Now that Cyclone fans are starting to feel like we know a little bit about Fred Hoiberg, Head Coach, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the hires that have been made in the ‘big two’ sports on Pollard’s watch. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Pollard has had the opportunity (if you want to call it that) to hire two basketball coaches and two football coaches. Athletics directors who have done the same in a single tenure are probably as rare as it is to see a well-officiated college basketball game these days.
More often than not, an AD usually finds himself out of a job before getting a do-over in one of the two revenue generating sports. But Pollard has found himself in a unique and strange situation. Even after his initial hires in basketball and football turned out to be busts, it was hard for the honest fan to light the torch and grab the pitchfork and go beat on Mr. Pollard’s door. Why? Because it’s dang near impossible to criticize the hires given the information that was available at the time. Let’s take a look back.
Background: Iowa State was coming off of Wayne Morgan’s third season (16-14, 6-10), which was a disappointment following a NCAA 2nd round appearance the season prior. The general consensus among fans was that Iowa State had been underachieving given the talent at hand. Another common belief was that Iowa State, on the whole, was an undisciplined team. These were debatable, but certainly not unreasonable, opinions.
It’s also important to note that Iowa State was just a handful of seasons removed from back-to-back conference championships. After all, fan mindset and expectations, both of which can fluctuate wildly, are important considerations. Meanwhile over in Cedar Falls, Greg McDermott’s Panthers were coming off of three consecutive NCAA appearances. Given Northern Iowa’s lack of historical success, this was reason enough to take a good look at McDermott. Add to that the fact that many viewed the Iowa native as the anti-Morgan – leader of highly disciplined, overachieving teams – and the Panther head man seemed like a no-brainer.
- Highly successful head coach at multiple levels
- Coached well-disciplined, overachieving teams
- Defeated Iowa State’s last NCAA tourney team by 17 points
- Native Iowan
- No guarantee that coaching success would translate to Big 12 level
- Concerns related to devotedness given UNI ties
Verdict: McDermott was 59-68 over four seasons with an aura of negativity hanging over the program for most of his tenure. Frankly, Iowa State was bailed out by some bold folks over in Omaha. That said, the failures of McDermott’s four seasons can’t rewrite history prior to March 2006.
Background: When it comes to Chizik, there’s a large number of people who like to play the “I told you so” card. Funny, I don’t recall hearing these warnings shortly after Iowa State shocked the college football world and hired him out of Texas. Iowa State was coming off of Dan McCarney’s most disappointing season since the 2003 debacle, going 4-8 in 2006. While 2006 may have sealed Mac’s fate, it was the way that the 2004 and 2005 seasons ended that amplified the failures of his final year.
With the Big 12 North up for grabs in those seasons, Iowa State failed to secure a berth in the title game in back-to-back season finales against a couple of mediocre opponents. The fanbase never really recovered, and 2006 was nothing but salt in an already gaping wound. As Pollard would famously (and correctly) state, Cyclone football could no longer sell hope. Enter Gene Chizik- the defensive coordinator from Texas who was widely viewed as an up-and-comer in the college football coaching ranks. The hire shocked observers around the nation, most of whom couldn’t believe Iowa State was able to nab such a quality candidate.
- ‘Splash’ hire who could re-energize the fanbase
- Big program guy who could bring that ‘big time’ mentality to Ames
- Southern recruiting connections
- Limited understanding of the challenges that face an Iowa State
- No local ties that would keep him in Ames if offered other opportunities
Verdict: Chizik was an embarrassing and inexcusable 5-19 over two seasons. With the Iowa State program going nowhere but down, some generous folks down at Auburn did us all a favor by taking Mr. I-Won’t-Stoop-Down-To-Your-Level off of our hands. But again, as bad as the Chizik ‘era’ turned out to be, the hire could only be criticized in hindsight.
Background: There’s not much to say following 5-19. After Auburn’s move left the college football world scratching their collective heads, Cyclone fans now had an opportunity to re-evaluate what it is they really wanted and needed in their next coach. Look no further than the two bullet points listed as ‘cons’ under Mr. Eugene Chizik. Iowa State needed someone who really understood Ames, Iowa and the challenges that a coach would face in trying to build a winning football program. A coach with local ties would have a distinct advantage when it came to this level of understanding, and Paul Rhoads fit the bill perfectly.
- Local guy who coached previously at Iowa State under McCarney
- Understood the landscape and had a detailed plan for winning
- Potential longevity
- May not energize the fanbase like a ‘splash’ hire
- Some fans viewed him as McCarney 2.0
Verdict: Still out. After just two seasons, it’s hard to say that Paul Rhoads has definitively proven anything. But with a bowl victory and a winning record in season one, and a number of impressive victories in his 25 games as the head man in Ames, he certainly hasn’t disappointed. Add to this his obvious passion for the game and his love for his team and program, and this hire appears to be borderline brilliant.
Background: There’s not much to say following 59-68. Just like in football, Cyclone fans were given an unexpected opportunity to re-evaluate what it is that they really wanted and needed out of McDermott’s successor. However, unlike football, Iowa State needed a change in style of play more than it needed a change in personality. With the exception of those fans who took McDermott’s failures as a coach far too personally, very few people disliked McDermott the man. Regardless, the Cyclones’ grind-it-out offensive style combined with consistent losing made Hilton Magic nothing more than an afterthought. Iowa State’s basketball program needed an immediate boost of excitement and an up-tempo team to re-energize Hilton. Again, Pollard’s man fit the bill perfectly.
- Local hero and Iowa State alum who knew the program intimately
- Intelligence and charisma amplified by his local celebrity
- NBA experience and ability to evaluate college talent
- Potential longevity
- No coaching experience at any level
Verdict: Still out. It’s far too early to make any bold statements about the future under Coach Fred. That said, the early returns have gone a long way towards inspiring confidence in the fanbase and outside observers. From the very beginning, the rookie head coach’s squad has performed surprisingly well, all things considered. With the Cyclones already exceeding expectations in season one, and the anticipated debut of the so-called ‘best scout team in America’, excitement is certain to be off-the-charts heading into 2011-12.
Looking at each of these four hires, specifically within the context of the unique and often bizarre circumstances leading to each respective vacancy, it’s hard to argue with the men that Pollard tabbed in these situations. Having said that, I’m hoping Iowa State can avoid the drama and excitement of coaching searches for a long, long time. And I think we will, at least in the ‘big two’ sports.