AMES — As ISU athletics director Jamie Pollard voiced his support, his football coach Paul Rhoads walked in.
The site: Applebee’s in Ames.
The frame of reference: Monday night’s CYdlines call-in radio show.
“Jamie and I have such an outstanding relationship and (we) are in constant communication,” said Rhoads, whose Cyclones (2-9, 0-8 Big 12) are 33-point underdogs against College Football Playoff hopeful Texas Christian (10-1, 7-1) in Saturday’s 11 a.m. game in Forth Worth. “The support, the encouragement, etcetera, that he gave last night on air is the same thing that he’s been giving to me on a weekly basis as we’ve hit this rough stretch.”
ISU stands 5-18 over the last two seasons.
Rhoads led the Cyclones to bowl berths — and one win — in three of the previous four seasons. So it’s no surprise he fully expects his first two-season bowl-less streak will precede a rebound in 2015.
“We’re two years out of postseason play and I don’t like that,” Rhoads said. “So the expectation will be to be playing in late December next year, certainly within these walls.”
Is it realistic? Time will tell.
But Rhoads is well aware that a lack of wins catches up with any coach at any school — as recent firings of Bo Pelini at Nebraska and Bill Blankenship at Tulsa demonstrate. He’s also cognizant of growing angst among the fan base as a second straight disappointing season draws to a close.
“People have been critical?” Rhoads said rhetorically. “Huh. I would expect so at 2-9. I would certainly expect them to be critical, especially on the heels of a 3-9 season. Regardless of what the history is of any program, people still want to win. People expect victories and so forth. Nobody expects them more than I do. I have — I compliment myself — I’ve done a nice job of putting on blinders because it’s been necessary to focus on this team and improving this team. And I have not in the least been distracted by any of that. But as I’ve told you, Jamie and I have a great relationship. That doesn’t mean he’ll keep me if I keep losing. It’s not that kind of relationship. This is a business world, but we all get that. My plan is to win in 2015 and to have to be worrying about that.”
The key to that probably lies behind Saturday’s scoreboard. Seventeen of ISU’s starters should return wiser and more powerful next season.
“The offseason’s going to determine a lot for these guys,” said ISU senior center Tom Farniok, who has developed into an NFL prospect. “They’ve got the best strength coach in the country (Yancy McKnight), hands down. Another season with him — they’ve got a lot of young guys that will get bigger and stronger, so we’ll see where the offseason will take them.”
Injuries have also hit the Cyclones hard for a second straight season, with top receiver Quenton Bundrage and leading linebacker Jevohn Miller among at least nine contributing players to be lost for 2014.
Bundrage, a junior, went down with a torn ACL four plays into the season-opening loss to North Dakota State. Miller, a senior, suffered a knee injury in the Oklahoma loss.
“Hopefully, yeah, we get some luck changes as far as our health is concerned,” Rhoads said.
Senior Bowl-bound tight end E.J. Bibbs could be the latest to see his season cut short.
ISU’s leading receiver (45 catches) and touchdown producer (eight) sat out last week’s loss to West Virginia because of a knee injury and is questionable for Saturday’s game against the Horned Frogs.
“We’re not going to put any stress on it leading up to it,” Rhoads said, “So it won’t be, ‘Let’s see how he is Wednesday after practice, or Thursday.’ It will be when it’s time to go play the game, how’s he doing?”
With or without the likely future pro, hanging with TCU will be difficult. The Horned Frogs plopped 82 points on Texas Tech five weeks ago and have scored 41 or more points in seven games this season.
“They want to beat the heck out of us,” Rhoads said. “I kept that clean. Whether it’s style points or not, they want to flat-out beat the heck out of us Saturday in Forth Worth and leave no doubt that they’re one of the four best teams in the country. Our guys know that. They know exactly that. They know they’re going to have to play their best to have an opportunity to match up, to compete.”
Do that and they can stride into those offseason workouts with at least a measure of positive momentum — and shore up Rhoads’ optimism for 2015 and beyond.
“We’re going to be a better football team,” Rhoads said. “Simply stated, because we’re going to have more experience. We’re going to be physically more developed. We’ve got some key playmakers coming back. We’ve got an understanding of an offense two years running, so there are a lot of things in our favor as we go towards 2015.”
MUTCHERSON OUT AGAIN: Rhoads said former starting safety T.J. Mutcherson remains on the team, even though he’s not listed on the depth chart. He was suspended last week for violating team rules. “His suspension will remain in effect through this game,” Rhoads added.
RHOADS ON BEING A “SURVIVOR”: Rhoads elaborated on a theme he explored last week when asked about what it takes to be remain a long-time college football coach. “You approach it just like I ask our football team: ‘Are you attacking the field or are you going out there just to get by?’” Rhoads said. “But that attack approach in your everyday work ethic is what allows you to survive in this business. And if you don’t have thick skin and if you’re not tough and if you’re not willing to put your nose to the grindstone, it will eat you up.”
FARNIOK ON HIS BOWL AND HIS TEAM’S CRITICS: ISU’s standout center said he’s obviously excited to take part in the Jan. 17 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Carson, Calif. The Sioux Falls, S.D. native learned of his selection via e-mail. “It’s another shot to really prove myself,” Farniok said. He’s done trying to do that for folks who snipe angrily at the Cyclones on social media and in less strident tones around campus. “I just ignore them because at the end of the day they wish they could be doing what I do,” Farniok said. “Most of the time these people who come up and say something to you, they were JV in high school, so it’s kind of like, ‘Who are you to say something to someone that actually knows what they’re doing?’ But I mostly keep my mouth shut because they’re not worth it.”