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Dispatches From the Firing Squad

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Saturday's loss to Kansas may have been the worst in the Paul Rhoads Era. So where do the Cyclones go from here, and does it involving firing someone?

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Say what you will about the losses to Northern Iowa in 2013 and North Dakota State in 2014, but Saturday's loss to Kansas was a historical low for Paul Rhoads and his version of Cyclone Football.

Typically I would throw some stats out here backing up this point, but for this I don't have to.  We all saw, heard, or read about it.  Kansas wasn't completely lifeless coming in to Saturday - they've apparently rallied around their new coach and a change in play callers - but they were still the perennial cellar dwellers and were plagued with their own set of injury and depth issues.

In a theme that has been mentioned countless times the past few seasons, it's how Iowa State lost that matters.  Listless, unprepared, lacking in the fundamentals.  All things used to describe the team on Saturday, and that's putting it politely.

However, there were a lot of issues all around.  Most of which I can sum up in my comments from the recap:

This won't be popular, but...

Finally sat down and watched most of the first half last night, and had the luxury of pausing and rewinding at my leisure. A few things I noticed:

  • Mangino, what the fuck was that? Not sure how this team comes out as woefully unprepared as they were on Saturday but that offensive series to start was disastrous. Bubble to Bibbs wasn’t getting more than 3 yards even if Grant threw a perfect ball. The third down was a jumped snap that beat Campos and annihilated Grant. Even if he had time he essentially had one look: Lazard stalk blocks then turns the jets up field. It was boom or bust with the defense KU called on that play, and I’m not sure Grant had the ability to hit that throw on the third play of the game.
  • Defensive effort and lack of size and experience is what’s holding this team back. Like it or not, I think Wally called a decent game to start. Players were flowing to the ball and guys were picking up their men, but there was absolutely no push in the defensive line and the linebackers are woefully undersized without Miller in the middle. I think Luke Knott has a good head on his shoulders, but he shouldn’t be playing anything other than Nickel. His poor angle on the second touchdown is what allowed it to happen. He and Tribune had bracket responsibilities and Knott rounded off his pursuit in hopes of the pick… except he took a terrible angle and allowed the pass to be completed. We then doubled down by going to Drake Ferch at SLB/Nickel. Ferch is just too small against any rushing attack, and took a piss poor angle that wiped out Brandon Jensen on a long KU run.
  • Speaking of Tribune: Learn to get your hands on a receiver buddy. KU’s first touchdown set up by a whiff on Tribune’s part. If you wonder why we don’t play more press coverage, that’s why.
  • None of the comments above are supposed to excuse the coaches. In the end it’s still Wally’s responsibility to put together a capable defense, and he’s failed to do so this year. Injuries or not. Shane is supposed to be an ace recruiter, and has brought in some great talent, but none of it is in his area of responsibility (save for Coe). Shane has had one above average DT in his tenure here and… wait for it… he was recruited by Gene Chizik’s staff. At this point both father and son have to go. Shane’s ceiling is lead recruiter/special teams coach/some position that doesn’t matter, and we can’t afford that right now.
  • Loved the commitment to the running game late in the 1st half and early in the 2nd, but you can’t go to the red zone and not run the ball. Especially when Wimberly carries your ass down there. Thought this was short sighted and not the first time Mangino has had this issue. Yes, we have some basketball players on the outside, but you have to be willing to test the middle of the field on the ground that close to the goal line.
  • Like it or not, this was a total team loss. The offense came out with a bad plan, the players failed to execute, and that in turn put the defense out there too long in the 1st half. Same on defense, but the execution was even worse. Like many have said, it’s a coaches responsibility to motivate players and clearly something is holding them back right now.
  • Overall Mangino deserves another year, but he’s not worthy of the head spot and I’ll opine on that in a column in a day or two. The Burnhams should be packing their belongings, and whomever Rhoads gets has one season to save his boss’ job.

Reading that you'd assume I'm probably asking for one more year of Paul Rhoads, and you'd be correct in that assumption.  That said, changes have to be made in the off season to not only improve the team, but keep the fan base at least interested enough to make Jack Trice louder than a library on game days.

There's been a lot of chatter here and all over the web about how the situation should be handled, and now I'll dive into the scenarios of each and why or why they won't work for Iowa State in 2015.

Fire Everyone

The popular notion during, and immediately after, the game.  It's hard not to go this way when you give up 514 yards and 5.7 yards per play to an offense that was averaging only 3.5 yards per carry coming in to the game.  Combine that with an offensive performance that was a flashback to Messes of the past, and you have a recipe for the plane taking the players home and the coaches driving their separate ways from the airport.

Is this a realistic scenario though?  Firing the entire staff creates a whole program turnover and Jamie Pollard's 4th head coach in his just shy of a decade tenure.  If this team is lacking in depth and talent (they are) then a new coaching staff won't fix things in 2015.  This isn't 2009 when Rhoads walked in to a program with Gene Chizik recruits and one of the softest schedules in the nation.

Plus there's the sticky issue of buying out a coach's contract.  Rhoads has a base salary of $375,000 from now through the end of his contract in 2021.  The rest comes in the form of "secondary services", which is code word for "money paid by donors to do the other head coaching duties and something the Athletic Department doesn't have to budget for".  Assuming only his base, and two one-time payments in 2015 and 2018, are guaranteed then Iowa State will owe Rhoads $3.225M within 30 days of his termination.  If it's a flat $500K per year like the original contract stipulated, then that number changes to $3.5M.  Small change, but the important thing to note here is it's payable at one time, and not over the course of a year or multiple years.

