Outside the men’s room: Speechless

By Kirk Haaland, Contributor

Less than three days, two opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, and two of the greatest representatives of Iowa State University I have ever seen and I am…speechless.  Speechless because it’s hard to put into words just how much these two individuals have done for Iowa State University and everyone they have been associated with, while they deflect every bit of attention away from themselves.

It took Bill Fennelly 16 years at ISU to win 334 games here and 500 for his career, but for all of the great accomplishments his teams have had over the years—Big 12 regular season and tournament championships, Sweet 16’s, Elite Eight’  and All-Amercan’s—I’m not convinced that’s how I’ll remember him.  He didn’t resurrect the program; he built it for the first time out of nothing.

He took the program from dozens of fans filling the stands to thousands in the blink of an eye, all to watch winning basketball.  He took his team to the NCAA tournament in his second season.  He made the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his third season while finishing the season in the Top 25.  In his fourth season all he did was lead his team to a victory over number top-seeded Connecticut and an Elite Eight appearance with a top 20 ranking to close the season.  It took him to just his fifth season to win the Big 12 outright in the regular season as well as the conference tournament, again advance to the Sweet 16 and spend a majority of the season in the top 10.  The rest…is history.

As I mentioned, to me, Coach Fennelly won’t be best remembered for the wins on the court, the trophies on display, or the accolades for himself or his players.  He will be remembered for preaching what’s right, his modesty, his love for his players, staff, family, fans and the way he has always represented Iowa State University in the most positive of ways.  Watch his post-game locker room speeches whether it be following a win or a loss and you will understand what I mean.

So, here’s to you coach on your first 500 and getting to 1,000 twenty years from now.

So who must the other Cyclone be that I’m speaking of on the opposite end of the spectrum for his personal situation at the moment?  I have a feeling you already know.  Austen Arnaud.  I have never before seen an athlete so respected and well liked by every single person that has come into contact with him.

Arnaud has been the face of this program through its most adverse times since McCarney came to town.  Similar to Fennelly, I won’t remember him for all of the stats that he has put up or his rankings on the career lists of passing yards, passing touchdowns, or passing percentage.  I will remember him for being the leader of the team and playing the game with consistent ferocity.

In my opinion, Arnaud has largely been underappreciated in his past two seasons due to some of his perceived struggles on the field, but we will all learn together this Saturday, next spring, and next season just how much he meant to this program.

Many of us participated in athletics in high school and experienced Senior Day.  Usually a bit of a bitter sweet moment where we are allowed a little bit of time to shine while reflecting back on how fast the past four years have gone.  It’s a special moment after four years of hard work to be able to make that walk and be recognized.  Unfortunately, in one of the more cruel situations I can remember Austen Arnaud will not be allowed to compete in his final home game.  Of course, being a person of such high character he is still saying and doing all the right things.  Actions, that if in his situation, I wouldn’t be able to duplicate myself.

It will be on senior day Saturday that he will rely on the rest of the seniors and other teammates to notch the elusive sixth victory of the season.  Beating Missouri is certainly a tall task but there are a few positives amidst the negatives working in Iowa State’s favor.  While Austen Arnaud has done great things on the field during his time as a Cyclone, perhaps his best attribute has been his leadership.  Those leadership qualities will still be on display and available on Saturday and the rest of the week leading up to the game.

All of the intangibles that were on Colorado’s side on Saturday are now swinging in favor of the Cyclones.  It’s a one shot, all or nothing game for Iowa State fighting for their bowl lives.  Given what ISU has done under the tutelage of Coach Rhoads, if you’re Gary Pinkel do you want to walk in to this situation?  Bowl eligibility on the line, Senior Day, playing for all of the seniors, playing for your injured team leader, for a cold night game when the Tigers have little to play for.  The only thing left that Missouri has to play for is bowl positioning…which supposedly is a point of motivation for some Missouri players after being leaped by ISU in the selection process last year.

All of that said, Missouri hasn’t been ranked in the Top 20 for most of the season because they are a bad football team.  They have spent time in the Top 10 and beat Oklahoma, clearly an accomplished team.  But funny things can happen on Senior Day, with intangibles and emotions so heavily favoring the underdog.  It will be nothing less than a tight spot full of tension for Pinkel’s Tigers.

Nobody cares but that is what happened on senior day of my basketball career.  We were 5-16 playing Brent Blum’s above average Waukee Warriors.  It wasn’t a pretty game—in fact, it was dreadfully ugly from my recollection—but in the end, we were still able to beat a much better team led by Max Book and Cory Wierson (former Cyclone offensive lineman—not fun for tall skinny guys to guard, speaking from experience).

Fluky and funky things can happen on senior day and ISU’s bowl hopes this season hinge on that and all the other emotional advantages that will be in their favor.  It would be another unlikely win during the Paul Rhoads tenure but I just can’t count out the possibility given what we have learned in the past 24 games.  It is more likely than not that Arnaud will be in street clothes on the sideline Saturday with impending surgery on his torn ACL and MCL.  It is my hope that whether the game is won or lost the final snap can be Arnaud taking a knee.  A moment like that, hopefully following a victory would leave me, well…speechless.