Last week, reports surfaced that Maryland was preparing to fire head coach Randy Edsall (which they eventually did) after what was sure to be a lopsided loss to No. 1 Ohio State on the road. That game ended up being much closer than many prognosticators thought, and the question of "What the hell does Maryland do with their coach if they go on to win this game?" was being asked at halftime by members of the four-letter network while Maryland was hanging around. It certainly was an interesting hypothetical, which got me and a few buddies thinking about another involving ISU:
What if Iowa State doesn't beat Oklahoma State in 2011?
Let me be clear... I know many players from that 2011 Cyclone team, and I'm not trying to belittle that win or say that Iowa State would be better off having not won. However, that game has had lasting effects for the program that are worth looking at with the benefit of hindsight.
Many pundits and fans considered that game, at the time, to be a program changer. Recruits were sure to be funneling in during the offseason, and Jamie Pollard had found the right man for the head coaching job here at Iowa State. The Cyclones were all over ESPN for blowing up the now-defunct BCS system, and Alabama was handwriting a thank you card addressed to ISU for getting the Crimson Tide back in the national title picture.
Let's take a look at a few lasting effects the win over Oklahoma State MIGHT have had on the Iowa State program, and what COULD be different today had the Cowboys not been upset by the Cyclones.
The Extension Effect
December 16, 2011 - A little more than two weeks before Iowa State would play Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on New Year's Eve, Paul Rhoads signed a 10-year, $20 million contract extension. At the moment, it seemed like a great move, and it's hard to crush Jamie Pollard for wanting to lock up a coach that had taken us to two bowl games in three years. Not to mention Rhoads had revitalized the masses after the Chizik mess and seemed to be on his way to taking the program to the next level.
Consistency at the head coaching position often means success, but what percentage of college coaches stick around at a program for more than a decade? Most either leave on their own volition, get fired, move on to a bigger job and paycheck, or retire. Decade-long contracts in the real college football world just make things complicated upon what is frequently an inevitable divorce.
For a fiscally responsible athletic director in Pollard, the decision to offer an such a long extension makes little sense to me. As Chris Brown says, "If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense," right? There's three outcomes that can come from an extension of this nature.
1. Iowa State continues winning games, frequents bowl games and turns the proverbial corner.
In this scenario, I find it hard to believe that other schools don't come calling for Rhoads' services. There's been rumors about Pittsburgh and Wisconsin reaching out in the past, so who's to say that another school doesn't come calling if he had kept winning? At that point, Pollard would either let him go and use his $1 million buyout to find another coach, or he'd work out another, more expensive extension.
The college football world is built on money, not loyalty. Coaches don't frequently stay for less money, and if Rhoads were to keep winning, there's no way Iowa State would be able to keep him at the base $1.6 million per year he signed for. Rhoads wins, fans keep buying in, and Pollard has the ability to give him more money when the time comes. So why handcuff yourself for a decade with a sizable buyout now?
2. The program mires in mediocrity and goes to bowl games half the time.
We've seen this situation play out before, right? Regardless of your feelings for Dan McCarney, Pollard felt that he had taken the program as far as he could and it was time to part ways to take the program to new heights. Pollard wanted to put his stamp on the program, so out with McCarney and in with Chizik.
That was after five bowl games in seven years.
So if five out of seven isn't good enough, at what point in this 10 year extension is Pollard willing to buy Rhoads out if he's not meeting expectations? Who's to say what the fans would be clamoring for after middling results, but if history is any indication, Rhoads' seat would be hot at some point and a decision would have to be made within the decade to either buy Rhoads out or stand by him as the program fails to reach the potential heights that the 'program changing win' over Oklahoma State was supposed to bring.
3. What's actually happening.
This is the worst-case scenario. We're four years into a 10 year deal and have a record of 11-30 since that contract was signed. As KnowDan identifies here, the current buyout would cost us a whopping $4.5 million at the end of this season (plus assistants and hiring of new staff), and we just paid Rhoads a $300,000 retention bonus in February for managing to survive a 5-19 Chizik-like stretch.
