Q&A: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads

Paul Rhoads inherited a team at Iowa State that had won five games in two seasons. Under his direction, the Cyclones won seven games in 2009, capped off by a win over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. In part one of this two-part Q&A, Rhoads reflects on his first season as a college head coach.

Note: Parts of this interview were edited for length.

David Ubben: This time last year, what did you expect or envision for your 2009 team?

Denny Medley/US Presswire

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads classifies his team as "blue collar."Paul Rhoads: Well, what I expected, I’m not even sure.

I knew at this point I had a very hungry team that was responding to everything that we were asking out of them. They were embracing everything that we put out there in front of them, but as we headed into spring ball, there were so many unknowns. And when we started spring ball, I knew we were a long way away from being the physical team that we wanted to become.

DU: What are you going to remember most about last year?

PR: I think a group of senior football players that led the way and an entire football team, including the freshmen that came and the new players that play -- we talk about a culture here at Iowa State. And those freshmen came right in and they bought into that culture and a football team that responded beyond my dreams.

DU: When you say “culture,” what do you mean?

PR: Blue collar. We have a hard-hat mentality; we put on our hard hats and we go to work every day. We don’t have any stars. We’ve got some good players, but we don’t have any stars. And if we’re going to find success, it’s going to come at the expense of a full team working together, and I think that’s how we approach it. There are no shortcuts.

DU: You say the team doesn’t have any stars, so how would you classify Alexander Robinson?

PR: I’d say he’s a really good football player, but I don’t think people recognized him as a star. If they did, they would have voted him all-league. I think he’s an all-league type of player. But the media or the coaches didn’t feel that way about him, so I guess he’s not a star. But I think he’s a really good football player, I’m glad he’s on our team. I wouldn’t trade him for other backs, and he’s going to continue to help us run the football with very good success.

DU: What do you think the success last season does for the program, as well as the perception of the program?

PR: It gives it credibility. We came in and the program had won five games in two years. And we go through the regular season and win six games. There’s a lot of talk about that and progress being made, but if you don’t go out and win a bowl game to cap that off, then its just a good season. “Well, they finally won some games, maybe they hadn’t been winning before and they got to six wins.” But by winning that bowl game, you got credibility with your fan base, you got credibility with opponents, in my opinion, and you’ve got credibility when you’re out on the road recruiting. Kids know who was playing in bowl games, and especially who was winning bowl games. So as you head toward your 2010 recruiting class and beyond, you start to open more doors.

DU: I’m sure you’ve been asked about this plenty, but how’s YouTube stardom treated you?

PR: I don’t know if I’d use that term, stardom. We certainly got a lot of play out of it, we got a lot of attention from it. I spoke earlier of the culture, I think that video speaks of the passion that’s a part of our program. I did not see it until December actually, after the season was over and we put it in a video that we used during an official visit weekend.

Every time that it played, I looked at something different. In the eyes of the players, and in the emotion going back and forth between each other. It’s everything I want our program to stand for, and I think its speaks for it in that video.

DU: Where'd that moment rank for you in your coaching career?

PR: Oh, gosh. Very much toward the top. The first team meeting I had here as head football coach was the greatest day I’ve had in my career. And I will never, ever forget it, but certainly that win and everything that took place around it, there was a long week for us. We had guys that were sick, we even had guys with the H1N1. We had guys with just flu-like and cold-like symptoms, but I’m talking about the extremes. I’m talking about over-100 temperatures and couldn’t do anything without coughing to where they couldn’t breathe and were so fatigued they couldn’t make it through practice. We had to take an extra Suburban over with guys with those surgical masks. We were at the dining table at the hotel in Lincoln on Friday night, and I’m telling you, literally, a guy would get up to go to the training table, they’d have his temperature taken and send him up to his room. Three minutes later, another player would get up, same thing. They were almost dropping like flies. We had a player break his leg in the game. We had players hooked up to IVs in the locker room. There was so much that was a part of that week and a part of that victory which made the win and the postgame celebration so meaningful.

And the line I say in there, where I’m proud to be their football coach, goes back to that first team meeting, and that’s the first thing I told them, that I was proud to be their football coach and privileged to be in that position. So that line had a deep-seeded meaning to it. It wasn’t just a spontaneous saying.

In part two later today, Rhoads talks about his expectations for his team this year, and what he's looking for in his players who will step into starting roles for 2010.