For the third time in four seasons, Iowa State entered spring practice under a new head coach this year. After former coach Gene Chizik left to take over at Auburn, the Cyclones made somewhat of trade and hired former Tiger defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads as Chizik's replacement.
The good news for Rhoads as he begins his first head coaching stint is that the Cyclones basically have nowhere to go but up. En route to a 2-10 finish last season, ISU lost its final 10 games of the season, and ranked near the cellar nationally in almost every offensive and defensive statistic.
It certainly won't be an easy task, but according to Iowa State beat writer Paul Clark of CycloneReport.com, the Cyclones are more interested in laying the foundation of success to build on for the long run than immediate improvements.
What was your evaluation of Iowa State's first spring practices under Rhoads and his staff?
"It appeared to be a productive spring for Iowa State. They were really starting from square one with their installation, both the offense and the defense with a whole new staff. I thought the coaches in the post-spring interviews I did with them, it sounded like they would've liked to have gotten a little more installed, but they're not too concerned about it. They know they can make up the ground in the fall. They wanted to go slow and get it right as opposed to going to fast and exiting the spring not being exactly sure if everyone picked up what they worked on. They went a little slower and didn't cover quite as much ground, but they got to the end of the spring and felt confident that everyone knew what was going on."
The Cycolnes pretty much struggled in every aspect last season, especially down the stretch. With Rhoads being a former defensive coordinator, was there any extra emphasis in starting the defense over from scratch?
"I think in a lot of ways it was from scratch across the board. Coach Rhoads is a defensive guy, and so obviously defense is important to him, but he also said several times that you don't really win in the Big 12 with defense. You hope your defense can just slow some people down and keep you in games, but you have to score points to win games because there are so many great offenses in the Big 12. Stopping people isn't going to happen very often. You need to slow them down and make them work for their points, but you've got to have an offense that can put up 30 or more points a game to have a chance to win a lot of the time in the Big 12. I think it was probably half and half. I didn't get the indication that one side seemed more important than the other or there was any more emphasis on either side."
How has quarterback Austen Arnaud adjusted to the new spread offense they're going to run under Rhoads?
"It looks like a good fit for him. I mean, he's an intelligent guy, and it's sort of a thinking man's offense in a lot of ways because most of it is predicated on the quarterback making reads and making decisions. There are really just a few base plays, and then the quarterback comes up and reads the defense and makes the adjustments and makes the final call based on what he sees. So it's an offense where you do need a very smart quarterback, and I think Austen fits the bill there. It's an offense where you need a guy that can throw the ball primarily and also run a little bit, and that's also a good fit for Austen Arnaud. It's his third offense he's had to learn with his fourth year coming up, so that's really not fair to a quarterback to expect him to do that, but he's stepped up to the challenge and seems to be right on pace."
The coaches seemed to use a number of different combinations along the offensive line during the spring game. Were they able to get an idea of what they're going to do up front?
"I think they're pretty set on who the top six or seven guys will be, and they don't really plan on going any deeper than that. They did try some different things in the spring just to see exactly who they had and what they had and what possibilities they might have. Mike Knapp, who was the No. 1 center last year, his career is over. He had a real bad knee injury last year and he's just not going to be able to come back from that. Another lineman, Scott Haughton, sat out the spring. He's still on the team but he sat out this spring just to concentrate on his academics. Hopefully he'll get that squared away and will be available too. But probably they'll just be six or seven deep in the offensive line rotation, and I think they feel like they have six or seven guys."
Considering the amount of turnover and instability that's gone on at head coach the past few years, is there still an excitement over this latest fresh start with Rhoads? Or are fans starting to grow tired of all starting all over again?
"I think there's a good amount of excitement. I think people understand the reality that this kind of transition – three head coaches in a span of four seasons – I think people understand that that's not good or healthy for a program, and it's probably going to hurt Iowa State in the short term. But I think pretty much across the board Iowa State fans are excited about Paul Rhoads. I think they can relate to him really well. He's going to be a coach that's easy to like. He's going to be easy to cheer for, and I think that's going to buy him some time and buy him some flexibility from the fan base. I believe the program is in a better position today than it would've been without the coaching change, so even though there may be some short-term knocks, the long-term forecast looks a lot better."
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