AMES — Three years into his Iowa State tenure, Paul Rhoads was named a front runner for a job opening at Pittsburgh, a football program with more tradition than the Cyclones.
It’s a similar story in Ames where Rhoads’ predecessor, Gene Chizik, coached the Cyclones for two years before bolting for Auburn. In the past Earle Bruce (Ohio State) and Johnny Majors (Pittsbugh then Tennessee) had done the same thing.
Rhoads served as defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh for eight seasons, coaching top-flight NFL talent like cornerback Darrelle Revis. With the opening at Pittsburgh, it was natural for Rhoads to take that leap.
Except that he didn’t. He stayed. And he’s staying for a long time.
Rhoads, an Ankeny native, and Iowa State officials agreed Friday to a 10-year contract worth $20 million. The deal ends all speculation about Rhoads’ immediate future and solidifies the foundation he’s set at Iowa State.
“I think stability is the main word that you’ve got a chance to emphasize,” Rhoads said. “When you’re successful at a program that has traditionally been a stepping stone or a place where coaches have failed, when you get that kind of statement of 10 years, it’s easier to walk into a living room, and it’s easier to walk into a meeting room. And both are vitally important.”
Rhoads has led the Cyclones to an 18-19 record over his three seasons. In two weeks Iowa State will compete in its second bowl under Rhoads, the Pinstripe Bowl, against Rutgers. The Cyclones beat Minnesota in the Insight Bowl two years ago.
Rhoads also has popped some of Iowa State’s biggest blisters along the way. In 2009, the Cyclones upset Nebraska 9-7 in Lincoln, Iowa State’s first road win over the Cornhuskers since 1977. Last year Iowa State beat Texas for the first time. This year ISU topped in-state rival Iowa in triple overtime, then upset No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State in a double-overtime thriller. Iowa State was 0-56-2 historically in games against teams ranked No. 6 or higher before that game.
Iowa State also buried a single-season attendance mark and boasted six home crowds that topped 50,000, also a school best.
“I think it was well deserved,” said Iowa State senior tackle Kelechi Osemele, who was listed a first-team All-American by Sports Illustrated. “He’s a guy that wants to be here, and he wants to stay here. He grew up here, and he’s proud to be our coach. It’s great to see them actually back him up and give him that deal.”
Rhoads was linked to the Pittsburgh job, which was opened this week when coach Todd Graham left for Arizona State. Rhoads admitted it made an easy connection for speculation. When asked if he had spoken with Pittsburgh officials about the opening, Rhoads smiled and said, “I’ve agreed to this deal here at Iowa State, and I’m very pleased to have agreed to this deal at Iowa State.”
“These talks that were started by President (Gregory) Geoffroy and Director (Jamie) Pollard took place well in advance of these jobs becoming open,” Rhoads said. “The mention with the Pitt job was a natural. I was there eight years. Eight pretty successful years, five straight seasons in a (bowl), a BCS bowl, in the Fiesta Bowl.
That was going to happen. There was no surprise that I was mentioned.
“But with our success, it was something that was going to take place throughout the country and they felt a need that we needed to extend this. I certainly was very appreciative of it and very willing to move forward with that. I’ve got a locker room of guys that excited about it as well as recruits all over the country that share in that excitement.”
Not to mention a happy first-team all-Big 12 linebacker in junior Jake Knott.
“I was really excited and pumped because I have a sibling (Luke Knott) that’s going to come up here and so just to see his future and everything like that. To have someone like Coach Rhoads around it just means a lot. He’s just going to be able to shape everyone into great people not just great football players.”