The following is a special column to Cyclone Fanatic written by former Iowa State and NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels.
I have known Paul Rhoads for over half my life. I’ve always liked him.
As a freshman at Iowa State, Rhoads was our defensive backs coach. He taught disciplined and tough football in a style his players respected. As the quarterback of the scout team, I had a chance to see him work every day. Some of my closest college friends were DBs and in four years I never heard one of them complain about Paul as a coach. Not one said he was dishonest. Not one said he didn’t know what he was talking about. Not one said he wasn’t fair. Every single one of them would say he was without a doubt head coach material. The longer you are around football the more rare you see that type of respect.
After my junior year in Ames, he got a promotion to defensive coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh. From what I recall, both players and coaches were happy for him even though we were going to lose one of our best coaches.
The following year we, as most of you will recall, played against Pitt in the Insight.com Bowl. It was the only time I got to play against his defenses.
Preparing for Pitt and a Paul Rhoads’ coordinated defense was a challenge. His team played hard. Their schemes were sound and aggressive. He liked to blitz and harass quarterbacks. That’s what I saw when I watched a full season’s worth of film on them.
After leaving college, I had one run-in with Coach Rhoads in his time away from Ames. It was a Thursday night game in the old Orange Bowl when Pitt played against one of the all-time talent rich teams, the 2002 Miami Hurricanes. I spoke with Paul very briefly on the sidelines before the game. I don’t recall what we said in the conversation but I do remember his intensity and focus before kickoff. Led by a true freshman named Larry Fitzgerald, Pitt played the ‘Canes right to the end before losing a nail biter. Paul’s defense competed hard and played well against an offense that included Andre Johnson, Willis McGahee, Kellen Winslow and Frank Gore. I had a chance to roam the sidelines that night and see him coach with passion as his players believed they would win until the game was over.
Since he’s been in Ames, Coach Rhoads has been nothing but respectful to my former teammates and me. He’s returned phone calls and texts whenever I wanted to discuss the team or to get a sideline pass. He treated us well and every one of us wanted him to win.
But, he hasn’t won. At least he hasn’t won enough to keep his job. Those in charge believed it was time for a change. That’s sports.
This is a dark day for Iowa State. It’s never good when you have to start looking for a new coach because of a lack of wins. It makes recruiting tougher, puts the current players in limbo, and makes for an unhappy or even angry fan base. Nobody is celebrating.
Most thought Coach Rhoads was a perfect fit for the job. He grew up just a few miles away and the Cyclones found themselves in bowl games in three of his first four seasons. His teams played hard, they believed, and his press conferences captured the passion of the fans. But those things get forgotten when you win 8 games in three years.
As Coach Rhoads moves on to his next coaching job, I wish him nothing but success and hopefully another chance to be a head coach. I hope he proves the doubters wrong and makes this decision to fire him a mistake. He has represented Iowa State with nothing but class for seven seasons. People from around the country have regularly commented to me how much they love watching him coach. They love his fire on the field and how he fights for a call. They love his passion when he backs his players after a blown call costs the Cyclones a win. He hasn’t seen his last days roaming the sidelines. Paul Rhoads is a football coach.
He has a run a clean program which is important to the values of the people who love Iowa State. He is well respected around the world of college and pro football. He has brought honor and notoriety to Iowa State football with wins against big-time programs such as Nebraska, Texas, and 2nd ranked Oklahoma State. For that I believe we must say THANK YOU.
Thanks Coach for giving your heart and soul to our football program. We know you love Iowa State just as much as we do. We appreciate and are thankful for everything you have accomplished for our program. Good luck wherever your next Job takes you. You are a first class football coach and family man.