STANZ: Pollard’s search for the “right person” and a new Iowa State way

Banners listing accomplishments achieved by the Iowa State Men’s basketball team hang in the rafters of Hilton Coliseum, on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Ames. (Kelsey Kramer, USA Today Sports)

It seems likely that the Iowa State men’s basketball team will have a new head coach sooner rather than later.

Roughly 14 hours after it was announced that Steve Prohm is no longer the man leading the program, Jamie Pollard released a video on Twitter detailing what comes next for the program, what he’ll be looking for in the next coach and how long he expects the search to take.

The simple synopsis for that final piece can be put simply as — not long.

“I anticipate the search will go pretty quickly,” Pollard said. “Why? With the landscape that we’re in now in college athletics with transfers being able to leave and be eligible right away at other schools and with the recruits that we’ve signed, we have a responsibility to those young men to be able to share with them, sooner than later, who their head coach is going to be, but I want to assure you we will not sacrifice the quality of the search, just to expedite the search.”

The quality of that search will be judged on Pollard’s ability to, as he put it, find the “right person.”

How you define the right person can on some level be left up to each individual, but it has become clear that an understanding of culture is more important at Iowa State than other schools. What happens on the court is where the next coach will be judged, but an understanding of the passion people have for this place and what it means to so many is a crucial first step.

Prohm certainly understood the culture, but he and his staff’s inability to ever find or pinpoint a recruiting focus led to a lot of their struggles along the way. They never really had what seemed like a defined style of play or identity.

His staff’s focus on recruiting the southeast made sense early considering that was where most of them had spent the majority of their careers, but that largely led to little or no success.

That means, in my mind, the next person (or the right person) at Iowa State must have a vision for how they’re going to turn this program around and get it back to where it needs to be–meaning competing for trips to the NCAA Tournament and near the top of the Big 12.

They need to arrive in Ames with a plan and blueprint for where they intend to focus their recruiting resources and how they intend to land their targets. They need to arrive with a style of play in mind and an idea of the players needed to make it work while still understanding the need to adapt or modify the system from year-to-year based on personnel.

Sounds a lot like the guy coaching in the Bergstrom Football Complex…

“It’s critical that you hire the right people,” Pollard said. “We see it all the time in our industry. People try to win the press conference. I can assure you, winning the press conference is not going to be our goal. Our goal is going to be to find the best person to be our head coach, and for Iowa State, the best person doesn’t mean just because somebody can win at another program that they can win at Iowa State. We’ve got to get the right person to be the head coach at Iowa State.”

I’m not saying Pollard has to go and find the next Matt Campbell. That would be a stupid thing to say because if Matt Campbell grew on trees then Iowa State’s Matt Campbell would be a lot less special.

There is something to be said for just having an understanding of what it takes to get things done at a certain place, though. Iowa State’s track record over the last decade leads to the belief that going against the grain can on some level be the best path to success in Ames.

Campbell arrived here talking about making this school the Big 12’s Midwest option. That’s how we got the joys of watching guys like David Montgomery and Mike Rose.

Fred Hoiberg rolled back into his hometown and arrived at his alma mater a little more than a decade ago then proceeded to change the landscape of college basketball — and college athletics, in general — forever by mining the transfer market.

Both of those guys struck gold and have led to unmatched success at Iowa State.

The transfer market’s impact on college basketball will only continue to grow, but it would be naive of anyone to think Iowa State can rule that game in the way it once did. Now even Hoiberg is learning how tough of a game that is to play in 2021.

Could Iowa State being the Big 12’s Midwest option work on the basketball court, as well? You’re certainly competing with more programs for high-level talent, but there’s plenty of talent to be found in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Nebraska and, yes, even Iowa.

I don’t know what the right answer is to all of this, but I think there is something to be said for creativity after a six-year period that had very little of it. We’ve seen how the Hoiberg formula played out once it wasn’t “The Mayor” pulling the strings any longer.

“It’s critical that our men’s basketball program be healthy,” Pollard said. “It’s so important to this community, to this institution, to our president, to our athletics department. And I have a responsibility to make sure it stays healthy.”

Developing an identity based off a style of play is the next most important factor for whoever takes over as the next head coach of Iowa State men’s basketball.

For Hoiberg, that meant high-flying, wide-open, fast-paced offenses built on 3-pointers, dunks and ball movement while mid-range jumpers were looked at in a similar light to the feeling in your stomach after you eat Taco Bell at 3 a.m. There are coaches who have won at Iowa State by using the opposite approach of hard-nosed, tough, defensive-minded players that will grind you out and wear you down for 40 minutes.

We haven’t seen much of either of those things in recent years outside of Prohm’s first two seasons and flashes of potential during one other.

Defense is the name of the game right now in the Big 12, a league ruled by the likes of Bill Self, Scott Drew, Bob Huggins and (gulp) Chris Beard. Defense is probably the easier of the two approaches to recruit with, but it requires the ability to get ultimate buy-in from players.

Relying on offense requires finding players who just have an innate ability to put the ball in the damn basket. The Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Matt Thomas, Scott Christopherson or Tyrus McGee type guys.

Bucket getters.

No matter which one is chosen, there can’t be a half-hearted dive into it. Lean into what you want to be and make it who you are. That’s the only way to become elite at anything in this sport in this day and age.

From there, you play complimentary basketball.

If you want to defend, you better play relatively slow on offense and deliberately to keep the batteries charged for the next defensive possession.

The only way around that is finding guys who can get buckets and defend at a high-level, like what Nate Oats has done this year at Alabama in developing a Hoiball hybrid (No. 34 in offensive efficiency and No. 9 in adjusted tempo on KenPom) that is also ELITE defensively (No. 2 in adjusted defensive efficiency), but that seems difficult to replicate at a consistent rate.

If you want to be all about getting buckets, you better be flying up and down that floor faster than the speed of light with the ball pulled off the rim or out of the net and pushed the other way fast enough to make fans wonder if they stumbled into a tennis match.

I’m tired of watching Iowa State basketball stumble around without an idea of who they are. Not knowing who you are and what you want to be in the end breeds mediocrity. You can’t be great at anything when you’re spending time worrying about being average to good at both.

Find your system, find the best players who fit it and develop the identity into the best it can be. That’s when you find high-level success in this sport.

Just ask (gulp, again) Beard what can happen when you get the players who fit your system and all of them buy into making it work to its maximum capacity. That’s when he’ll show you the national runner-up ring he got in his third season at Texas Tech.

It is time for Iowa State basketball to get back where it belongs.

Figuring out how to do that doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. It just means finding a new way to do things.

It means finding the best Iowa State Way.

“I want all of you to know. We will not sacrifice our integrity for winning,” Pollard said. “Whomever we hire is got to understand at Iowa State, you do the right thing, the first time. Coach Campbell, Coach Fennelly, Coach Prohm, all of our coaches do it the right way. That’s who we are, and that’s how we’re going to continue to be. So I want you to know that we will not sacrifice integrity for winning.”

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.