After the crowd cleared during Paul Rhoads’ media session at the Big 12’s annual media days in Dallas, I was able to catch up with Iowa State’s head coach for what was mostly a one-on-one session.
Here are Rhoads’ thoughts on everything from program progress to recruiting to scheduling and more.
You’re about to enter year No. 5 at Iowa State. Are you pleased with where the program is at right now?
“I’m pleased but certainly far from satisfied. I don’t think there is any such thing as actually being right on schedule. But if you would have asked me when I took the job and we went into the first season, ‘Will you be happy if you’ve gone to three bowls, four years from now?’ Your dang right. I would have been ecstatic. So now it is time to take that proverbial next step. That next step for us is getting into the top half of the league. We haven’t done that. How do you do that? Well games that we’ve lost by two, four and six, you start finding ways to win those games. How do you do that? You execute better over the course of 60 minutes more so than the team you are playing.”
How good is your team going to be this year?
“I know this. We are going to be very competitive and I know we are challenged by where people think we are going to finish. I know the group of guys that I have got. If they grow and mature like I think they will, yeah, I think we will win more games than people think we will.”
Believe it or not, I’ve heard a lot of Big 12 coaches talk about wanting to play even faster in 2013 than they have in the past.
“Our league is going to allow it. We are going to have eight officials. One will spot the ball faster and not slow the game down. It is going to happen.”
Right. Well during spring ball, you talked a lot about how 1-11, your defense was flying to the ball faster than you’ve ever seen before. If that’s the case, is your 2013 defense more equipped to deal with these spread offenses than what you’ve had in the past?
“There is such a mental piece that goes along with that and a maturity piece that goes along with that. You can be fast and athletic and be able to run but once you start getting fatigued because you’re having to think and keep up with it, that gets stripped from you. As long as we have the mental toughness and as long as we know exactly what it is that we’re doing then yes, I think we can be as equipped as we ever have been with the defense that we put out.”
You’ve got another brutal non-conference schedule ahead of you this fall with a road trip to Tulsa as a highlight. Iowa State and Tulsa generally don’t play each other three times in 13 months. What is that game going to be like?
“I think it will be very intense. We beat them. They didn’t like it. They got a chance to gain revenge and went out and did it the right way. They physically outplayed us and beat us. Now that shoe is on our foot. We have that taste of defeat from that last game so I think it will be a very intense match-up vs. two teams that when they get in their stances and they look across and they see whatever it is, they will know who they are going up against.”
Have you noticed a bump in recruited because of the new facility already?
“I noticed it during the blueprint stage. I noticed it more during the concrete and steel stage. Certainly I have noticed it more once it came to fruition and we started living out of it. This year’s recruiting class has certainly been more impacted because it is all done. Everything that takes place is inside. They recognize the efficiency of it. Even a 17 or 18-year old appreciates doing more with less. That is what our people have done with it.”
*** Being that the Big 12 is currently playing a nine-game conference schedule, that means that the slates aren’t even. One year a program will have four home games and five road trips. It changes the next. So what about playing a stand-alone neutral site game with another program (like Kansas or Kansas State) to even things out?
“I don’t like the split, four/five. With the fact that we are going to continue to play nine games which I am in favor of, I would be in favor of working out a 4-4-1 type of split to keep it even,” said Rhoads. “Kansas and Kansas State are certainly the first schools you look at because you could play at a site like Arrowhead and both folks can get to. I am not interested in playing a Texas school at Cowboys Stadium or something like that. There is nothing about that that favors me. There is no neutrality to that. If it remains four and five and I get that five-year, that evens out. But keeping it even every year with 4-4-1, I certainly would see advantages to that.”
*** The Des Moines Register’s Randy Peterson asked Rhoads about keeping all of his running backs happy…
“I don’t have any strong feeling whatsoever that we are going to keep all of those guys happy. It’s just not going to happen. That’s when you hope that the importance of the team comes to light and our team success that is going along with it becomes more important than their individual happiness. I have coached a lot of victories as an assistant coach and as a head coach and seen guys sulking and disappointed. That’s the selfish beast that you have to kick out of your team to build a great program.”