Call him a macro manager.
When big ideas turn into brick-and-mortar actions — be it the still-gleaming Bergstrom Football Complex, or the nearly complete South End Zone Project, Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads adopts a hands-on approach.
Then he starts moving.
“I walked through the Bergstrom Football Complex a lot as it really started taking shape,” Rhoads said last week. “And I drive form Hilton, north to south, towards Jack Trice (Stadium) right now and watch the development taking place.”
Cosmetically speaking, the Cyclones’ program is in the midst of a welcomed — and needed — makeover.
The Bergstrom facility has wowed recruits and brought former ISU players back to train in the NFL’s offseason.
The South End Zone Project adds aesthetic appeal, as well as convenience and extra seating (plus beer, wine and spirits, if you’re of age and able to pay) for fans choosing to populate the new area once the Sept. 5 opener against Northern Iowa rolls around.
“The look of it right now is a big-time college football stadium,” said Rhoads, who plans to try to match that look with dramatically better results than his team achieved while going 5-19 the past two seasons. “This is a piece that’s coming to fruition for a lot of people, not just the administration and school officials and football coaches past and present. This is an entire fan base that has desired this. And come Sept. 5 we’re all going to get an opportunity to live it for the first time. It’s really exciting, the feel right now, of what it adds to our university and our football program.”
Obviously, all of that’s window dressing, however impressive and shiny and long-awaited.
It’s not news that ISU fans are starved for more on-the-field success. So 2015 is less about the “entrance” and more about the departure, or departures, say to a bowl game for the first time since 2012.
Seem outlandish after recent struggles?
Appeared that way when Rhoads took over the program in 2009, too.
“I’m most excited about the make-up of our team right now; the personality of our team, the culture that we’re trying to — recreate is probably a fair word,” said Rhoads, who surprised many by taking a team riding a 10-game losing streak into 2009 to a 7-6 mark and the program’s only bowl win since the Dan McCarney era. “When we got here, we created the culture that we wanted quite quickly and the result of that was a bowl championship. For this reason and that reason, we hiccuped and we dropped with that and we’ve worked hardest in this offseason to recreate that. And I think through the kids, through the staff and so forth, we’ve done an excellent job of doing that. They feel that and you can feel that around them right now. That’s one piece.”
Culture’s one thing.
Restoring winning football’s another.
Confidence-building and its maintenance will again be a focus for Rhoads and his staff this season.
He acknowledged the spate of injuries that struck each of the past two seasons not only thinned the amount of Big 12-ready players, but also led to downturned heads and the many travails — a dropped pass here, a missed tackle there — that snowball into blowout losses and losing streaks.
“You don’t just say, ‘My gosh, we’re going to be confident,’” Rhoads said. “‘We’ve got to change and I want you to play confident.’ That’s something you develop. It doesn’t just come on game day because you’re successful, ‘OK, now we’re successful. Now I’m starting to be confident.’ It’s a full process of getting stronger, developing your skills so you see that skill growth on the field against yourselves when you’re working it. The accuracy in throwing the ball. The consistency in catching the ball. More defensive bodies around a ball carrier instead of tackling in the open field. And as you start to do that and you face some obstacles, you gain some confidence before you get to game day, and then certainly against UNI, we need to enhance that confidence.”
Just like that entrance.
Jack Trice Stadium will look its best come September. The scoreboard from week to week? That’s to be determined — and a lot hangs in the balance.
“People want to win, but every year’s a big year,” ISU athletics director Jamie Pollard said. “Ours is a tough job and it’s proven (to be) that by looking at history. But at the same time, the coaches know it — they’re paid a lot of money to achieve results, both on and off the field. Our staff does a tremendous job of everything they do and hopefully this year we’ll see more success on the field because it’s more fun for the players and the fans and the athletics director.”