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ROUNDTABLE: Steve Prohm’s Legacy at Iowa State

What went right, wrong, and where do we go from here?

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Now that it’s officially over, what’s your one paragraph summary of the Steve Prohm era?

Levi: Steve came to Iowa State in an impossible situation, having to replace a school legend that rebuilt the program from ashes. Initially, he did essentially exactly what he was asked to do for the first two years: Take this extremely talented roster to the tournament and win some games. After that, the rebuild began. Unfortunately, unprecedented roster discontinuity, some of which he could control and some he couldn’t, was likely the primary reason his tenure at Iowa State didn’t end well.

Austin: The Steve Prohm era to me will be defined by expectations we didn’t live up to. His first season was my senior year of college, and we entered the year ranked in the Top 10 in the country. That team finished 9-9 in the Big 12 and only salvaged the season with a Sweet 16 run. From there, we entered each season optimistic about the talent on the roster and the recruits that were on the way. By the end of most seasons, we were wondering what went wrong. It’s not his fault that he brought in players who made the leap to the NBA sooner than expected, but his teams never quite achieved the success we all hoped.

Jake: I used to be a Steve Prohm guy. It was my Twitter profile picture for a long time. But it’s safe to say that I was wrong. Prohm was a great dude on and off the court, I loved his competitive fire. But man, the missed opportunities of this era are what I will always remember. Iowa State put countless guys in the NBA but wasn’t able to retain the talent or really take advantage of it either. With guys like Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Long, Matt Thomas, Tyrese Haliburton, Marial Shayok, Talen Horton-Tucker, Abdel Nader and Lindell Wigginton, one trip past the Round of 32 was disappointing. After all of those guys moved on, the lack of identity on a team in both recruiting and play style is ultimately what doomed Prohm.

Aiden: I’ve always been a huge advocate for Steve Prohm. I was probably one of the last guys off the Prohm train, which maybe was a little too generous. Prohm is an unbelievably awesome guy in any other situation than when he had to coach basketball. Being a wee 19 years old, a lot of my basketball memories have really came in the last 6 or 7 years. My first experience in the student section was just 2 years ago when the Cyclones upset Kansas and it was awesome. His teams were fun to watch for awhile, but he caught a lot of bad breaks (and underperformed) and that is what dug him a hole that he couldn’t climb out of.

Sean: Prohm was tasked with replacing arguably the greatest Cyclone in school history, and held his own... Until he didn’t. Winning two Big 12 Tournament Titles and a Sweet Sixteen birth were incredible accomplishments that should not be swept under the rug when talking about his shortcomings. Ultimately, his ability to bring in talent but not keep it ended up being the one thing that ended his career. Having only one four year graduate (Soloman Young) is as bizarre a stat as is is concerning.

Matthias: Steve Prohm was the girl you dated following the love of your life after you found out she was cheating on you. It had potential to be something but it just never felt the same. It came with some great moments and feelings but could never keep you satisfied over all the years like your ex could.

What positives would you take away?

Levi: Well, the Sweet Sixteen birth and the multiple Big 12 Tournament Championships will all be fond memories. Beyond that, he recruited one of my favorite Cyclones ever in Tyrese Haliburton. What an incredible diamond in the rough he was.

Austin: The Big 12 tournament runs will continue to be legendary. So was the win at Allen Fieldhouse that snapped an absurdly long home winning streak for Kansas. Monte Morris, Talen Horton-Tucker, Tyrese Haliburton, and others are putting Iowa State on the map in NBA circles, and Prohm was helpful in getting them to the league.

Jake: I mean, winning the fourth Big 12 Tournament Championship in six will probably always be the best highlight of Prohm’s career. The 2018-19 Cyclones lost five out of their last regular season games heading into Kansas City and blew through the competition for one of the most shocking, yet fun trips to Kansas City of the last decade. Along with that, winning in Allen Fieldhouse was awesome, so was Burton’s dunk against West Virginia. And who could forget Tyrese’s coming out party against Kansas? One thing that Prohm brought that should never leave is senior speeches on senior night, those are freaking awesome and are responsible for a lot of tears. Overall, Prohm gave me a lot of basketball memories that I will never forget.

