Nov 28, 2015; Morgantown, WV, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Paul Rhoads watches from the sidelines during the first quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
As we turned right and pulled off the main road towards the banks of Clear Lake, I tried to remember the last time I had seen Paul Rhoads. It was the day after he was fired as Iowa State’s head football coach in the fall of 2015.
He stood and took questions about losing his job, why things fell apart after a strong start to his tenure and more. It was quintessential Paul Rhoads. As losses started to pile up and a few cracks formed in the foundation of the program, he always stood and answered questions multiple times a week.
Losing his job after an epic collapse in Manhattan and before his final game on the road in Morgantown did not change that. I respected him a lot for it.
We pulled into the driveway. After a few moments, Iowa State’s former head football coach walked out to greet us for a brief interruption from a vacation before his first season as the defensive backs coach at UCLA.
“We’re still on California time around here,” Rhoads told Ankeny Fanatic publisher Dan Holm and I as we followed him into the kitchen. Waiting for us was a beautiful view of Clear Lake right outside the house’s back window.
“As they say, you had me at hello,” Rhoads said about the view. “So, tell me, what is a podcast?”
I was not surprised to hear that from the same guy who called Twitter “tweetering” and once referred to Facebook as “Facepage.” In fact, it was perfect.
We recorded our podcast in the cabin’s front room. Per usual, Rhoads was honest and open. He talked about preparing for his first season with the Bruins. He told us how it felt to be named the interim head coach at Arkansas moments after Brett Bielema was fired while walking off the field following his final game coaching the Razorbacks.
Of course, things turned towards his tenure with the Cyclones. It would be hard to tell Iowa State’s head football coach once lived in his house. There were no pictures or mementos spread throughout. No photographs commemorating some of the greatest moments in Iowa State football’s history.
There was only a towel. It was hung on the wall between the front door and the kitchen. It was one of the towels given out on Nov. 18, 2011, the night Iowa State upset No. 2 Oklahoma State in Jack Trice Stadium.
“We finally after moving to Fayetteville and not unpacking some boxes and making another move to Los Angeles still having those boxes, we finally opened them up and sorted through some things,” Rhoads said on the Ankeny Fanatic podcast featured as our Saturday podcast last week. “It was time to get rid of some things and get rid of a little weight.”
“Couple things that associate with the Oklahoma State game, I can promise you I didn’t get rid of.”
Dan asked Rhoads what he learned most from his time as Iowa State’s head coach. What can he carry with him whenever he is named a head coach again?
His answers were not overly surprising. It was a lot of the same kinds of things he said when asked those questions two and a half years ago in the Bergstrom Football Complex meeting room.
He talked a lot about culture, finding the right people and right personalities. It is a lot of the things you hear Matt Campbell talk about when he is breaking down what the current staff looks for in recruits.
Really, that is what Rhoads’ tenure always boiled down to in the end. The program had success, they did not bring in the right people, whether it be recruits or assistant coaches, the culture suffered and then the program suffered.
“Chip (Kelly) has a line that he likes to use, ‘You’ve got one jackass on your team, no big deal. You’ve got two of them, you’ve got a jackass farm before long.’ And we suffered that a little bit at Iowa State,” Rhoads said while drawing a line from his new boss in Westwood. “We got a couple bad seeds in the locker room and it affected us a little bit. You’ve got to work hard to stay away from that.”
The rest of the podcast went off without a hitch. Dan asked Rhoads about some of the tough questions facing our society today. Predictably, Rhoads was honest and gave his true opinion on all of them.
The podcast ended. We shot the breeze for a while longer. We shook hands. We left.
As we pulled out of the driveway and Coach Rhoads walked back inside his house on the banks of Clear Lake, 1,900 miles away from where his college football coaching career will continue next fall, I wondered if this would be the last time I would see Paul Rhoads, the first Power 5 head coach I covered in my career.
I hope it won’t be.