Pollard’s fate rides on untested Rhoads

By John Hillman  |   Monday, December 22, 2008  |  Comments( 2 )

Iowa State Cyclones
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Gambles can generate jackpots or squander the bankroll. Time will determine the outcome for Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard with the hiring of Paul Rhoads as the program's new head football coach.

Stung by the sudden departure of Gene Chizik, who twice promised Pollard he would remain in Ames, to Auburn, Iowa State scrambled to find a suitable replacement. Because Pollard indicated a preference for previous head coaching experience, the search focused on familiar faces.

The Cyclones looked at Turner Gill, but he opted to stay at Buffalo for at least one more season. Other household names such as Mike Stoops (Arizona), Phil Fulmer (Tennessee), Glen Mason (Kansas and Minnesota) and Gary Barnett (Northwestern and Colorado) surfaced, but none emerged as a viable choice.

Instead, Pollard chose an unknown in Rhoads, Auburn’s defensive coordinator. Until this season, the 41-year-old former assistant had worked eight years at Pittsburgh in the same capacity.

But Iowa State’s 31st head coach knows the state and Cyclone football program well. He grew up in nearby Ankeny and spent five seasons (1995-99) as an Iowa State assistant under former head coach Dan McCarney. His father, Cecil, served as a high school football coach for 35 years and is a member of the Iowa High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame.

The Cyclones’ latest hire pledged supporters he would bring intensity and a blue-collar work ethic to Ames.

“It’s time to roll up our sleeves, put on our hard hats and go to work together,” Rhoads said at his announcement press conference. “We’ll be physical for 60 minutes and will hit you coming off the bus. We will be a passionate football team that will bring pride back to the Cyclone nation.”

Rhoads’ hiring and his ties to the pre-Chizik era bring a touch of irony to the Cyclones. Under pressure from boosters, Pollard fired the popular and successful McCarney shortly after he arrived at Iowa State.

In his 12 seasons at the helm, McCarney took Iowa State to five bowls in six years, an unparalleled success for a program that has never won an outright football championship. The Cyclones’ shared titles came in 1911 and 1912 as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Since coming to Iowa State from Wisconsin, where he served as a deputy athletic director, Pollard has been challenged to raise financial support and improve athletic success. His bold move in firing McCarney and hiring Chizik fizzled as the Cylcones posted a 5-19 record the past two seasons and currently ride a 10-game losing streak.

The even bolder action of signing the unknown Rhoads to a five-year, $5.75 million contract might turn Pollard into an athletic administrative genius. But if it backfires, his days as a BCS athletic director will be numbered.

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About John Hillman

John Hillman graduated from Baylor University in 1974 with a BBA in accounting and earned an MBA from Baylor in 1987. He worked for accounting firms until 1982 when he became the chief financial officer for an independent insurance claims adjusting service, a position he still holds today....
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