Archive for January, 2009

Any questions for Rhoads?

January 29, 2009

I’ve got a half-hour with new Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads next Tuesday.

There’s a few things I’ve got in mind to ask the man, but the floor is open for suggestions.

What do people want to know about him as a person, his approach to rebuilding ISU’s program, what kinds of players he wants to bring in, etc.

Rhoads’ family clearly has played a big role in his life. They’ll be around en masse, as most of them live 20 minutes down Interstate 35 in Ankeny.

I’d like to know more about his personal life and what led the class valedictorian into coaching.

Rhoads helped build the Cyclones into a winner under coach Dan McCarney. But the Big 12 has changed since then. It’s hands down one of the toughest leagues in college football.

Would Rhoads have hired Rice’s Tom Herman and his spread offense had the coach been hired to lead a program in the Big Ten or Big East or ACC? Doubt it.

National signing day is a big day for him. A month-and-a-half later spring practices begin.

Then summer conditioning leading up to the start of preseason practice and the Sept. 3 season opener against North Dakota State.

How can i best serve my readers here? Drop me a line before Tuesday.


Rhoads on recruiting, retaining

January 26, 2009

With students screaming around him and music inside Hilton Coliseum blaring, new Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads spoke briefly with reporters Saturday afternoon at halftime of the Cyclone men’s basketball game with Kansas.

Rhoads and the coaches he’s publicly acknowledged hiring (word on the street is his staff is complete) were entertaining about a dozen recruits.

It was the first of only two chances ISU will have — next Saturday’s game with Big 12 leader Oklahoma is the other — before signing day on Feb. 4 to show the place off.

Through no fault of his own, Rhoads is way behind in the recruting game. He was hired a couple of days before Christmas and should be awarded some kind of lifetime achievement award for multi-tasking. 

He needs all the help he can get to piece together a respectable class. 

“Any time you can bring them into an environment and atmosphere like this, they know what they are going to get to play in front of,” Rhoads said. “The No. 1 priority from day one has been this recruiting class.”

He said the response on the recruiting trail has been overly positive.

Same goes for the current group of Cyclones, who have begun winter workouts preparing for the 2009 season. Who will stay and who will go?  

“Judging by how they are working and how they are talking theyare excited,” Rhoads said. “They’d like to put the pads on tomorrow.

“We’ve had a tremendous week in the weight room and with conditioning. They are a very, very hungry group. It is a group that cares about winning and cares about doing the right thing all the time.”

I’ll see Rhoads’ office next Tuesday for the first time. I’m expecting to see a lot boxes still unpacked and a stack of papers and folders on his desk.

He said Saturday he had to ask an airplane worker what city they were in after their plane touched down.

“Settled? Are you kidding me?” Rhoads answered with a smile. “It’s been a wild ride and a ride I’ve enjoyed every single second of so far.”

Jayhawks coming to town

January 22, 2009

Like Nebraska in football, when Kansas’ men’s basketball team visits Ames, it’s a big deal. No matter what.

The Jayhawks lost virtually every meaningful player from their national title-winning club from a year ago. They aren’t close to the level they’ve been at in years past. Heck, they aren’t even ranked!

Doesn’t matter.

Hilton Coliseum, for the first time this season, will hit decibel levels Saturday that it hasn’t approached yet this season.  The game is on ESPN, which adds signifiance and an urgency with players and fans.

The world is watching.  That’s nothing new to Kansas, but it is to ISU, who’ll make its only appearance of the season Saturday on ESPN The Uno. 

Does the home team have what it takes to beat KU after six straight losses in the series, four of them at Hilton?

I believe they do. Whether those things happen is another story. 

Some of the biggest wins in school history have come against the Jayhawks:

— The Roland Rocket beats Wilt the Stilt

— Hoiberg’s deep 3-pointer from “the chicken”

— Cato & Co. beat KU to win the final Big 8 tourney

— Fizer, Tinsley steal first win at The Phog in 18 years

— Stinson shoots down KU with last-second basket

Would a win Saturday be as meaningful as any of those? Not a chance.

But it would be something great to build on for Coach Greg McDermott, who has not had what could be considered a signature win. One thing is for sure, the place will be rockin’.

