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Paul Rhoads: A Cyclone to the Very End

The Paul Rhoads era will ultimately come to a disappointing close, but the now-former Iowa State head coach should be remembered for the highs during his tenure, as well as his enduring character.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

In the upcoming days, weeks or months that Iowa State University spends searching for a new head coach, you're going to see and hear a lot of people who are overjoyed about the decision to pursue someone other than Paul Rhoads to lead the Cyclone football program. The past few years on the gridiron have been more frustrating than fun in Ames, leading fans to turn on a man who unquestionably loved his town, university and players.

For Rhoads, the passion he held that inspired his fiery post-game speeches and animated sideline antics simply wasn't enough to help him keep his job. College football is a business, after all.

No amount of passion will ever overshadow the importance of winning.

In some ways, Rhoads just got unlucky. Take for instance the switch from an 8-game to a 9-game conference schedule that happened during the middle of his tenure at Iowa State. The change took a non-conference game off of ISU's schedule every year and replaced it with another matchup against an opponent from the rugged Big 12 Conference. It's been a tough pill to swallow for Iowa State, a school that has struggled historically against basically every team in the Big 12 outside of Kansas State.

In other ways, Rhoads simply failed to get the job done. One only has to look back at the Cyclones' last two games to point out coaching errors that directly led to negative outcomes for ISU.

Against Oklahoma State with just a few minutes left in the game, Rhoads and his staff failed to realize their offense didn't pick up a 1st down following a throw close to the marker. On the next play, in a 3rd and 1 situation that would have made much more sense to run the ball and pick up the 1st down, a pass was called and the throw fell incomplete. A play later, the Cyclones were stuffed on 4th and 1 and turned the ball over.

Then, against Kansas State, Iowa State held a seven point lead with 1:31 left in the game and had just got the ball back after forcing a Wildcat turnover on downs. K-State only had one timeout left, so the Cyclones could have just kneeled the ball three times and punted it with about 10 seconds left to all but seal the game. Instead, Rhoads decided to call for a handoff to running back Mike Warren and try to avoid punting the ball at all. Warren ended up fumbling on the play and Kansas State would score a touchdown to tie it up, get the ball back again after another ISU fumble, and kick a 42 yard field goal to win it in regulation.

It's blunders like those, compounded over a few seasons, which contributed to the decision to fire Rhoads.

Was it the right decision? Yes, probably. No one will ever know if Rhoads would have turned things around next year, but both Jamie Pollard and Cyclone fans hoped that he would following the lackluster 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Unfortunately, it just didn't happen, and the sand falling in Rhoads' hourglass of patience finally ran out.

But what fans -- even those who were the most vocal in calling for Rhoads to be canned -- need to remember is that Paul Rhoads was not Gene Chizik. Rhoads wore his heart on his sleeve and gave his all to Iowa State football, even if his all wasn't enough to satisfy Cyclone Nation in the end.

We saw it after that first "Paul Rhoads special" in 2009. ISU beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers 9-7 in a bizarre game that saw the Cyclones force eight Nebraska turnovers. It was the first win in Lincoln for Iowa State since 1977, and the performance inspired a celebration that became the defining byword of the Rhoads era: "So proud."

"I couldn't be prouder. I could not be prouder. No, I am so proud. I am so proud! [players cheering] Listen to me. Listen to me. I am so proud to be your football coach!"

- Paul Rhoads

Of course, that victory wasn't the only big accomplishment under Rhoads' watch. In 2010, ISU knocked off Texas 28-21 in Austin for the program's first ever win over the Longhorns.

Still, the best was yet to come.

A year later, the Cyclones took down No. 2 Oklahoma State in Jack Trice Stadium for what many consider to be the best win in school history. The post-game speech from Coach Rhoads after taking down the Cowboys -- and on a larger scale, the BCS system -- wasn't too shabby either.

"I told you I don't care if you're black or white. I don't care if you're rich or poor. I don't care where you come from, whether it's Texas, Florida, California or right here in the state of Iowa. I don't care about any of that. But what I did care about is moving forward from that day on, that we were one team. That we were unified and that we were one team. And you have bought into it hook, line and sinker. And for that, men, I am so proud!"

- Paul Rhoads

It's evident that Rhoads was more than a football coach; he was a life coach as well. You can tell from some of the players' reactions on Twitter following the announcement that Coach Rhoads had been let go.

On the "good guy" list in college football, Rhoads is certainly near the top. Even the most anti-Rhoads Cyclone fans have a hard time denying that. The problem is, merely being a man of character doesn't keep you employed as a head football coach at the Division 1 level.

This Saturday, Rhoads will coach his final game for Iowa State as they travel to Morgantown to play the West Virginia Mountaineers. There's nothing of real significance on the line for ISU, but sending out a man who bleeds Cyclone cardinal with a W would be a great parting gift.

When you're watching Rhoads wander the sidelines for the last time this weekend, don't be bitter. Remember him for Nebraska 2009. Texas 2010. Oklahoma State 2011.

Remember him for being so proud to be your football coach.