Jamie Pollard is a business man. Each year that Cyclone fans keep showing up and buying tickets, donating to the Cyclone Club and generally supporting the program, he saves the department three-quarters of a million dollars. He's going to easily pay $1.6 million for a coach in the Big 12 regardless of whom it is. If the support is still there, why eat the buyout and new coaching salaries? Rhoads is the cheapest option currently and he's gone to bowl games before, so as long as he can sell hope, he'll be here.
Basically, all this extension did was lock up a coach at a low end base salary and handcuff the department with a hefty buyout should things go downhill fast. The only way this contract seemingly works for all parties is if Rhoads wins consistently, and even then we likely have to give him a raise and pay him accordingly. So why the rush to lock him up for 10 years instead of waiting to pay him accordingly for a shorter time span? Any option other than winning results in a debate about a buyout, and we need not look further than the University of Iowa prior to this year for a shining example of such a situation. Simply put, there's no reason to lock a coach up for a decade after not even three complete seasons.
10 whole years. If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense, right?
The Tom Herman Effect
December 8th, 2011 - Urban Meyer tabbed Tom Herman to come on as his offensive coordinator/QB coach. Odds are this hire would have happened if we'd won the OSU game or not, but who really knows? Selling the offensive coordinator from a Big 12 school that hasn't been to a bowl game in two years, hasn't averaged more than 28 points a game and whose coach may be on the hot seat after back-to-back losing seasons might have been a tougher sell to the Ohio State fan base.
What if we don't go bowling? Meyer looks elsewhere and Herman stays a couple years before becoming a head coach somewhere? Maybe even here at Iowa State?
What if we don't have to go through the Messingham years? What if Pollard sees Herman's potential, lets Rhoads go after another year or two and gives Herman the reigns? We'll never know, but Herman as a head coach is working out pretty well for the Houston Cougars right now.
The Facilities Effect
Does the money roll in to complete the bowling in of the south end zone if we don't defeat the Cowboys? Those plans had apparently been in place for a long time, but maybe the victory over the #2 team in the nation was the event that helped facilitate the Reimans' generous donation that pushed the project 'over the top'.
When the Bergstroms made their donation to kick start the Bergstrom Football Complex, they noted that being in Texas allowed them to see "how important facilities are to recruiting" and mentioned that "we have to help Paul Rhoads continue to grow the football program because it's the engine that drives the bus for the athletic department." Clearly the confidence in Rhoads was helping incite action from big time donors within the department.
Money talks, and people with money talk to each other. When Pollard approached the Bergstroms about the football facility, Steve and Debbie saw the need and told Pollard "let's get after it and see if we can find other people to chip in." I have little doubt that all the positivity that came from beating OSU and going to bowl games in three of Rhoads' first four years helped pool money together for all of ISU's recent facility improvements. This is one positive that cannot be denied, regardless of your personal feelings on the Cyclones' head football coach.
So where does this leave us?
That Friday night will always hold a special place in my heart. It gave me one of the best Cyclone moments of my life, and I'm sure many ISU fans would say the same. Iowa State was at the top of the college football world, even if only for 24 hours. They shook up the National Championship picture, they won their first game against an opponent ranked in the AP's top six and there were sure to be recruiting benefits to be seen from all the optimism and exposure. The prevailing opinion was that Iowa State's stock was undoubtedly rising and the phone calls rained down on alumni to "buy in" and make the investment in Cyclone football NOW, so they could reap all the benefits in the future.
But like many "sure things" on the stock market, this investment has fallen flat. There was a reversion to the mean, and all that remains are a bunch of angry investors that want to see the return on their investment.
Let's not kid ourselves, upset specials are what they are: single game victories. Did that incredible win lead to facility upgrades that will undoubtedly aid our program as we move forward? Some would say yes, and some would say they were coming anyway.
Did that incredible win lead to an absurdly long head coach extension that has currently put Iowa State's athletic department on the hook for a load of money given present circumstances? That could be argued as well.
Would Paul Rhoads still be ISU's head coach in 2015 if he didn't win that game? It's hard to tell. That win certainly shaped the future for Iowa State, and the odds are the effect of that win is being felt differently by each and every Cyclone fan as the program continues under its current trajectory.
While the question begging to be answered of whether the long term effects of that win are for better or worse, only one truth exists.
On November 18th, 2011, Iowa State won a football game.