WATN: Former Iowa State athlete Austin McBeth on coaching, impacting young people, and advice for ISU hoops newcomers

Austin McBeth‘s experience as a student-athlete at Iowa State was perhaps one of the most unique since the turn of the century. Originally a member of Paul Rhoads’ football program in the 2010 season, McBeth eventually found his way onto the men’s basketball roster when Fred Hoiberg’s program was in dire need of bodies to even field a competitive practice.

Recently, I caught up with McBeth, who is now an assistant basketball coach at Truman State University, to discuss his time at ISU as well as his journey post-graduation that has resulted in him fulfilling his dream of becoming a coach.

Fitz: You started your Iowa State career as a walk-on quarterback for the football team after playing a season at Iowa Western, then wound up joining the basketball program at the beginning of Fred Hoiberg’s tenure. Can you walk through how the dominoes fell to get you onto the basketball team? What was running through your head during the transition?

McBeth: “I loved being on the football team at Iowa State. Coach Rhoads was a great leader, and I learned so much from [then-offensive coordinator] Tom Herman. I enjoyed being on the team, but I didn’t know if there would ever be a chance to get playing time at the quarterback position. When my high school career was ending, I was having a difficult time choosing between pursuing football and basketball, which is why I went to a junior college to play both. So when Iowa State offered me a position to play football, I took it.”

“I was really missing basketball at the end of my redshirt sophomore season (in 2010) and just started playing pick-up. I knew the basketball team had five transfers that weren’t able to play their first year, so Coach Hoiberg had a pretty small roster.”

“I reached out to Jeff Rutter, who at the time was the director of basketball operations because I knew him from going to Iowa State elite camps growing up. I asked if there was an opportunity for me to walk on to the team, and he said he would ask Coach Hoiberg. After meeting, they decided they wanted to stick with the roster that they had.” 

“I went home for Christmas break, and was working out every day with my friend, Alex Vogel, and playing a lot of basketball. Iowa State was on the road at Virginia and Scott Christopherson hurt his elbow during pregame and wasn’t sure if he would be able to play. Between his minor injury and another scholarship player transferring at semester, their roster was even smaller than before.”

“The day after they got back from Virginia, I got a call that night from Coach Hoiberg saying their staff met and decided to re-consider adding a walk on or two to the team. He said he couldn’t promise anything, but if I was still interested I could come back to campus and try out the next morning. So, I packed up my stuff and drove back to Ames in the morning to try out for Fred and assistant coach T.J. Otzelberger.”

“Drew Mitchell, who was a teammate of mine on the football team, was also there to try out. After about a 30-minute workout, Coach Hoiberg said he liked what he saw, and would love for us to be a part of the team.”

“The craziest part of my transition was that we had a non-conference home game against Northern Illinois that night in Hilton. Drew and I got in the game with two or three minutes left, and I went from a football player to a basketball player in less than 24 hours. To this day, it’s one of the coolest things that I’ve ever experienced. And it set me up to pursue what I’m doing today – which is coaching at the collegiate level in basketball.”

Fitz: You mentioned you’re coaching in the college ranks now… Where have you been in your coaching career up to this point? What did you learn from Coach Hoiberg that you’ve adopted in your own coaching style – both from an X’s and O’s standpoint as well as the relationships/business side of coaching?

McBeth: “I’ve had a pretty adventurous coaching career so far. In the eight years I’ve been a collegiate coach, I’ve been at four different schools.

I started at Montreat College in Black Mountain, NC. Then I came back to Ames to work at Championship Productions, where I created an online skills training program called Smart Basketball Training. I was also a volunteer assistant coach at DMACC. Then, I was offered a full-time position at the University of Illinois-Springfield and was there for two seasons. “

“Former Iowa Hawkeye Jeff Horner was named the new head coach at Truman State University in the summer of 2018 and asked me to come to be his assistant. We’ve just finished our second year together and were fortunate enough to win the Great Lakes Valley Conference regular-season championship, and conference tournament championship.”

“Coach Hoiberg is one of the best basketball minds I have been around in my basketball career. I learned countless things about spacing, offensive philosophy, and analytics from him. So much so, that I wrote a book back in 2016 that blended my understanding of the game from the things that I picked up along the way: The Gap Theory.”

“I also always appreciated Coach Hoiberg’s temperament as a head coach. Understanding a lot more about the pressures of this profession, I can’t imagine the scrutiny he was under on a daily basis as a Power 5 head coach. I thought he was always true to himself and was a very kind and compassionate leader toward all of us players.”

Fitz: Now that you’ve been part of the coaching ranks for a few years, have you had any experiences that changed your perspective on coaching that you might have held while you were a student-athlete? How do you use your own past as an athlete to connect to your current players?

McBeth: “The main thing I have realized from being on this side of basketball is how impressionable young men and women are. As a player, I was always focused on my dreams, goals, and development. But as a coach, I’ve realized how responsible we are as coaches for our players’ mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.”

“As a 19-year-old, it’s very easy to only think about “making it to the league“, but too often I don’t think athletes truly understand the impact their coaches have on their development beyond sports until their time together is over.”

