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Dodging Bullets: Iowa State and Texas Tech


Whew, that was close

In the past four years, both Iowa State and Texas Tech have had to replace their men's basketball and football coaches. This can be a difficult proposition for a schools like Iowa State and Tech, who have to weigh a few factors when choosing a new head coach. Each school's athletic director is going to try to find: A) a proven winner with experience, B) someone who's affordable, while C) ensuring that person is also a good fit for the school.

In that regard, Jamie Pollard has done an excellent job with his second hires in the revenue-generating sports. Even his first hires can be viewed as good in retrospect, as seen by Gene Chizik's and Greg McDermott's success at their current schools. The problem with Chizik and McDermott was that Pollard focused too much on the experience and winning-record part of the coaching equation, and not enough on the fit at Iowa State.

So thank god Pollard corrected that mistake when he hired Paul Rhoads and Fred Hoiberg, or Iowa State might be in the position that Texas Tech is currently in (that position being facedown in a shallow pond in West Texas, struggling to breathe).

When Greg McDermott left ISU for Creighton in 2010, Billy Gillispie actively campaigned for the Iowa State job. A lot of Cyclone fans saw his 140-84 head coaching record and were immediately smitten. They were willing to look past Gillispie's flameout at Kentucky, his DUI and his dickish personal style because he had won in the past. Gillispie was also known as a great recruiter, securing the services of five players from five different classes in 2008 alone (including an eighth-grader).

But Gillispie would have been a terrible fit at ISU. If a coach can't win at a school like Kentucky, which brings in blue-chip talent every year, can they really be expected to win at Iowa State? And Gillispie would have likely chafed under Jamie Pollard's management. Pollard's the guy who supposedly passed on hiring Jim Harbaugh in 2006 because Harbaugh swore too much during his interview. He wouldn't take kindly to Gillispie passing out in Hilton's parking lot and pissing himself after every home game.

And while Tommy Tuberville was probably never a serious candidate to replace Gene Chizik, he was a hot name at the time, and many Cyclone fans would have welcomed him as their new head coach. In 2009, Tuberville had just been fired resigned from Auburn under dubious circumstances; mainly Bobby Lowder trying to turn Auburn football into his own personal fantasy football team. Tuberville's record at Auburn had been 85-40, and also had a reputation of being an excellent recruiter; pulling in five straight top-twenty classes.

But again, Tuberville probably would have been a bad hire for Iowa State. Like Chizik, Tuberville had most of his success at a school with nearly unlimited resources (Auburn). When he was at Ole Miss, a school with an athletic budget closer to what Iowa State has to work with, he struggled; going 25-20 over four years. Neither Gillispie or Tuberville have any ties to Iowa State or the midwest. They don't know what it takes to win at a school like Iowa State, and probably would have left at the first sign of success.

So while fans begged for a proven head coach after the Chizik debacle and howled for a winner after the McDermott disaster, Jamie Pollard took the long view and hired coaches that wanted to be at Iowa State. Instead of making the supposedly safe choice that Texas Tech made, Pollard gambled on a veteran defensive coordinator who grew up near Ames and worked with Dan McCarney, and a Iowa State legend with no coaching experience whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Texas Tech athletic directors Gerald Myers and Kirby Hocutt stuck to the playbook and hired known entities. Slightly damaged, off-brand entities, but known entities none the less. As an analogy, think of Billy Gillispie and Tommy Tuberville as Domino's pizza while Hoiberg and Rhoads are the slightly more exotic Great Plains' slices. Both offer the same basic product, but Great Plains gives you more value for your money.

And value for its dollar is really what Iowa State needs to focus on in it's coaching searches, and it's something that Fred Hoiberg and Paul Rhoads both deliver. Tommy Tuberville and Billy Gillispie? The verdict's still out, but it's not looking good. While Tuberville is still delivering top-ranked recruiting classes, he hasn't shown that he can develop that talent yet. And the less said about the Red Raiders' basketball team this year, the better. Granted, Gillispie faced a huge rebuilding job after six seniors graduated last year, and Texas Tech should be better next year; but if the rumors are true about Gillispie's abrasive interactions with others in the Red Raider athletic department he probably isn't winning many allies at the moment.

So Jamie Pollard should be applauded for focusing more on fit than experience when hiring Rhoads and Hoiberg. And while Iowa State dodged the Gillispie and Tuberville bullets, Texas Tech caught them squarely in the teeth. It remains to be seen if the Red Raiders can recuperate and get back to winning seasons.