Q&A with Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

New Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads will be tackling a huge rebuilding job with the Cyclones, who finished in the Big 12 North Division's cellar with a 2-10 record last season.

Despite those daunting odds, Rhoads talked about how excited he is to return to Iowa State, where he served as an assistant coach from 1995-99, during a wide-ranging interview.

What is the biggest challenge of trying to get your program up and running?

Paul Rhoads: It was just the immediacy of recruiting. Getting players into your program is everything. Coming in when I did, it was everything at that time. You can get your coaching staff put together as fast as you can without being too hasty, get them out on the road and get your class signed, which we did.

Why was your determination to make recruiting even more of an immediate priority than filling your staff?

PR: You can't have a complete zero in recruiting; there's just too big of a void. Our recruiting has to be upgraded, no matter what our level is. Getting our staff put together was certainly our next priority and we were able to get a group that I felt good about to lead and teach these students and get them going. And then, we want to get them going, establishing the mental toughness we need to be a success.

What about the available talent you inherited?

PR: I think there's a group of players -- some who have been in the Big 12 and others who played as true freshmen for us -- who in the long run will be helpful in getting our program up and running. And then there's another group we've got to develop. If you are going to be successful at an institution like Iowa State, you've got to do an exceptional job of evaluating. You've got to get the right players who are the right fit and then do an equal job of developing those players once you get here. That's what we're going to try to do.

With the hiring of Wally Burnham as your defensive coordinator, you were able to bring one of the most respected assistants in college football into your program. How important was it to you to get an experienced coach like him to come in to direct your defense?

PR: I think it's invaluable. The veteran leadership and command that Wally brings in to the program, I don't think you can measure what that is worth. Not only the knowledge he has coaching players but also coaching coaches will help us so much. He's maybe as respected as anybody in the state of Florida when it comes to recruiting because he's been down there doing it for so long. I think it's invaluable when you look at all the things he brings us.

How did you first get to know Burnham? Did you have any associations in the past?

PR: We had been competitors over the years. With both him and me being in Big East, that was our background. Knowing how hard his kids played and watching schematically all the things that his defense has always done impressed me. And Dan McCarney gave me some good insight into what kind of coach and recruiter he is.

You are obviously well-versed with this program after growing up in the area and coaching here earlier in your career. What are some of the advantages that you see in being so close to home?

PR: The immediate reception has been warm and inviting to all of us. It's a unique situation for me. [Former Iowa State coach] Gene [Chizik] comes in and stayed briefly. He left a group of players and fans. Some Iowans felt betrayed and maybe even a little bit angry. I think that some of those wounds are quickly healed when a native takes over. And just being the kind of person I am, very humble and blue-collar in our approach to doing things, I think will help me.

The symbol of your approach appears to be found in your ball cap, something you like to wear to show your approach to your craft. Explain that.

PR: I don't think it's anything I can force to make that any kind of symbolism ... it's just the kind of person I am. When I grew up, I was always playing ball or walking beans or mowing lots when I worked for the county. In all of those sports or jobs I had when I was growing up, you always put your ball cap on before you went outside. There's nothing to it more than that. I've always worn one. And it's what I will do when I continue, because I can assure you I'm not a viser-type of guy.

What are you looking for in terms of your offensive philosophy when you hired offensive coordinator Tom Herman from Rice?

PR: We're looking to do some things. We want to mesh the immediate talent and then working to recruit some of the other things we want to do. We're going to run the spread attack on offense, although I think it's become too all-encompassing kind of term. We won't be doing what they do at Texas Tech or Kansas or Missouri. But I still want to use the spread because opposing defense will have to defend the whole field. We're going to run it, throw it and hand it off to have a quick attack.

Tom's approach is sound as it emphasizes high-percentage passes with low risk. If you look at what they were able to do last season at Rice, they had 48 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. That's what we'd like to be able to do.

You arrive with a quarterback in place in Austen Arnaud who had some success last season in his first season as a starter. How much does that help in your transformation of the program?

PR: The fact that we've got a quarterback who played every snap for us last year and still has two years of eligibility left is a big plus for us. He's an exciting player with a lot of savvy and he's a smart player. He's got the majority of his targets back who he's been familiar throwing to. We want to put him in a situation where he'll have comfort and confidence. And for him to be in place gives us a pretty good launching spot for what we want to do.

You worked earlier in your career under Dan McCarney before you left for the coordinator job at Pittsburgh. What did he tell you about the Iowa State job?

PR: I think I've learned something from every coach I've worked for. Each of them has taught me something. But where Dan is unique is that he's a native Iowan. Working here was very special to him and he brought a great passion and enthusiasm to this job. That's what it requires. Because of that, we understand the importance of recruiting players
in the state, building around Iowa kids and walk-ons. But we also realize what has to be done to supplement that. Now, we're moving forward and getting after it.

What's been the initial reaction you've received from your new players?

PR: They are obviously hungry for success. There's not a player around who wants to be 2-10 or lose every game in the Big 12. And they aren't working in that direction. We've got to do things if we want to achieve success and that's what we are working towards every day.

After working 20 seasons as an assistant coach, what is it like to finally get an opportunity to serve as a head coach?

PR: My first meeting I had with my team on Jan. 12 might have been the biggest high I've ever experienced as a football coach. And it's been good to be able to meet some the guys where we haven't been quite as rushed as when I first took over. I'm obviously learning and gaining familiarity with them as I go. But so far, there hasn't been one thing with this job or these kids that I haven't enjoyed thoroughly.

Your family is back at Auburn until school finishes. One of their neighbors across the street is your predecessor, Gene Chizik, who is renting the house across the street from them until his home is built there. Has there been any interaction between you and Chizik, or have your families crossed paths since you two switched schools?

PR: Our families have met each other. My wife has seen him in the street and had a great chance for some interaction with his wife, who treated her very well. But I haven't seen him. I guess I've just been too busy and he's been too busy, too.