As the sun sets on this debacle of a season, I’ve been reflecting on both the 2009-2010 campaign and the McDermott era as a whole. Frankly, the upcoming season finale at Kansas State cannot pass quickly enough. Our Cyclones continue to fight, and they deserve heaps of praise for doing so, but we’ve seen no signs that they possess the ability to get over the proverbial “hump”. All season long they’ve come right up to the crest of the hump, but they’ve been unable to persevere, even on an individual game basis. As another Cyclone fan so deftly put it, if Iowa State hasn’t gotten over any humps at the micro level (i.e., notable upsets), how far are we from actually getting over the hump at the macro level as a program?
Some have tried to downplay just how disappointing this season has been, but I have a hard time understanding this mindset. Most every Cyclone fan I know thought the stars were finally aligning- that things were finally setting up for McDermott. Even McDermott’s peers in the coaching ranks thought Iowa State would be noticeably improved, picking Iowa State to finish 8th in the Big 12 preseason poll. A nod for the 8th spot may not seem like much, but after three straight years of being picked to finish one spot from the cellar, it was noteworthy, especially coming from the individuals who scout and strategize against these teams for a living.
And then there was this memorable media day comment from McDermott on being picked to finish 8th: “I’ll be disappointed if that’s where it ends up at the end of the day.” I don’t recall McDermott offering any sort of rebuttal in his first three seasons when Iowa State was picked to finish 11th, 11th, and (you guessed it) 11th in the conference. If he suddenly felt that the most glowing preseason prognostication of his tenure warranted a rebuttal, he must have believed pretty strongly that his team could succeed at a level we hadn’t seen in several years.
But it wasn’t to be. What promised to be McDermott’s best season to date has turned out to be his worst. Adding to the disappointment, McDermott’s first season (15-16, 6-10) remains his most successful, with conference wins trending downward ever since (barring an upset at #5 KSU). He certainly didn’t catch many breaks during the 2009-2010 campaign, which continues to be the rule, not the exception. As a fan and a human being, it’s hard not to feel some amount of sympathy for the man, but this continued misfortune begs the question: Why, after four seasons, is the program still so vulnerable- so fragile? Why, after four seasons, are there still no obvious signs that a foundation is being laid?
In terms of expectations at the outset, this season was somewhat of a microcosm of the entire McDermott era. You won’t find many honest Cyclone fans who weren’t at least guardedly excited at the news of his hire. For a program that was yearning for discipline and stability, McDermott appeared to be as close to a slam dunk as you can get in the business of hiring coaches. He brought to Ames both the credentials (e.g., coaching success and established credibility) and the intangibles (e.g., “good guy” and “one of us”). There weren’t many obvious chinks in the armor. Some have pointed to McDermott’s lack of high-major conference experience, but that didn’t handicap Floyd (Idaho and New Orleans) or Eustachy (Idaho and Utah State). But let’s move on, as I’ve already shared my opinions on what went wrong (TIMING, TALENT, & TRANSLATION: A LOOK BACK AT THE MCDERMOTT ERA).
So here we sit amidst the speculation and the rumors. The McDermott era and its future have been extremely divisive issues among Cyclone fans, and the debate seems to be reaching a crescendo. In my opinion, when you strip away all of the noise, there are two things that Cyclone fans still cling to at this point: McDermott’s success prior to arriving at Iowa State and who he is as a man. If he didn’t have one of these two things in his back pocket, I think fan sentiment would be nearly unanimous in terms of McDermott’s fate.
To illustrate this, let’s assume everything else remains static: no winning seasons in four years; 17-49 against conference opponents; 0-21 against top-25 opponents; most home losses in a single season since 1975-76; most home losses against conference opponents in any single season; etc. Now, strip away McDermott’s unprecedented success at UNI. How would Cyclone fans view the past four seasons? Or strip away his personable nature. Would Cyclone fans be nearly as forgiving? I think the answers to these questions are fairly obvious. But the fact of the matter is you can’t take these things away from McDermott, which makes this such a difficult situation for most everyone involved.
Fans like myself look at McDermott’s past success and we scratch our heads in bewilderment at how badly things have gone. Fans who have had an opportunity to meet the man scratch their heads in bewilderment at the terrible luck McDermott has had to endure. But eventually you come to the following realization: None of the things that Cyclone fans continue to cling to can change what has transpired over the past four seasons, and what has transpired over the past four seasons gives us little reason to believe that success (or even progress) is on the horizon.
Personally, I can be fueled by blind faith for brief period of time, but certainly not beyond four years. After four years, I need something more. I hoped beyond hope that McDermott would give me that something this season, but it didn’t happen. I have no idea what McDermott’s fate will be. If he is still leading this team next season, I will continue to cheer for a miraculous revival of the program. If we have a new head man, I’ll continue to pull for McDermott (assuming he doesn’t land on a future opponent’s payroll). If Iowa State and McDermott part ways, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him experience his own personal career revival if given a fresh start somewhere else. But I no longer believe that Iowa State and McDermott will get to share in the same revival, as much as it pains me to admit that.