Aiden: Steve Prohm has brought a lot of happiness to my life, Big 12 titles, a Sweet Sixteen, and several big wins that I’ve been able to see in person. One thing I always enjoyed about Prohm was how he carried himself off the court. Forget the losing streaks, nothing pleased me more than what Prohm had to say after every game. That guy who coaches the team out east complains and moans when things don’t go his way. Ever hear of Prohm not taking a loss like a man and just rolling with the punches? He didn’t like to lose, but he was always looking forward to the next opportunity to be better, regardless of the score. That’s what I like to see out of a coach.

Sean: CSP is the greatest recruiter in school history, and was responsible for not screwing up one of the best teams we’ve ever had during his first year. Those first two years brought a lot of happiness and solidified a fanbase’s passion that didn’t want to let go of the fairytail notion that Hoiberg’s dream job was in Ames. I’ll always remember the Oklahoma game my Sophomore year of college when they were ranked number 1 coming into Ames. The final call to throw the ball across the baseline and draw a technical foul to ice the game is one of the single smartest play calls I’ve ever seen. Who could forget the win at Kansas the following year or the nail biter against Kansas State a few years later during that special tournament run with THT, Shayok, and Tyrese.

Matthias: Positives for me were the two Big 12 titles. My wife and I made it down to our first Big 12 tournament in 2017 and we will be back thanks to that experience. It would not have been possible if it were not for Steve Prohm. Obivously the sweet sixteen sticks out as well.

What would you define as Steve Prohm’s biggest weakness as Iowa State’s head coach?

Levi: The in-game adjustments and late-game coaching were always the most confounding thing for me. Over the last couple years, Iowa State was 0-14 in games decided by five points or less. Over and over again we saw the team fail to execute in late-game scenarios, especially on in-bound plays and getting a shot on the final possession. Success in those scenarios are 95% coaching-related, and the Cyclones repeatedly failed to deliver.

The confusing gameplan didn’t do anything to help matters, as the offensive gameplan regularly leaned on having high-IQ basketball players on the floor to initiate offense. That works fine when you have Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Tyrese Haliburton, or even Nick Weiler-Babb running the show, but when you have basically a whole new roster and nobody at the point with a particularly high-level feel for the game, that plan falls apart pretty quickly.

Austin: For all of Coach Prohm’s ability as a recruiter, he really lagged behind as an in-game coach. Our record in close games was abysmal. And most of that stems from the stagnant, iso heavy offense that didn’t work late in games. I won’t blame Coach for losing guys to the NBA, but starting from scratch every year without an offensive system is not a recipe for winning Big 12 games.

Jake: The fluid and pure basketball of the Hoiberg era was nowhere to be found under Prohm. Iowa State ran into a problem of a stagnant offense under Prohm. When they had NBA talent and senior leadership, it wasn't too much of a problem, but when they relied on young guys, it was ugly basketball. As time went on, it was very clear that Prohm had problems coaching against guys that actually knew what they wanted to do on a basketball court. Is that too harsh? Probably. But, it was a legitimate weakness that led to a lot of losing basketball.

Aiden: Prohm was a great recruiter. Brought in a lot of exciting players that were fun to watch. For whatever reason he could not put it together on the court. The roster turnover didn’t do him any favors and it just wasn’t meant to be for Prohm.

Sean: Roster Management, in-game coaching, lack of true X’s and O’s understanding. That simple.

Matthias: The ability to prepare for the future. Prohm knew what he had in a roster and the guys that could leave early. There was just never a plan behind that to be ready to fill the gaps.

When did you first sense things were trending in the wrong direction?

Levi: In retrospect, I think there were a couple of minor red flags that came up early on, like the Cam Lard situation and how often some of his early teams relied on isolation from the best players to win games, but the first major red flag for me was the loss to UW-Milwaukee. Hilton Coliseum is sacred, and no matter how good the team is, Iowa State should never lose to a team like UW-Milwaukee at home. Repeat for the Florida A&M loss.

Austin: The 2018-2019 team at the end of January looked like Coach Prohm’s big breakthrough. We had great freshman like THT and Tyrese Haliburton. Marial Shayok led the Big 12 in scoring and made a huge impact as a senior leader. Even Lindell Wigginton had accepted a bench role. Then something changed, and the team sputtered down the stretch. We lost a lot of games that we shouldn’t, which gave me a lot of pause. The first round loss in the NCAA tournament to #11 seed Ohio State followed a familiar script of us getting dominated physically and on the boards. Pretty much all goodwill was lost by December 31st, 2019 and the loss to Florida A&M. By then it became hard to see how things got better again despite a seemingly talented roster.

