Coming into the 2015 campaign, Paul Rhoads spoke at length about a culture change in the Iowa State football program. Following a dismal 5-19 stretch that spanned two seasons and saw mass attrition up and down the roster, Rhoads assured us that this year's locker room felt different. No more cancerous teammates. No more faux leadership. No more loser's mentality.
August promises shattered by the middle of September.
With Saturday night's loss at Toledo, Iowa State wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule with a disappointing 1-2 record, highlighted by erratic play in all three phases of the game and an undisciplined, listless effort, especially over the last six quarters of football.
Under different circumstances, we could easily point out the fact that Iowa State very well could and maybe even should be 3-0. After all, the Cyclones were knotted up at 17-17 with Iowa and had the ball and momentum with just over nine minutes left before faltering down the stretch. And of course on Saturday night, needing only a chip shot field goal to secure a comeback win on the road, Cole Netten's attempt sailed wide left of the uprights and Iowa State eventually fell in double overtime.
A couple plays here and there and we're all singing a different tune. A bowl game is still in play, the conversation shifts to talking about progress in the program, and most importantly, Rhoads' seat is cooling. But alas, those couple plays are part of the game and now, Iowa State appears headed for a sixth straight losing season.
Rhoads was correct about the Cyclone program needing a culture change. Unfortunately for him, it has become blatantly clear he is not the man to usher in that change.
It's nothing personal. Just business.
The Iowa State job is not an easy one. A geographical outlier in a state lacking in talent, the gig simply presents more challenges than those of the rest of the Big 12. We Iowa State fans readily accept these facts and as a result, afford the Cyclone program a little more leeway. Every fan base defines success a little differently, and if we're being completely honest with ourselves, the standard for what defines success in Ames is a little lower.
Be that as it may, there is still a breaking point and there is still a rock bottom, and it would appear the Cyclone program has not only found it, but doesn't appear to be turning the corner any time soon. We're a long cry from three bowl games in Rhoads' first four years. Instead, Iowa State is now 6-21 since the start of the of the 2013 season, 7-25 since Jake Knott last suited up in the cardinal and gold (a more significant landmark than some realize), and 12-31 since that shocking upset of then #2 Oklahoma State in 2011.
Remarkably, Cyclone fans keep showing up and filling Jack Trice Stadium every Saturday, despite the fact that Iowa State is just 6-16 at home since knocking off the Cowboys four seasons ago. Included in those 16 losses are defeats at the hands of two FCS programs, two losses to Iowa, and four losses by 20 points or more. Only two of those six wins have come against conference foes.
The fact that attendance has soared during this time span and Iowa State even expanded the stadium defies all logic. Maybe it's why Rhoads was retained after 2014's disastrous 2-10 campaign when he would have been sent packing at just about any other Power-5 program. Then again, it's undeniable how much emotional capital Rhoads has built up by endearing himself to the Cyclone fan base as much as he has.
It's an interesting dynamic, but also a dynamic that appears to be nearing its end. Nine league games await Iowa State, and one could surmise that given the trajectory of this program and this 2015 team, those nine games will likely be the last nine Rhoads will ever coach as the head man of the Cyclone program (assuming he isn't ousted sooner).
Rhoads was given this last chance, whether he deserved it or not, but it was likely always going to be "bowl game or bust" for the sake of Rhoads' job. At 1-2, it would take a miracle for Iowa State to grind out five more wins in the always difficult Big 12. With Saturday's loss, the farewell tour has officially begun. Sure, Iowa State may notch another win or two between now and Thanksgiving, but it will not and should not be enough to save Rhoads' job.
This program can do better. This program should do better. This program deserves better.
This isn't a call for Rhoads' head because of Saturday's loss to Toledo, as bad as it was, and this certainly isn't a call for Rhoads' head because of the loss to Iowa. Those are just two of the 48 losses in 6+ seasons on the job.
It's past time to make a change because Rhoads' .384 winning percentage is better than only Jim Walden's abysmal .335 winning percentage for coaches who have been at Iowa State for six seasons or more. It's past time to make a change because Rhoads is just 14-38 against Big 12 opponents, including a winless conference campaign in 2014. It's past time to make a change because Rhoads has never signed a top 50 recruiting class according to Rivals.com and has only averaged a 65th-ranked class in seven recruiting cycles.
There was once a time that Rhoads was thought to be the coach we've longed for in Ames; the coach that could make this program a winner. That time has come and gone.
These last nine games will play out as they will, but come Sunday, November 29th (if not sooner), this program must go in a different direction. No hard feelings. You did your best, Paul, and we appreciate all the good you did for the program. Best of luck going forward.