1-3 Cyclones rally around Rhoads

AMES – Paul Rhoads put Iowa State in the national spotlight for the first time in years with his fiery postgame tirade following last week’s 31-30 loss to Texas.

The rant helped illustrate why Rhoads might be the most popular 1-3 coach in the country heading into Saturday’s game at No. 20 Texas Tech (5-0, 1-0).

Iowa State’s fans, administration and players remain committed to Rhoads and his long-term vision for the program. His enthusiasm for the Cyclones clearly hasn’t worn off either – even with their hopes for a winning season in 2013 in serious peril.

The fan base has spoken with their wallets, with crowds of at least 50,000 at Jack Trice Stadium for a school-record 16 games in a row. Athletic director Jamie Pollard fully committed to Rhoads before the 2012 season with a contract extension through 2021 at roughly $2 million a year.

The Cyclones players love the guy, too. They said that Rhoads’s emphatic defense of them – he all but accused officials of blowing a call before Texas scored the game-winning touchdown – was just an extension of what they see behind closed doors.

“It means the world to us that we’ve got a coach who is going to defend us and have our back like that,” Iowa State safety Deon Broomfield said. “It’s nothing new. We know that he cares about us like that.”

Of course at most places, all the YouTube-friendly speeches in the world wouldn’t keep a coach with a 25-30 career record off the hot seat.

Iowa State isn’t most places.

The next outright conference title the Cyclones win will be their first and they’ve been playing varsity football in Ames since the 1890s.

Iowa State is sandwiched between tradition-rich Nebraska and Iowa and has to compete against the Hawkeyes for recruits in a state that typically doesn’t produce enough talent for even one major program.

But Rhoads, a native Iowan, has upgraded Iowa State’s overall talent level since he arrived before the 2009 season.

Judging by the reaction over the weekend of consensus four-star wide receiver Allen Lazard, who is verbally committed to Iowa State, the rant Rhoads went on last Thursday night won’t hurt recruiting.

“What he said to the press, and the way he reacted, it just kind of motivates you,” Lazard, a senior at nearby Urbandale High and the top prospect in Iowa, told the Des Moines Register. “It shows you how much he cares about you and not just about himself.”

Still, the non-call on an apparent goal-line fumble by Texas’s Johnathan Gray was likely a fatal blow to Iowa State’s bowl hopes.

A win would have put Iowa State at 2-2 and needing to finish .500 the rest of the way for bowl eligibility. Now the Cyclones will need to win five of eight simply to get to 6-6, with only three home games left.

But Iowa State’s fans, players and administration seem willing to be patient with Rhoads.

In Rhoads, the Cyclones have found themselves someone who understands and is willing to embrace the unique challenges of their job.

“Any kind of support, administrative, fan base, coaching staff, the boosters and the kids – it’s all important because it increases your opportunity for success,” Rhoads said. “It all adds to it, and that’s why you’re continuing to see growth. And it’s there.”