Cyclone football — ’09 lookahead

January 20, 2009

His first recruiting class is not yet complete. Same goes for his coaching staff — going off what’s been made public anyway.

And will players recruited and reared by former coach Gene Chizik stick around or jump ship?

Why should minor details like those prevent me from projecting what Paul Rhoads’ first Iowa State football team will look like?

The offense will be totally new. Assume the defense will be, too (thank goodness for that).

Youth was all over the field last season, which is a good thing if a majority of those players stay in Ames. They’ll get better with age, you’d hope anyway.

Call me crazy, but with the schedule the Cyclones have, a new, wide open offense, and a determination to prove themselves, this could be a team that gets to 6 or 7 wins and plays in its first bowl game since the ’05 Houston Bowl.

OFFENSE — Quarterback Austen Arnaud isn’t going anywhere and should be the starter for the second straight year unless redshirt freshman Jerome Tiller plays beyond his years and proves he deserves it. At running back, Alexander Robinson returns for his junior year. Also in the mix, we think, are redshirt freshman Jeremiah Schwartz and University of Florida transfer Bo Williams. Are they a fit for ISU’s new spread offense and do they want to be here without Chizik and the coaches who brought them in? We shall see.

The Cyclones look like they are set at receiver and tight end, again assuming attrition is not a factor. Back are leading pass-catchers Darius Darks, Sedrick Johnson, Marquis Hamilton and Houston Jones along with tight ends Derrick Catlett and Collin Franklin. Other lesser-knowns could become a part of new offensive coordinator Tom Herman’s offense. Check back in the spring.  The offensive line returns all but one starter. How the incumbents fit in with the change in offensive philosophy is hard to say. That figures to be a area where spots are wide open.

DEFENSE — There are losses up front with defensive end Kurtis Taylor and tackle Michael Tate. Nose guard Nate Frere is back to anchor the middle and Rashawn Parker also returns, but the defensive line as a whole needs serious work to rise to Big 12 levels.  Youngsters Jake McDonough, Jerrod Black and Stephen Ruempolhamer will be key figures in its resurgence.

Jesse Smith has been ISU’s rock in the middle the last two seasons. The former walk-on is one of the team’s emotional leaders and will be a central figure for Rhoads’ defense. Keep an eye on Ernest Ferguson, who earned playing time at linebacker last year as a true freshman and was a good special teams player. Most critical defensively is an improved secondary. The Cyclones were torched in the passing game the last two seasons and were pitiful a year ago in allowing opponents to complete 67.4 percent of their passes for 276.7 yards a game.  Talent is there, but inexperience was not except for dynamic freshman cornerback Leonard Johnson.  Rhoads’ specialty is in the defensive backfield, which should help position coach Chris Ash whip this group into shape. Will experience (Allen Bell, James Smith, Devin McDowell) trump youth and promise (Ter’ran Benton, A.J. Matthews, Dustin Land)?

SPECIAL TEAMS — Punter Mike Brandtner has been as solid as it gets during his career. He’ll be a senior. Place kicker Grant Mahoney had a fine year as a freshman, as did Johnson on kick returns, averaging 26.4 yards per attempt and setting a new NCAA Bowl Subdivision record with 319 yards against Oklahoma State. Returning punts has been an annual problem, it seems, and there should be open tryouts for that spot.

Signing day is Feb. 4 and spring practice won’t be too long after that. Can’t wait to see what this bunch looks like as its goes through yet another transition.

Wow, that was ugly

January 17, 2009

The buzzer just sounded on Iowa State’s men’s basketball team today in Columbia, Mo.

If you missed it, be thankful. The Cyclones were never in the game. They got behind by double-digits early, trailed 29-20 at halftime and were blitzed in the second half, losing 77-46 to Missouri.

ISU looked like it was turning the corner a bit with a close loss at Texas and a home win over Nebraska. This one was a clunker, plain and simple.

Only twice before (at Kansas in 2007 and last year at Drake) have the Cyclones suffered a more lopsided loss under Coach Greg McDermott.

The Tigers were unconscious from deep, hitting 13 of 25 3-pointers. ISU made only 2 of 17 shots from long distance and shot 33.3 percent overall. 