“Looking back at my athletic career, there’s one coach in particular that has always stood out in my mind as my “favorite coach“, and when I really think about why he holds that place – it’s because he genuinely wanted a relationship with me beyond the court/field. And I now have that opportunity, day-in, and day-out, to be that person for my players. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.”

Fitz: What’s the end goal for your coaching career? Do you want to be a head coach someday? If so, what level would you most want to be at?

McBeth: “The ultimate end goal is to impact as many young men as possible – for each of my players to leave the program I’m part of knowing that I love them, and hopefully that they want to lead their families, household, and businesses the way I led them.”

“I do, however, want to be a head coach. That’s a strong desire of mine because I think it will give me more influence as well as a greater impact. I also believe I have a lot to offer as far as X’s and O’s, philosophy, and way of teaching.”

“I initially started my coaching career with a “Division I or bust” mentality. After playing in the Big 12, it’s hard to not want to coach at that level, but having grown a lot in my faith and now having a wife to consider, I am content with not reaching that level if it’s not what God has planned for me. I still would like to stay at the Division II level if possible, because I think it’s a great level with tons of talent.”

Fitz: Outside of coaching at Truman State, what else do you have going on in your life currently? 

McBeth: “I love to golf! With the COVID-19 shutdown pretty much ending all contact with our team, I’ve been working on my game! I also spend a lot of time with my wife, working out, watching Netflix, and we’ve both started reading a lot more.”

“One of the exciting things for me right now is the release of my newest book, called The Sweet Sixteen. As I talked about in one of your earlier questions, I have a huge heart for young adults and have learned from my career what a powerful impact we have on younger generations. During our 2018-19 season, God put it on my heart to write another book and to talk about the increase of abuse in sports. The contrast between some of the things coaches say during interviews, or motivating speeches and the way they act in the heat of practice or the pressure of a high-stakes game breaks my heart.”

“I think as a society, we’ve grown numb to the emotional and verbal abuse that happens between coaches and players, and unfortunately we’ve even turned a blind eye to the physical and sexual abuse. As a coach and a Christ-follower, I felt it was my obligation to speak out about it. My hope is that this book will really challenge people to reevaluate their leadership and be open to seeing what 16 characteristics the Bible says love looks like.”

Fitz: What would you say to a coach that considers themselves more “old-school” in that they believe coaching with an iron fist is the way to get the most out of their players? Do you think the concept you discuss in your book is specific to sports, or is there some cross-over with everyday work/life as well?

McBeth: “That’s a great question, and I believe that’s where I will receive the most push-back from people. I think what each person has to do as they read the book, and wrestle with the discrepancies between the way they act or think and the perspective that I give, is evaluate what the purpose of their influence is. As coaches, parents, CEOs, and leaders of anything – you hold a position of authority, and that authority has a purpose.”

“In America, we have achieved so much success, wealth, and notoriety, that it has become appealing to the point of addicting. The stance that I take in The Sweet Sixteen is that winning is the goal, but love is the purpose. And a goal should never outweigh purpose.”

“To a coach who strongly believes that “ruling with an iron fist” is the way to get the most out of their players, I would ask them if they’ve ever tried it a different way to know whether it’s the best way. I would also ask them what their relationship with their former players is like now that they’re done. If the answer to the second question isn’t an answer they enjoy reminiscing about, I think it’s worth trying to achieve your goal a different way.”

“I’ve never heard of someone say at the end of a person’s life, the thing they cherish the most is “how much they got out of their players” by any means necessary. I think what people come to realize very sincerely at the end of their life, is that relationships and love are the measuring stick of a fulfilling life.”

“Regarding your second question about crossover with work and life, if anyone read my answer to the first question and felt like it resonated with any relationship in their life, then this book is for you.”

Fitz: Bringing things full circle, Steve Prohm has four freshmen coming into his program this fall and will likely pick up some more transfers as well. Do you have any advice for players beginning their time in Ames / as a Cyclone specifically, and what advice would you give athletes beginning their college athletics career in general across the country?

McBeth: To the incoming freshmen/transfers, Ames is an amazing place. Very few schools in the country will provide the support, care, and “home away from home” environment that you’re going to get at Iowa State. Don’t take it for granted.

After that, I would speak to a few different aspects of them as a person:

As a student: Be committed to your academics, and don’t think you’re too talented to need an education. Life goes on long after the ball stops bouncing.

As an athlete: Don’t just work hard when it’s convenient or easy. Give your best effort and be a great teammate. Your talent wasn’t given to you on accident, or to be selfish with.

As a young man away from home, potentially for the first time: Use wisdom in your daily decision making. Your college experience is so much shorter than it may feel, and the consequences of your decisions typically last a lot longer than the feelings you will probably experience. 

In your faith journey, as someone created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-28): Earnestly consider what the Bible says as you grow and develop your personal faith. You have a purpose and you matter far beyond your ability to hoop. Everyone has to put their faith in something, and I ask you to consider Jesus Christ. He loves you more than you will ever know, and He wants to have a relationship with you.

And lastly, as a fellow Cyclone: We are a part of the brotherhood. My email address is [email protected]. If you ever need anything; advice, guidance, someone to listen, or anything else, hit me up. I would give these same pieces of advice to any young man or woman starting their college career!