was on the line that we didn’t make against Missouri. All that you do as a coach is you take the group that you have at the beginning of the year, you figure out what their strengths are and you try to put them in a position to be successful. Next year’s team is going to be much different than this year’s team in that we probably aren’t going to have a guy who averages 17 or 18 points a game on next year’s team, but I think the balance on next year’s team can be much better. To answer that question, we will put a team together that will play together and that will remain unselfish and really care about wearing the Iowa State uniform. We have had a few issues with that this year and it has been well-documented. We have addressed it to the point where it probably hurt us at times because we didn’t have everybody available to us. That is the only way that I know to go about it. We have to have guys who are committed to each other and committed to this institution. If you have that, you have a chance. Like Jamie, I am excited about the guys who we have coming back. We have a core of people who have been in our program for three or four years now, which we haven’t had the good fortune of having during any time during my tenure here. I like the guys who we have coming in so far and hopefully we can add to that. Like I said, I am going to keep doing it the best way that I know how. At the end of the day, I really believe that is going to be good enough.
Jamie what are some of the things that you see from the program that make you believe it is on the right track?
JP: I evaluate all of our coaches the same way. Their leadership skills, their character, their integrity. The one thing that I know in this business is that it is mathematically impossible for everybody to win. So half of us have to lose. As I said earlier, winning is a big part of that but you really look at the other pieces. Is the individual leading? Are they exhibiting the character, the integrity and the qualities that we look for in anybody who is at Iowa State University. From that perspective, there is no question in my mind that Coach McDermott and his staff do it the right way and they do it in the way that Iowa Staters want it done. The wins will hopefully come.
Jamie, can you please clarify Coach McDermott’s contract situation?
JP: Coach McDermott has five years left on his contract. I would add this to that. One of the challenges at Iowa State is that our bucket is a little smaller than others, especially in the league that we are in. You have to put together contracts that are creative to make up for that. Bill Fennelly is a great example. Bill Fennelly regularly beats several coaches in the Big 12 who are making twice as much as he is. They are making over a million dollars a year. Iowa State is not going to be in that position. Our bucket is just not big enough to pay that kind of money. So you’ve got to get creative and come up with other ways to do it. There were those who questioned why we gave Bill Fennelly a lifetime contract, which was a 12-year extension at the time. That is one way to make it more creative. We will have the same challenge with Paul Rhoads. Mack Brown is making $5 million. Paul Rhoads is making a million dollars. I bet our fans expect us to be competitive when we play Texas this year. The day is going to come where we are going to have to get real creative with Paul Rhoads’ contract. When we were hiring Greg McDermott as our basketball coach, we wanted Greg McDermott because he was the coach we wanted. He was getting pursued by a couple of other places who were offering a lot more money than we are offering and were offering a lot more money four years ago than we are still paying. So at that time, we had to get pretty creative. We will do what we need to do to be creative. The only way to do that is to offer a longer-term contract. The reality of it is that five years at $500,000 is still less than two years at $1.5 or $1.9 million. That’s life for us at Iowa State. But that’s okay. We are going to get people who want to be at Iowa State and who will do it the right way. We will find ways to compensate them fairly.
Greg, is there anything more that the department can do to help you?
GM: They have been unbelievably supportive. Our practice facility is proof of that. that is something that Jamie and I talked about during the interview process. That for us to be competitive recruiting against the people that we need to compete against, our facilities would have to change for the better. Our administration made that happen. Our boosters stepped up and said that it was important and got it done. Are we going to see the fruits of that immediately? No but I think as time goes on, it has certainly impacted our program in a positive way this year and the recruits that we have had on campus during the course of this season, it has been a big hit and it will continue to be because it was done in a first class manner. Everything else about our program is done in a first class manner. That starts at the top. We are in a position where I wish that he (Pollard) had a 6-foot-8 son, well, I guess I have gone one of those (laughter).
JP: You have never seen me play basketball (more laughter).
GM: Yes I have. We are getting the support that we need to have. We just are going to keep working at it. That is my promise to Iowa State fans. What you have seen, you are going to get more of. We are going to keep plugging along and keep working at this and try to fix this as quickly as we can. There is nobody more disappointed than I am. There is nobody who is losing more sleep than I am over this. That is why Saturday was so gratifying. These guys have continued to work and continued to listen to our message and believe in one another. The reality in sports is that late in the season, when you’ve had a season like we have, that is not the norm. Our guys have continued to persevere.
How much dialogue has there been between your staff and recruits regarding the matter?
GM: Obviously, my staff is concerned about this. When I had conversations with Jamie, I’d certainly share it with those who are going to be directly impacted, should something change. We have been honest with our recruits and when they are on campus, we have them meet with Jamie. They hear it from the person who makes those decisions. Like I said, his support has been unwavering to me, my staff and any recruits who we have had talk with him.