The box score is full of nasty statistics.

Justin Hamilton was the only real bright spot with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting.  Turnovers, bad shots, poor rebounding — it was all on display.

The Cyclones are 12-6 overall and 1-2 in Big 12 play. They get a week off before Kansas comes to town next Saturday for a national ESPN broadcast.

What needs to change with this group by then? Some more offense would help.

Cyclones’ Big 12 debut an encouraging one

January 12, 2009

Watched the Iowa State-Texas men’s basketball game late last night after getting home from the Cyclone women’s victory over Oklahoma State.

Despite the loss in their Big 12 Conference opener, there was a lot to be optimistic about.

Diante Garrett was strong with the ball, made good decisions and rebounded well.

Lucca Staiger showed he can do more than shoot 3-pointers. He drove the lane several times, setting up opportunities for teammates. If you aren’t excited about all the things he brings to this team then I don’t what game you’re watching.

Craig Brackins was swarmed most of the game and struggled for the first 30 minutes, but still finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds. He’ll see defenses geared to stop him the rest of the way, but he’s growing up quickly and is one of the Big 12’s most talented players.

Justin Hamilton showed he’s got some pretty good skills around the basket and he can play above the rim with an impressive dunk over a Texas defender… which he didn’t quite know how to celebrate. 

The bench needs to find an offensive spark though.

What’s happened to sharpshooting guard Wes Eikmeier? Jamie Vanderbeken has had his moments, Alex Thompson and Charles Boozer are in the game more for their defense and Sean Haluska isn’t a guy that can create for himself.

The Big 12 is not the beast it was a year ago. ISU went 6-10 and 4-12 in Coach Greg McDermott’s two seasons. Can the Cyclones do better?

Not just Carlos’ kid brother

January 7, 2009

Charles Boozer finally is answering reporters’ questions about himself and not his big brother, Carlos, a star forward for the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

Glued to the bench through the early part of the season, Boozer has been a fixture in the Iowa State lineup over the last three games — all victories. Boozer collected 14 minutes of playing time in four games prior to a breakthrough effort Dec. 28 at Houston. 

The sophomore guard logged 18 minutes in the Cyclones’ non-conference road win. Boozer was energetic on defense, solid on the backboards and turnover-free.

“I’m working hard and getting ready for each game,” he said. “Work hard every day, not take any game for granted and know that if i do get my chance to be ready

He’s been quick to launch shots in the past, not uncommom for reserves looking to stand out when they get a chance to play.

“Last year it was all about trying to catch the eye of everybody that was out there,” he said. “I’ve matured a lot.”

Boozer has made just two baskets during his recent string of double-digit minutes. He’s a good perimeter shooter, but is practicing patience more than anything on the offensive side of things. He’s low on the list of Coach Greg McDermott’s scoring options.

He’s a role player, which is critical for him to understand.

“We had a little meeting about what i have to do to get better and get on the court,” Boozer said. “(McDermott) gave me some advice: keep rebounding and keep defending and we’ll see what happens. I’ve been doing that and it’s been paying off.”

He may never be a star, or even a starter, but Boozer has proven he has a place on this team.

Which road will Rhoads travel?

January 2, 2009

We have just three confirmed members of Paul Rhoads’ first coaching staff at Iowa State — Akron asst. head coach Bill Bliel, ex-San Diego State secondary coach Chris Ash and ex-Auburn defensive line coach Terry Price.

With bowl season finishing up over the next week, and coaches playing their annual game of musical chairs once their seasons are over with, it figures to be a week full of news on that front.

Also, the recruiting dead period expires Jan. 2. Airplane seats and rental cars will be in short supply as coaches will be criss-crossing the country in the final month before national signing day on Feb. 4.

Will any of the coaches hired by Gene Chizik be retained? You’d have to think 1 or 2 will stay, assuming they don’t follow Chizik or have offers they feel are better.

Is Rhoads interested in hiring back any of his former colleagues during his first tour of duty in Ames from 1995-99? Ash was one. How about Mike Woodley? Or Steve Loney?

The offensive and defensive coordinator spots will be his most important hires.

It won’t be long before we know who they’ll be and what kind of systems Rhoads plans to install. Stay tuned.