So I was a little conflicted when I first heard about Gene Chizik's decision to go to Auburn. Obviously, as a career move, it was a step up for him; I won't diminish him for that at all. The funny part to me was a couple of days afterward when he asked to meet with his old team once more. I wasn't in the room, but I have heard the same thing from a number of people that were. Accounts say it was a 90 second to 3 minute session where the "CEO" coach told his guys it was something he had to do for his family and that it was his dream job. By all accounts, he didn't look one person in the eye. By a number of other accounts, he didn't talk to his old staff in the time leading up to the meeting and in the time immediately after.
I'm sure Gene Chizik talked to the coaches he wanted to come with him, and to several players and recruits in the days after his meeting, but I know he didn't talk to the parents of every one of his recruits. In talking with one of those families (and not the Bofellis), all they wanted was 30 seconds....a sorry I had to go, but I had to and best of luck to your son, I know he'll do a great job. This is the same man that demanded his new players come in and meet him, one at a time, while sitting behind his desk with his national championship ring on, and demanded they sit up straight and look him in the eye.
In 2006, Gene Chizik thought he was walking into a group of people that didn't know how to work hard. Because if you work hard at Texas or Auburn, you win…and ISU didn't win in 2006. What he got was a group of kids that were tough, but not talented enough. He set about trying to bring it more talent, which he did. He put together a staff of people he could trust...as he told me when we first met... his phone had 1000's of contacts, in his words much more than the normal person, that he could rely on and that wanted to be part of his staff. He picked only the best.
I'll admit, I probably didn't give Gene a fair shake at first. I was still upset Coach Mac was gone, even though I know it was probably the best thing for everyone. If we were going to get rid of the winningest coach in school history, a man that loved the state of Iowa and its athletes, who, no question are limited in supply, we damn sure better get a staff that can coach and recruit at a whole different level. Almost immediately after the new staff came on board, I heard feedback from coaches around the state that ISU didn't care about their kids anymore and didn't think they were good enough. In fact, the 2006 4A state champions were told they didn't have a kid good enough to WALK ON at ISU. I was not comforted by this news...your heart comes from the state of Iowa. Ask Johnny Majors, Earle Bruce or Dan McCarney – they’ll tell you priority one should be getting the best kids in the state of Iowa.
After watching the 2007 Cyclones lose to Kent State, UNI and Toledo and be completely destroyed by Texas, I was fuming -- even with a win over Iowa and a come-back in a close game with an indifferent Oklahoma squad; I had seen us lose games we shouldn't have. No question the coaching in those early contests cost us as much as execution. As a coach, you need to understand what your guys can do and put them in a position to be effective. Our special teams schemes were awful. However, throughout the season, I saw improvement in fundamentals, particularly in the offensive line. Two wins at the end of the season made me think we had a chance.
2008 should have started where 2007 left off. It didn't. Too many changes in the o-line (Brandon Johnson should have been up and ready as soon as Knapp got hurt), some young guys playing that shouldn't have (Carter Bykowski- not because he couldn't contribute, but because we were loaded at the TE spot already), a Kansas game that got away - not for lack of effort on anyone's part, a Baylor game with the worst defensive game plan I have ever seen in my 13 years as a Cyclone and absolutely zero meaningful adjustments, followed by a offensive nightmare against Nebraska, left me knowing we didn't have a whole different level of coaching, in fact changes were needed. Gene Chizik was taking steps to address the problems he saw, and then Auburn stepped in.
I have always had a tremendous passion for ISU football. I watched our kids play hard all season and was truly proud of their effort. However, I spent most of the season in a funk; I was becoming indifferent to the outcome. Did I actually want the school I love to lose because of what it did to my coach, I found myself asking – no, but the only way to take what I was seeing was to not care as much as I used to. I suppose that was healthy, maybe a part of growing up, but it felt like a betrayal.
Gene Chizik might have gotten it done at ISU. He might have brought in the best and the brightest – heck, Dyron Dye was on campus for a visit. He might have gone out and gotten the best coordinators in the market at the time. He might have proved he is a military man “CEO” coach he sells himself as, but I bet if you ask a couple of his former players, coaches and recruits, they’ll tell you he proved himself to be a mercenary. They’re the ones that got the shaft in this deal. The fact that Gene Chizik could only muster at most 3 minutes for his two years’ worth of connection with a team, not answering any questions, he might as well have walked in, peed on the floor and walked out. Why waste your time with people you obviously care so little about? To satisfy his own guilty conscience is my only speculation. Gene Chizik was never connected with Iowa State, and I guess that’s why I never connected with him. Hopefully for him, he connects with Auburn or he might find himself without so many contacts in his phone.
December 20th changed everything for me. I know Coach Rhoads. Paul Rhoads is everything Gene Chizik sold himself to be – a great recruiter, a great coach and leader. Coach Rhoads will reestablish relationships with the coaches across the state – not just the ones that have kids we want right now, but ones that may have great kids in the future. It won’t be just because of that future kid, though -- it will be because he actually cares about ISU’s reputation and he respects what those coaches do for young people every day.
I’ve got to force myself to remain steady and not expect too much too quickly in terms of wins and losses, but I know I’ve got something to be proud about again. And that makes being a Cyclone worth every step of the journey.
Thank you for checking this site out. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.