Anxious, excited, nervous. Those three words best describe the feelings of the Cyclone fan base when discussing football after the recent roster changes that left Sam Richardson, Cole Netten, and Mark Mangino without their regular duties for this coming Saturday's Homecoming game against Texas.
There are two types of fans that show up every time Paul Rhoads hires a new offensive coordinator. The first type claims the offensive coordinator will need a year or two under their belt before the offense they want can be installed. The second type claims the offensive coordinator has no idea what they're doing and should be fired at the end of every season that's not up to par.
One thing is certain: Paul Rhoads doesn't like change. That's obvious when you look at Wally Burnham, who has been the defensive coordinator for Rhoads since he took over the program, and has done a less than stellar job the previous three years.
So why Mangino? Why is Rhoads so loyal to Burnham?
One big reason that goes unnoticed is the fact that Burnham hasn't always had the talent that the offense has possessed.
Iowa State's receiving corps is one of the best in the country. Mike Warren is one of the most productive running backs in the nation right now. ISU brought back an experienced offensive line and quarterback. The game plan all along should've been simple: run the ball to open up the pass.
However, it seemed like Iowa State's offense tried doing the exact opposite, which has come back to haunt them. The team is 83rd in points/game and 86th in 3rd down conversions.
Bottom line: this offense should be much more dangerous than what the statistics are showing.
Many fans have called for Lanning to start for weeks now and have wondered why it took Rhoads so long to make the change. Looking at our past gives a great explanation for why it took until week 9 this season.
Iowa State has yet to have one quarterback start every game for an entire season in the Rhoads era. That's detrimental to a program, and CPR knows that consistency is necessary for success.
At the start of the year, there was no controversy. Everyone knew that Richardson was the starter, and (just about everyone) supported him.
However, Richardson was not proving his worth on the field, and Lanning has made the most of his playing time the past few games.
You can't put all the blame on Richardson, though. The kid has always been tough as a Cyclone and I have no doubt he will be Lanning's #1 supporter on the sidelines. He was just unable to execute under his two coordinators.
It seems obvious a change should've been made. Why did this one take so long?
Netten has been GREAT (for ISU kicker standards) for most of his career as a Cyclone, there's no questioning that. It's also clear that Rhoads was banking on Netten being "the man" the next two years.
However, something has gotten in Netten's head. A coach? A few bad kicks? Who knows.
I'd be willing to bet Netten will be Iowa State's starting kicker next year. He just needs a little break at the moment to figure himself out.
As for Chris Francis, he went 3-8 in FG's his senior year of high school and 22-25 on PATs. A complete guess, but from watching high school games; weak lines, bad snaps, and bad holders are much more common and lead to bad kicking stats. I don't expect those kind of numbers from him as a Cyclone.
Francis also went 1-1 in pass attempts his senior season. Riverboat gambler Rhoads likes that percentage.
Fans: Shut Up.
"Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." I can't help but think it may be time for fans to stop demanding anything from this program, including myself, and just put blind faith in Rhoads... At least for the rest of this season (or until he gets canned).
Lets look how our fan base has acted over the years when calling for change...
1. OC Tom Herman should be fired!
Rhoads kept Herman that offseason. Herman left for Ohio State to become OC. Herman is now a national championship winner and is undefeated in his first head coaching experience at Houston.
2. OC Mark Mangino should be hired!
This is exactly the man nearly every fan was hoping to come in when Courtney Messingham was fired.
Ask, and you shall receive.
Can you find any fan that, when hired, was worried that Mangino wouldn't get the job done? Can you find one fan that was upset because they thought Coach X would've done a better job?
Rhoads felt pressure to get a home run hire. Mangino was supposed to be that home run, but unfortunately, he was just a lazy fly ball to right field.
3. Sam Richardson should be the starter!
Looking back, what exactly did Steele Jantz or Jared Barnett do to lose their jobs? They weren't great, and they were at the bottom of the totem pole for the Big 12, but they both beat some high quality teams. Can Sam say the same?
Everyone gets excited when a freshman plays, which is why the fan base was so excited for Sam. But this is also probably the reason Mike Warren took a few games before the staff let him loose. Same goes for Joshua Thomas, who finally took over Tyler Brown on the depth chart this week.
Bottom line: if Richardson was better than Jantz or Barnett, the staff would have been right to turn him loose. However, his freshman year he was forced into a position he likely wasn't prepared for and had a bar set as high as any QB, regardless of class.
4. Fire Wally!
Wally Burnham's past has shown what he can do when he has talent. However, the last three years, he has lacked both skill and experience with his defensive personnel.
This season, he seemingly has more talent than the past couple years. And while our defense has given up their fair share of points, they are still keeping all opponents under their season average (minus Texas Tech) which inspires some hope, considering they have played some of the greatest offenses in the nation.
5. Fire Rhoads!
Who are you trying to convince when you say this? 99% of Cyclone fans believe this. I'm a part of the 99%.
- Contractually, is that really the best option? Especially when some of the top donors of our athletic department back Rhoads?
- Could we get any better right now? Sure, top notch facilities. Yay. But no coach is interested in that. No coach in their right mind would be thinking Iowa State would be a great place as a stepping stone. A place they can use to become a great coach somewhere else. It just won't happen. They can wait another year, be successful where they're at, and wait for another opportunity the following offseason. Our only options will be aging coordinators knowing this could be their last shot to become a head coach, or flameouts not giving up their dream of being successful in football.
- We are a passionate fan base. While we are a basketball school, we are not a Kansas. We're still showing up for games. You can bet the home opener will be sold out next year against Northern Iowa. Should Iowa State start the season 2-1, assuming we beat UNI and San Jose State, the Jack will still be packed for a few more games, which means Pollard is still making money, even if we aren't winning.
Development. Our biggest problem right now is that we have Lanning on a pedestal that he probably doesn't want to be on right now.
Things don't just go *poof* and everything's all better.
We will still have some growing pains. We will still get beat by 3+ touchdowns in a few more games this year. Netten, or Francis, will miss a few more FG's.
The fact is, this season is over. There will be no postseason. Let these kids grow and learn the game. Do not get on them. Do not demand these athletes "perform better." Give them the opportunity to learn the game at this level and the chance to compete with some of the nation's best, with the hope that next season there WILL be a postseason. Because I can promise you, they're giving it all they have.
Rhoads may still have a job next year if...
Reviewing the last three years, it's easy to look at Richardson and Netten and say none of our players are improving under Rhoads.
However, looking at Nigel Tribune, Dale Pierson, Levi Peters, and our entire offensive line who looked like they could hang with Baylor, I'd argue that the majority of our players are improving. It's just not the ones that are getting the attention.
Our fan base gave up on this team vs. Baylor before the game even started, but our team never gave up, before or during the game. That speaks highly of the leaders of this team and our fanbase.
This team has a different vibe to it than last year. While they aren't winning, I buy Rhoads when he says the culture is different. You can have a "winning culture" without having success on the field. It's shown when these guys are giving it their all - which they do, most of the time. At least we're seeing hustle and urgency out of them when they're facing adversity, sans Texas Tech. If we're going to start becoming a successful program again on the field, it starts with a winning attitude.
Before this season, I said Rhoads needed a bowl game to remain an employee of Iowa State University.
By making these changes at this point in the season, Rhoads is showing that he knows the door is closing on him, but he isn't giving up, just like he expect his players to do on the field.
Because of this, I believe if Rhoads can manage two more wins to end this season, he stays on staff. If he beats Kansas State, he likely finishes, at worst, tied for 8th in the conference. Not ideal, but improvement.