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Football

WILLIAMS: What’s next? Analysis and a candidates list

It was a business decision.

On Sunday morning, Iowa State made the call to dismiss Paul Rhoads as its head football coach after going 32-54 overall in seven years while leading the Cyclones.

Unfortunately, I’ve been thinking about how to write this column for a few months now. 

This wasn’t a toxic situation. Rhoads, who led Iowa State to three bowl games in his first four years, still has a very healthy relationship with most boosters, the AD and president, I’m told.

This is why the school is allowing Rhoads to coach next week at West Virginia.

But after Saturday’s collapse at Kansas State (not to mention what happened a week before against Oklahoma State), “confidence in the coaching staff has been lost,” said one source.

This wasn’t a situation where you had the AD fighting for a guy and the president trying to fire him. High dollar boosters are never unanimous but there wasn’t a significant amount of noise surfacing to not make a move here, according to another source.

Rhoads’ buyout is a reported $4.5 million but with the big business that is college football, the feeling is that losing fan support (Iowa State sold a record number of season tickets in 2015) would be more of a hit.

Make a change and as is usually the case, it’s possible to sell hope for next season and a team that will have the talent to reach the postseason.

So what’s next for this football program?

Before I get to a list of potential candidates to replace him, I want to get a few things off of my chest as far as where I’d like to see the program go and the challenges that lie ahead.

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First, the good news

I don’t believe that Iowa State is the “coaching graveyard” that it used to be when Dan McCarney’s teams were dodging the badminton club while practicing at the crowded Lied Rec Center when the weather got cold. 

Iowa State’s facilities that include a brand new football complex, a state of the art weight room, indoor practice building and more, are now up to par with much of the Big 12. 

I just got back from visiting Ole Miss in the SEC this weekend. Iowa State’s stadium is better than theirs.

So the legwork that Jamie Pollard has been doing over the last 10 years should pay off for the coach who replaces Rhoads.

Three not-so positive nuggets

1) This is as heavy of a year for coach firings as I can remember in college football. The competition on the market (which is why I think ISU announced this hiring now — to get a head start on finding a replacement) has never been thicker.

2) Two American Conference programs — Memphis and Houston — just offered their head coaches (Justin Fuentes and Tom Herman) upwards of $3 million a year. If Iowa State wants to hire anybody with any sort of a name at all, the price is going to be steep.  

3) Facilities are better at Iowa State but the overall perception of the job (nationally) is unfortunately not much different thanks to the Big 12’s current nine-game conference schedule. Multiple sources within the coaching/agent ranks confirmed this to me throughout the day on Sunday. 

What to look for in the next coach

*** I have a couple of thoughts on if the next coach needs to have Iowa State ties.

Part of me says no, as it isn’t like there’s much tradition here to begin with. Perhaps a complete overhaul when it comes to culture is exactly what this program needs. 

The other part of my mind says that it’s critically important for the person in charge here to know exactly what he is getting into and embrace that challenge.

A rogue idea that I think is a good one: Get a Tom Wilson (Dowling Catholic) or Gary Swenson (Valley) on the next staff. Get somebody on the next staff whose connections to the Iowa high school ranks are second to none.

Former Cyclone and NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels would be an idea. That’s a guy who could recruit to Iowa State. 

But there aren’t many top-level recruits in Iowa, right? If you want to mimic Baylor, no. If you play a little different style….

*** And that leads me to the style question….

What I’d love to see is for Iowa State be the Stanford of the Big 12. Line up and hit you in the mouth but not exactly run a gimmick offense. This is how Kansas State has had success during the Bill Snyder era — an era that could very well be coming to an end in the next week or so. With Iowa State’s returning some intriguing personnel (specifically Joel Lanning, Mike Warren and Allen Lazard) on that side of the ball, the next coach is going to have a decent chance to be successful as early as next season.

Names I believe could be legitimate candidates

Scott Frost, Oregon’s offensive coordinator – Best known as Nebraska’s quarterback from 1995-1997, Frost, now 40, has been Oregon’s offensive coordinator since 2009. He’s young, hip, knows how to recruit at a high-level and is a Midwestern and Big 12 guy. Frost notably coached at Northern Iowa from 2007-2008.

Tony Alford, assistant head coach at Ohio State – I like Tony a lot. He was Dan McCarney’s running back’s coach from 1997-2000 and again from 2002-06 when he was also the assistant head coach. He’s a heck of a recruiter and knows the lay of the land in Ames but has never led his own program. Perhaps now is the time? 

