“I was so fired up after talking with coach Rhoads. I have watched as he built the Iowa State program and have a full appreciation for what he has accomplished so far. I am elated to be a Cyclone.” - Chris Klenakis
Paul Rhoads appears to know what he's doing when it comes to hiring coaches. Seriously. He's done amazing work getting highly qualified candidates with BCS coaching experience to come work at Iowa State, and to actually be excited about coming to Iowa State. This hasn't always been the case with Iowa State coaches, but Rhoads has a knack for finding experienced, highly competent coaches who need a job. Wally Burnham is a goddamn wizard and a coaching veteran who has patched together a serviceable defense out of scraps and JUCOs. Similarly, Kenith Pope came to coach running backs at Iowa State after high profile stints at Alabama and Texas A&M.
But Rhoads best HR job might be when he needs to replace a coach. While the verdict is still out on Courtney Messingham's promotion to offensive coordinator, Rhoads has done an extraordinary job when it comes to replacing position coaches. Look at the resume thus far:
- Replaced Courtney Messingham with Todd Sturdy: Wide receivers coach, came from offensive coordinator position at Washington State, where the Cougars put up the 9th ranked passing attack in his last year in Pullman
- Replaced Bobby Elliott with Troy Douglas: Defensive backs coach, came from same position at North Carolina in the aftermath of the Butch Davis debacle.
- Replaced Chris Ash with Bobby Elliott: Came back to ISU from San Diego State, promptly leveraged his position to become a coach at Notre Dame.
The ability to identify coaching talent is important, because position coaches last an average of 2-3 years at one school. There's a lot of turnover, and a big part of maintaining success is replacing outgoing coaches with equally successful coaches.
It's also important to replace or reassign coaches when their positions aren't performing up to expectations, and that's where Chris Klenakis comes in. Bill Bleil was Paul Rhoads' first hire, and the two coaches have known each other for over two decades. Despite the offensive lines' struggles for the past few years it was unlikely that Rhoads would fire his old friend and assistant head coach. But when Luke Wells left (or "left") for Utah State, well; then there was an opening on the staff. A soft landing place for Bleil: a position where he would still have input but his coaching wouldn't be quite as important for game day.
Because the offensive line hasn't really been anyone's definition of good during Bill Bleil's tenure as coach. This chart provides the mediocre details of Bleil's work with the offensive line.
|Big 12 rank: Rushing offense||9th||6th||8th||4th|
|Avg. yards per rush||4.2||4.5||3.7||4.2|
|Big 12 rank: Sacks||3rd (T)||7th||11th||8th|
|Big 12 rank: Total offense||9th||8th||11th (T)||8th|
So now Chris Klenakis comes to Iowa State, hopefully to provide a spark to an underperforming unit. And there's good reason to believe that he can have an immediate impact. Klenakis spent the last three years as offensive line coach at Arkansas, and coached the same position at Nevada from 2004 to 2009.
|Conference rank: Rushing offense||14th||9th||9th||1st||1st||1st|
|Avg yards per rush||3.88||4.33||4.6||7.39||6.09||4.89|
|Conference rank: Sacks||2nd||6th||8th||2nd||2nd||4th|
|Conference rank: Total offense||6th||1st||2nd||1st||1st||2nd|
Now, those rushing stats from Klenakis' time at Arkansas look bad, but Arkansas finished in the bottom three of the SEC in rushing attempts every year while Klenakis was coach. Arkansas just hasn't run the ball very much in the past few years, and when you have Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson at quarterback, that's probably a good idea.
But Chris Klenakis knows how to coach an offensive line to pile up big rushing yards, as proven by his time at Nevada. Klenakis came to Nevada with Chris Ault in 2004 and helped him develop and install the pistol offense that is now the Wolfpack's trademark. This guy literally wrote the book on the pistol formation. One of the biggest benefits to having Klenakis as an offensive line coach is illustrated by this quote from Paul Rhoads.
"Chris has been part of very productive offenses at both Nevada and Arkansas. His extensive knowledge and background as a coordinator in the Pistol offense will help us diversify and expand our offensive system. The Pistol is emerging, in both college and the NFL, as a highly potent offense that is changing how teams have to prepare defensively."
So it sounds like Rhoads hired Klenakis in large part due to his knowledge of the pistol. A variation of the spread, in the pistol the quarterback lines up four yards behind the center with the running back three yards behind the quarterback. This provides a nice hybrid between a shotgun formation and a traditional under-center formation, and can lead to a more potent rushing attack. With the quarterback four yards behind the line of scrimmage, the pistol allows for designed runs from the quarterback like those seen in a shotgun formation; but can also provide more of a power running game, with the running back following a lead blocker lined up beside the quarterback. In the pistol, the running back is running north and south, allowing him to hit the hole earlier than he would from the shotgun; where by necessity the running back has to run to the sideline for a bit before reaching the line of scrimmage.
And Klenakis' experience with the pistol a good thing for Iowa State. The pistol is primarily a running formation and Iowa State's running game needs all the help it can get at the moment. 2012 saw the Cyclones fall to ninth in the conference in rushing yards per game, eighth in rushing attempts, with only 4.2 rushing yards per attempt. All this from a self-proclaimed running team.
But the Klenakis hire is encouraging for other reasons. Rhoads clearly saw a problem with Iowa State's mediocre run game and took action to fix the problem. Instead of letting his personal friendship with Bill Bleil cloud the issue, Rhoads reassigned Bleil to coach tight ends and found an excellent offensive line coach in Chris Klenakis. That's a promising trend for the future.
Because Paul Rhoads enters his fifth year as head coach of the Iowa State Cyclones with an offense that has never even approached the best in the conference. Statistically, the Cyclones' best year was Rhoads' first year on the job, when Iowa State had the fourth-ranked rushing attack and the eighth (out of 12 teams) total offense. The Cyclones need to put a functional offense on the field to stay competitive in the Big 12, and functional offenses start with functional offensive lines. If Chris Klenakis can improve Iowa State's run and pass blocking immediately, it'll go a long way to determining how successful the Cyclones are next year.