AMES — Iowa State’s star tailback, Mike Warren, almost went to Toledo. That’s a well-known fact. But when then-Rockets associate head coach Lou Ayeni chose to relocate to Ames in January 2014, Warren eventually came with him.
Fast forward to this last tumultuous week. Seventh-year Cyclones head coach Paul Rhoads is fired last Sunday. Warren is understandably upset. A swift search ensues and ISU athletics director Jamie Pollard offers the job to Toledo coach Matt Campbell. The deal is then finalized. Campbell is formally named the Cyclones’ new coach on Sunday afternoon via a news release. Warren tries to absorb it all — how life’s twists and turns often tunnel through hidden passages, eventually completing a full circle.
“It’s just crazy,” Warren said after a Pollard-led team meeting. “So I don’t know if it was fate.”
It was something. In one week, ISU parted ways with the beloved and fiery Rhoads, finished the season at 3-9 and 2-7 in Big 12 play, and found and secured a new man to forge a fresh path.
“I was heartbroken, I was sad, I was upset, but just like anything, it’s a quick turnaround,” said junior linebacker and captain Levi Peters. “We just played a game yesterday and we have a new head coach today. You’ve got to stay positive and you’ve got to be ready for the next challenge.”
The Cyclones vow to do just that, but to call the last week a whirlwind wouldn’t do the seven-day span emotional justice.
“The days went by, like, slow, very slow, but the week went by so fast,” said leading receiver Allen Lazard, who described Rhoads as “a hero” on Monday. “It’s already over and stuff.”
And now a new beginning. Campbell, who turned 36 today, will be officially introduced as the next head coach at Monday’s noon news conference. He went 35-15 in four seasons as the Rockets’ head man. Toledo beat ISU 30-23 in double overtime on Sept. 19 and afterwards Campbell sought out Warren for a brief conversation.
“He asked if I remembered him and I said, ‘Of course, I almost came here,’” recalled Warren, who rushed for 1,339 yards and five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman this season. “Just a very good guy.”
Nothing’s concrete when it comes to Campbell’s new staff, though. Presumably, Ayeni will be retained and possibly elevated to associate head coach as well as running backs coach as he was at Toledo.
"That means a lot just sticking with him since he’s taught me everything so far," Warren said. "Just (good) to have a mentor like that stick around instead of having somebody else new come in.”
Warren said he never thought of transferring in the wake of the Rhoads news, despite a smattering of rumors to the contrary.
“Oh no, no, no,” Warren said. “I’m not going anywhere. You just have to stick through hard times and finish it out, because the most important thing you come here for is the education, so just staying here to get my education would be worth it.”
He’s staying for much more. Call it fate, chance, or making the best of a tough situation. Warren and his teammates are ready to move on with Campbell and the staff he assembles.
“You’ve just got to adapt and keep moving on, because if you ponder on the past you’re never going to be able to move forward,” Warren said. “So I’m definitely excited about the future.”
Slowly, the sadness associated with Rhoads’ dismissal will recede — never fully, but to a degree. Excitement and a fresh outlook will replace it. One era ends, another commences.
“I expect to win a lot of games next year,” Lazard said. “We’re a very talented group up there in the locker room right now and hopefully we can only add to that with this new recruiting class and with what the coaches can do with that. So I think we have a pretty tight bond up there. If we just stick together and work hard there will be a lot of success.”
That’s the plan. Campbell will help implement it. Warren will charge ahead, letting his teammates know what their new coach is all about.
“Really laid back, chill guy,” Warren said. “I think he has every piece of the puzzle.”