Ken Niumatalolo, Navy head coach – A Paul Johnson protégé, Niumatolo has the Midshipmen at 9-1 this season and they’ve averaged eight wins per season since he took over as the head coach in 2007.

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Troy Calhoun, Air Force head coach – He’s 49 with head coaching experience, an interesting style of play and an NFL background. This is a guy with a great reputation around the coaching ranks too.

Matt Wells, Utah State head coach – I like this name a lot. He’s 42 years old, has a 25-14 record as a head coach at Utah State. His brother and Utah State offensive coordinator, Luke, coached under Rhoads early in his tenure, played at Oklahoma and has a number of Big 12 ties. Matt is a Utah State grad though, which could keep him on that side of the state. 

P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan head coach – Another young guy who I really, really like. Fleck, 34, is an Illinois native who played college ball at Northern Illinois and had a cup of coffee in the NFL (coaching wide receivers for the Bucs in 2012). Do a little searching of Fleck and you’ll see the charismatic side that he brings to a program. Is he ready for the Big 12 though? Who knows.

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Dino Babers, Bowling Green head coach – At the age of 54, Babers received his first head coaching opportunity in 2012-13 at Eastern Illinois and is in the middle of his second season at Bowling Green, a MAC program that is currently 8-3. Babers, who coached at Baylor from 2008-2011, is an Art Briles disciple. 

Charlie Partridge, Florida Atlantic head coach – Not a sexy hire but this 41-year old was a GA at Drake back from 1996-1997 and Iowa State in 1998-1999. He just took over as Florida Atlantic’s head coach in 2014. This team notably took Florida to overtime yesterday. He is a Drake/Iowa State graduate, spent a good chunk of time at Pitt and Wisconsin and would no doubt be very interested in this job.

Kendal Briles, Baylor offensive coordinator – Fans give me a hard time for my “man crush” on Art Briles all of the time so and because of that, I could write a book about this name. He’s been named the Big 12’s “Recruiter of the Year” in 2013 and 2014 but is only 33 years old. He knows the Big 12 and is an elite recruiter in Texas but Ames, Iowa is a heck of a different beast than what Briles is used to. Personally, I would love this but still think it’s a bit of a long shot however, Briles is reportedly a candidate to be the new head coach at North Texas (so he’s obviously looking to leave). 

Having said all of that, I know the type of winner’s mentality his father has and if Kendall is anything like that, I’d love for him to end up at Iowa State. 

Chris Klieman, North Dakota State head coach – This would be a Jerry Kill type of hire for Iowa State. He’s 48 and not a sexy name but the guy knows how to win.

Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma offensive coordinator – He’s only 32 years old but has experience at Texas Tech and Oklahoma, knows the Big 12 and knows offense. Still, that’s pretty young and this is a pretty tough job. 

Brady Hoke, former Michigan/San Diego State coach – A source just told me that this is a realistic option. I’ll try to dig up more information. 

Don’t think these will happen but are worth mentioning 

Mike Leach, Washington State head coach – We all know about his past at Texas Tech from 2000 until 2009. Leach, an innovated 54-year old, has been at Washington State since 2012 and has somewhat started to revive that program. I just don’t see Jamie Pollard going this route though. Mark Mangino’s recent tenure at Iowa State won’t help Leaches chances either. However, I agree that this is an intriguing name to keep an eye on. 

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Justin Fuentes, Memphis head coach – A similar situation to that of Tom Herman (keep reading). I just think that Fuentes is going to be out of Iowa State’s market with so many jobs being open.

Steve Loney, assistant offensive line coach of the Dallas Cowboys – Every Cyclone knows this name. This 63-year old has spent a good chunk of his long career at Iowa State, is well respected and this truly is his dream job. My gut tells me he has next to no chance but it’s a name worth mentioning. This guy understands Iowa State’s situation more than anybody else in the world but as noted earlier, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing either. A complete change of culture might be what’s appropriate here and is probably working against him.

Brian Ferentz, offensive line coach at Iowa – Wouldn’t this be interesting? In all seriousness, he’s a bright young coach who will lead a program sooner rather than later.

Don’t waste your time

Tom Herman, Houston head coach – He’s one of the hottest names in all of college football right now. Iowa State won’t be able to afford him. Herman will end up with a job like USC or South Carolina. There’s no way he will be Iowa State’s next head coach.

Chris Ash, Ohio State defensive coordinator – I’ve heard for years that he’d never become ISU’s head coach for multiple reasons. Plus, you really think Pollard would go with a defensive coordinator this time around?

Les Miles, LSU head coach – Just stop.