On June 9, 2015, Steve Prohm was introduced as the Head Coach of the Iowa State Men’s Basketball Team. The former Murray State program leader came at the direct recommendation of The Mayor and was known to have a smooth offensive system. He also seemed to have a way with point guards, in particular.
“It’s time to get totally invested in Ames, Iowa.” Prohm remarked after thanking the countless individuals that helped him succeed at Murray State. “You are my first priority. You will always be my first priority,” he gestured in the direction of Georges Niang and co. “Let’s just be great today.”
The week of November 23, 2015, Iowa State climbed to 4th in the AP Poll. The highest ranking by a Cyclones basketball team in almost 20 years. The Cyclones would tally an absurd amount of dramatic wins that year: The comeback against Iowa, Monte’s heroics against number 1 ranked Oklahoma, and the rout at home against Kansas all come to mind, all culminating in a loss in the Sweet Sixteen to a very good Virginia team that saw Georges Niang exit in tears.
The following year we saw more of the same: High profile wins, an exciting style of basketball, and a Big 12 Tournament Title. A loss to Purdue in the round of 32 saw the departure of the greatest generation in Iowa State Basketball history. Monte, Matt, and Naz were gone. This was now Steve Prohm’s team, and the signing of a high-profile recruit named Lindell Wigginton had fans excited.
But the 17-18 year came and went without any fanfare. The recruiting gap between Fred and Steve proved to be too dramatic, and Iowa State was stuck leaning on Mid-Major transfers and a variety of new faces. But there was hope. Wigginton proved to be a bouncy, explosive scorer, and Cameron Lard (when he stayed out of trouble) was a quality big man. Even as the team suffered it’s worse loss in years at the hands of UW-Milwaukee, fans knew help was on the way.
Marial Shayok, Talen Horton Tucker (another high profile recruit), and a skinny tweener guard named Tyrese Haliburton added an influx of talent over a one year period that reminded fans of times when guys with the names White, Clyburn, and Kane were constantly sitting in that transfer “queue”. Another Big 12 Tournament Title was added to the record books, but a 9-9 conference record and a first-round exit at the hands of an average Ohio State team left fans puzzled, but ultimately complacent. If winning in Kansas City and making the tournament every year was the low bar, life couldn’t be too bad, right?
But whispers began to circulate about that year’s team. Fights in practice and guys not following direction and getting into trouble all took the spotlight over the talent we saw on the basketball court. Doubt began to creep in. Then, disaster: In the span of one summer, the very core that had fans drooling over the future vanished. Lard, Wigginton, and Talen Horton Tucker left for greener pastures, and the roster was decimated. Unable to plug the holes in the sinking ship, the next year’s team was abysmal and even as Tyrese Haliburton dazzled and delighted on a nightly basis, it still wasn’t enough. That team finished 12-20 and even lost to Florida A&M. Tyrese Haliburton’s correct decision to turn pro punched another hole in an already depleted roster. The program was in serious trouble.
Since 2017, this Iowa State program has 50 total wins and a whopping .396 win percentage. 18 total conference wins in that same span, coupled with a multiple losses to teams who you’ve never even heard of further point to a growing problem: This program is going in the wrong direction and something needs to change.
Even more disappointing is something no one has been talking about. There is a growing apathy among fans that has not been seen since the last days of the McDermott era. Check social media next time the Clones play. Count the number of folks discussing the game and bantering back and forth. There’s no conversation, no bickering, and no humor. Only silence. Steve Prohm has ushered in a feeling of apathy that I would’ve never expected. People just don’t care. I know what you’re thinking. “Well, our football team has been so good why should I care about a sinking ship basketball program.” I get that, but this isn’t a zero-sum game. Why are we only allowed to be relevant in one sport at a time? Nothing drives me further up a wall than seeing folks using the “football school” excuse as if it’s the reason we are bad at basketball or shouldn’t care, because here’s the thing: I care, and so should you.
Back in 2015 during that same introductory press conference, Steve Prohm remarked, “They say there’s no better place to play in the country than in Hilton.” At the time, that was true. Magic oozed from the rafters and teams were terrified to come to Ames. Upsets happened with regularity and the expectation to protect our home court was not only promised, it was fulfilled. In that same span since 2017, Iowa State has an abysmal 34-23 record at home and has turned Hilton Coliseum into Hilton Mausoleum. UW-Milwaukee, Florida A&M, South Dakota State all have notched wins in the same building that was once capable of being so loud that the floor would shake. Gone are the days of Gesell missing free throws, Naz breaking Cowboy hearts, and Monte dropping game winners. Now we hang moral victory banners for losing to Baylor by less than 15 and let Iowa players leave their shoes on our floor despite single digit point totals.
Steve Prohm has been responsible for delivering some of my favorite moments as an Iowa State fan. I was in school from 2014 – 2018, and I saw every moment in Hilton from one of the first few rows in the student section. I’ll never forget camping for 7 days for the Kansas games in the frigid cold, watching games with friends, and cheering with everyone on Welch. He’s a genuinely nice guy who I have cheered for with great intensity. “…To be at a place that had great coaches from Johnny Orr to now your last coach Fred Hoiberg, who everyone says it’s about replacing him. I’m here to replace him, I’m here to learn from him, use him as a resource, and hopefully benefit from all the success he’s had the last four years.”
How can you not love a guy like that? He knew coming in how difficult it would be to step in after possibly the most beloved Cyclone of all time was just at the helm of a program that was teetering on greatness, if not already at that precipice. He said the right things, shook the right hands, complimented Fred, reassured fans of great expectations, and still made it about everyone but himself. That’s the kind of individual that Steve Prohm is, and always will be.
Coach Prohm may be my favorite Iowa State coach of all time. I have a note that he wrote and signed, framed in my bedroom. I was a student as he began his tenure. I was there for every game and I have defended him long past the point of consensus from the masses, and I could still do that now. I could tell you it’s not his fault expectations were so high to begin his career here that anything less than a Big 12 Tournament Title or Sweet Sixteen appearance meant “failure”. It’s not his fault Wigginton, THT, and others left before they should have. It’s not his fault COVID ravaged a season that meant chemistry and continuity was THAT much more difficult to come by. But at the end of the day, it’s his responsibility as coach to adapt and overcome those circumstances.
I could talk myself in circles about how things would look if Lard stayed out of trouble, or Wigginton stayed to work on his game, or even if THT or Tyrese each stayed another year (in no way am I insinuating ‘Rese should have stayed). But they didn’t, and this program is now worse off than it was when Steve Prohm was hired all the way back in 2015.
It’s time for a change. We are past the point of no return and I desperately hope I am wrong. Nothing would make me happier than some nameless social media account shoving this in my face next year telling me how little I know about basketball. I would love nothing more than Steve Prohm to continue to be successful at this university, but as of this moment, it’s time to look in a different direction and find a new basketball coach this offseason.