Auburn's defensive coordinator replaces Chizik at Iowa State

The icy roads, daunting upcoming schedule and tough conference affiliation might have scared away many potential candidates.

But not Paul Rhoads. He made a head-long charge into his new job as Iowa State's new coach, before vowing to create a blue-collar mentality of hard work central for his new team.

The former Auburn and Pittsburgh defensive coordinator and one-time ISU defensive coach was introduced Saturday as the 31st head football coach in the school's history.

And he couldn't be more excited for what he termed as "a dream job" where he will coach only a couple of long touchdown passes away from the Ankeny, Iowa, area where he was born and raised. His father, Cecil, is a member of the Iowa High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame.

"There are deep roots here," Rhoads said. "My youngest was born here. I was born 10 miles down the road. The group over here . . . I have more support and they are all family. I could see myself here for a long time."

Those words were soothing for Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard, who was burned when Gene Chizik packed up and left the Cyclones for Auburn after twice telling Pollard he would stay. Chizik compiled a 5-19 record in his two seasons with the Cyclones, leaving with a 10-game losing streak that is tied for the second-longest among all FBS teams.

Pollard talked to several candidates over the last week during a trying interview process he described as "an emotional whirlwind." But after having multiple interviews, he is convinced that giving Rhoads his shot for the first head-coaching opportunity in his career is the right move.

"As we went out and talked to numerous candidates, one person clearly demonstrated he had the experience in 14 years of coaching at a BCS school, including 10 as a coordinator," Pollard said. "He had charisma . . . He had a competitive plan on how to do it at Iowa State and as an added bonus, he's an Iowan."

But Rhoads, 41, also is climbing into perhaps the most historically challenged program in a BCS-affiliated conference. The Cyclones have
the most limited recruiting base in the Big 12 with facilities that struggle to match the superpowers that dot the conference.

The Cyclones had 17 non-winning seasons in a 19-year period before Dan McCarney took them to five bowl games during a span of six season from 2000-05. McCarney was let go after a 4-8 record in 2006.

Iowa State has never notched an outright conference championship in the 117-season history of the program. The Cyclones shared Missouri Valley Championship titles as co-champions in 1911 and 1912.

Despite those challenges, Rhoads is excited about his opportunity. He broke down on a couple of occasions during his Saturday afternoon press conference when he talked about his plans for the Cyclones. He earlier had described his return to lead the ISU program as something out of Hollywood script.

"It's time to roll up our sleeves, put on our hard hats and go to work together," Rhoads said. "We will be smart. We'll be physical for 60 minutes and we will hit you coming off the bus. We will be a passionate football team that will bring pride back
to the Cyclone nation."

Rhoads' most recent defense at Auburn ranked 18th nationally in scoring defense allowing 18.0 points per game and 178.8 yards passing to rank 22nd nationally.

He is most familiar nationally for the defensive scheme he cooked up last season at Pittsburgh that clamped down on West Virginia's Pat White, keeping the Mountaineers out of the national championship game with a stunning upset victory. That Pitt defense ranked fifth nationally in total defense and third in pass defense.

Rhoads played college football at nearby Missouri Western and served as a graduate assistant at Utah State and Ohio State. He got his first full-time coaching job at the University of the Pacific in 1992.

The hiring is a surprise in one way because Rhoads was a member of McCarney's staff from 1995-1999. McCarney was let go in a controversial firing soon after Pollard took over only a few months removed from a streak that had seen the Cyclones qualify for an unprecedented five bowls in a six-season streak.

"I had the great fortune to work for a number of great coaches," Rhodes said. "I have the utmost respect for Dan. I talked to him today and he couldn't be happier. Every single coach I've worked for has given me something I can use. I move forward with that."

Iowa State said Rhoads agreed to a five-year deal worth $5.75 million in guaranteed compensation, with incentives available to increase that total. That salary is coming as Iowa Gov. Chet Culver recently announced an across-the-board 1.5 percent reduction in state spending.

The Des Moines Register reported that those cuts, coupled with an earlier 1 percent decrease, means that Iowa State will need to trim more than $7.1 million for the university budget by June 30 -- the end of the current fiscal year.

After an easier cross-division schedule that will feature games against Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M next season, the Cyclones will face a rigorous Big 12 gauntlet beginning in 2010 and 2011. In those seasons, ISU will switch those South opponents for games against Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. Additionally, the Cyclones will pick up non-conference series against Utah in 2010 and Connecticut in 2011, along with the continuation of the annual rivalry game with Iowa.

Rhoads and his wife, Vickie, met with Pollard nearly three years ago during a family vacation in Iowa soon after Pollard took his job. That meeting, he said, helped spark a seed that kept Rhoads in his thoughts when the coaching vacancy occurred.

"We met for the first time and he did an incredible job in showing me he was ready and had the experience I thought he had from looking at his bio," Pollard said. "And as I look over the candidates over the next several days, I called him and told him I wanted it to just be him and me. We needed to sit down and go over it from A to Z about Iowa State and whether we could work together.

"We spent seven hours together and walked through that comprehensive plan. I knew at that time that he was the guy. We just had to figure out how to get him here. And we did."

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for ESPN.com. You may contact him at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.