When we started Wide Right Natty Lite in 2010 we were on the upswing of the Paul Rhoads era in Ames. Fresh off a 7-6 season and the third bowl victory in school history we were All In on the Rhoads bus and it showed in a lot of our early work.
It's no coincidence that WRNL grew at the same time that the star of Rhoads continued to shine brighter (and, alas, Fred Hoiberg's). As the football team continued to have success in 2011 and 2012 the readership of this site kept growing. Then Jake Knott separated his shoulder, Rhoads mentally broke, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As Rhoads began to lose his control of the program in 2013 he never lost his impact on the staff here. A lot of us were still diehard supporters. After all the loss of two of the greatest players in school history and the ensuing slump was supposed to be an aberration. Then things never got better.
The Mark Mangino Offensive Genius era never worked, and despite obvious improvements by the staff after Mangino's departure, the team never got over the mental hurdle it required to actually win football games. With the Mistake in Manhattan occurring in the final 1:31 of the game something became clear by 2:30 PM on Saturday: Paul Rhoads had taken nails with him to Kansas, found a hammer, and put every single one of those sons a bitches in to his own coffin. Then lit the fucking thing on fire and hoped someone would be there to put it out.
Except no one was there this time. Not us. Not donors. Not Jamie Pollard; and most certainly not President Leath. Rhoads had done the unthinkable and tarnished a legacy that many felt would have put him down as the greatest coach in Iowa State history just a few seasons ago.
However, I sit here today to tell you that Rhoads is one of the greatest coaches in school history. It might not show up in the win/loss column, but the intangibles Rhoads brought to the position helped raise the profile of Iowa State University in ways marketing budgets and donations never could.
The upsets of Nebraska and Oklahoma State made him an overnight YouTube sensation. The latter upset was the only game worth watching on a cold November night and reset the national championship picture for decades to come. Everyone who follows sports in America knew who Paul Rhoads and Iowa State were when they went to bed on November 18, 2011.
Although Rhoads never followed up that win with similar success he did do enough to raise the national profile of this school. He took the perception of "doormat" and changed it to "competitive". Even down years became "rebuilding years" with little to no mention of Iowa State's place in the national landscape historically. That narrative eroded a bit this season with another year of unmet expectations, but the attention paid to Iowa State hasn't waned.
Under Rhoads' helm the new indoor practice facility was completed and the Reimans love him so much they became the oft talked about donor to lead the construction of Jack Trice Stadium's south end zone. It was under Rhoads that Iowa State's facilities went from sub-par to some of the best in the conference.
With the search for a new head coach underway there has been a lot of talk about what Iowa State needs in a new coach. Some think drastic action is necessary. Some think it's a coaching graveyard.
I think those people are full of shit.
Many of you, like me, are thankful for the presence that Iowa State has in your lives. You may have met your spouse there. You certainly met some of your closest friends there. You've had memories that you'll cherish forever because of something associated with Iowa State. Each Thanksgiving you're thankful for those memories.
This Thanksgiving be thankful for one more: The groundwork that Paul Rhoads has laid for the future. A very bright future.