Now assume worst case scenario for the assistant coaches: all are in year one of a two year contract.  It's likely not true, but data on assistant contracts is sketchy at best, so we're assuming a firing of an assistant guarantees them payment in 2015.  At roughly $200K for position coaches (seven) and $400K for coordinators (two) that's another $2.2M Iowa State is doling out.

That's a range of $3.2M (best) to $5.7M (worst) that Iowa State is shelling out within months of the end of the football season.  Yes, the administration has new TV money, but so does everyone else.

Could a donor be found?  Potentially, but who knows how tapped the reserves are after getting the south end zone project off the ground, and this isn't even addressing the fact that a new coach and his staff will cost at least another $3-5M in 2015.

Chances of Happening: ~10%

Fire Rhoads, Promote Mangino

This one makes my head hurt.  Not because it's a terrible scenario, but because a fan base that was ready to lynch Rhoads for the two years of Messingham is advocating another promotion from within from a coach who hasn't earned it.

Hasn't earned it?  That's pretty provocative there KnowDan!  Well stay with me here.

Mangino is a high quality coach and there's no arguing that.  There's no arguing with what he did with Kansas in the mid 2000s.  There's no arguing that offense has transformed from a complete tire fire to a burning tire rolling down the road.  Don't worry though, that tire could possibly run in to a forest or a play ground and really set things on fire!

You cannot underscore the change in the landscape enough when talking about Mangino's time at Kansas.  He played in a weakening North division in the latter part of the decade, and had the luxury of missing Texas and Oklahoma for consecutive years (plus Tech at their prime).  His exchange for that was a Baylor team pre-Art Briles, Texas A&M with that old guy from the Packers coaching them, and Oklahoma State prior to Mike Gundy becoming a Man.

If there's definitive proof of how Mangino succeeded at Kansas it's this: The 12-1 Orange Bowl campaign in 2007 was born out of the 74th toughest schedule in the nation according to Jeff Sagarin. Saying Mangino built Kansas in a different era isn't just a massive understatement, it's an important footnote in college football history post-conference realignment.

Mangino's experience gives this one slightly more credibility than firing everyone.

Chances of Happening: ~30%

Fire the Burnhams, Keep Rhoads

As straightforward as it comes.  Rhoads isn't likely to be fired this year due to the contract and the fact he had a young and undersized team, but the hatchet has to come down on someone for the dismal performance on the defensive side of the ball.

Rumors swirled last year that Wally Burnham was on his way out via retirement, but gave it another go after finding some vigor late in the season.  He's probably wishing that right now he was sitting in Florida enjoying watching football and not stressing over it.

If Wally goes, then Shane goes.  The relationship between Shane and Rhoads has been strained at best and no way the son stays if the father leaves.

The defense was young this year, and shorthanded with the dismissals of Rodney Coe and David Irving.  However, the lack of fight from this defense in the past few weeks is a clear indicator that the players aren't motivated and the coaches are failing to keep them focused.

Additionally, Wally's system can be notoriously complex to learn and is one of the biggest reasons JUCO transfers have had a tough time seeing the field under his watch.  A simpler defense focused on highlighting what minimal skills the defenders do have may be what's needed to push Iowa State back over the .500 hump.

Chances of Happening: ~60%

Possible Head Coaches

Say Pollard does fire Rhoads.  Then what?  Here are my best guesses for candidates, summed up in one sentence for your convenience.

Craig Bohl - Head Coach - Wyoming

Definitely not the worst hire, but a completely different style of offense will take at least two years to show results.

Dan McCarney - Head Coach - North Texas

Ironic, right?

Jim McElwain - Head Coach - Colorado State

Currently has the Rams at 9-1 and lighting the world on fire on offense, and would put Iowa State on the right path.

Mark Farley - Head Coach - Northern Iowa

Remember the last UNI coach to go to a traditionally challenged Power 5 school?

Doc Holliday - Head Coach - Marshall

Pro: Exciting offense that is making C-USA look like the OK Corral, Con: Will probably die of Tuberculosis after arriving in Ames

Matt Campbell - Head Coach - Toledo

My personal favorite, he may be to Tim Beckman (Illinois) what Chris Peterson was to Dan Hawkins.

Mark Hudspeth - Head Coach - UL-Lafayette

Second on my list, and a proven winner with deep connections in the South.

See a trend?  No more training wheels for head coaches at Iowa State.  Give me a guy who has run a program before, had success, and knows how to get where he wants to go.

What to Watch For in the Final Three Games

Fight.  You're watching for fight.  The Kansas game may not have been rock bottom for a program that still faces a pass happy Taco Tech, a resurgent West Virginia team, and a TCU team that ate all the Tacos just a few weeks ago and is looking for playoff style points.

1-2 is conceivable in the final stretch, but 0-3 is much more likely after the display in Lawrence.  If there's any hope to slightly extinguish the tire fire it'll be laid this week and next while the team prepares for Tech.  If the mood in the football building continues to be a morose one then we're looking at McCarney level blowouts over the final stretch of the season, and at that point, maybe it is time to turn the page because at least then you have hope for a better tomorrow.