Jake: The 2017-18 season was a yellow flag for me, but I mostly gave him a pass because he had to replace some of the best players in school history. Wigginton and Cam Lard looked promising, so even though the UW-Milwaukee loss sucked, I was patient.

I truly noticed a downhill trend in March of 2019, amidst the losing streak that brought the Cyclones out of contention for the Big 12 Regular Season Championship. The basketball was ugly, the locker room was out of control and it was a complete mess. The Big 12 Tournament brought a high like any other, but the loss to Ohio State in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament and the realization that everyone except Haliburton was leaving was my acceptance that Steve Prohm was not going to succeed in Ames.

Aiden: You can dig up my tweets from like a year ago. It took me way too long to realize what was happening. It didn’t take me until midway through this last season to really understand that the time is up. Looking back, there were a lot of moments where maybe I should have questioned. Mainly the underperformance of his teams.

Sean: The “down” year where Fred left a massive recruiting hole for CSP seemed to make sense at the time, but in hindsight still doesn’t sit well with me. Losing to UW-Milwaukee is unacceptable, especially with two future professional basketball players on the team in Cam Lard and Lindell Wigginton. I also think that we never really saw guys get better. As time went on, I kept expecting guys like George Conditt or Lard to actively improve, but I think in both cases we saw plateaus or even drop-offs. Losing to Ohio State in the First Round is also a pretty bad loss, in hindsight.

Matthias: Following the 2017 run, and the down year that followed. The whole thing didn’t feel right. Then came the 2018-2019 year and things were better but players fighting on court and fans frustrated and even with the Big 12 title it just felt temporary and then slippery slope of last season, you knew 2020 they had to win. Nowhere close.

If Jamie Pollard called you and asked for input on the coaching search, what would you tell him?

Levi: I often see people say recruiting is far and away the most important thing, but I’m a believer that you need a program builder first and an Xs and Os guy second. The program-builder part does encompass recruiting to a certain extent, but it’s deeper than just finding highly-rated prospects. It’s having a clear gameplan with easily identifiable traits that are recruited to and around. Then once you have your guys that fit your system, you develop them to become the seasoned veterans just about every good team has.

Recruiting is certainly important, but recruiting to Iowa State isn’t actually that difficult. Virtually every coach has been able to bring in some really talented players. Prohm’s best quality was probably his recruiting, and look how far that got him.

Xs and Os are extremely important for me in this coaching search. As I mentioned earlier, the lack of success in late-game scenarios is a direct result of a team not having a clear offensive gameplan. But even in the middle of games, the offense was often disorganized and went into massive scoring droughts. Those need to be fixed ASAP.

Austin: I think an offensive system is vitally important to success in college basketball. You have to find a coach that can scheme up ways to get you a bucket. Beyond that, a coach with a better understanding of X’s & O’s is the way to go. I don’t know how to specifically recruit to this and it’s why I won’t be in consideration for the job, but successful Big 12 teams are usually lead by veterans. It’s no coincidence that Baylor and Texas with their senior backcourts were the class of the Big 12 this year. I’ve seen it over and over. This roster needs guys who stick around and get better together over time. So my priorities would be to find a coach that excels in player development and can scheme up an offense.

Jake: Hire Brian Niemuth. Or a guy like him. For those who don’t know, Brian Niemuth is the head coach of Simpson Women’s Basketball. They just went undefeated and won the American Rivers Conference Tournament for the eighth time and the regular-season championship for the 13th time in his 38-year tenure. I’ve gotten to know Niemuth pretty well over the last few months as I’ve covered the team and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that he knows what he’s doing.

He has an identity, they have pressed every single season he has been the head coach. They have played fast every game for the last 38 years. He always has a point like Kia Rasmussen, an assist machine that is tough as nails in the press (think Jevon Carter.) He recruits women not with shiny and new facilities, but with an established winning culture. Niemuth is one of the smartest basketball minds I’ve ever seen and he puts that to use by putting his players in the best possible spots to win games.

Iowa State needs a guy who is going to bring an identity of sound basketball and rock-solid four-year guys. I’m not saying give a call to the man who ranks 34th in all of NCAA in active wins, but find a guy like him.

Aiden: First thing’s first: ask Matt Campbell who to hire. Not even kidding. After Kevin Jackson was fired as the ISU wrestling coach, you know you recruited Coach Dresser to come to Ames? Coach Campbell. It’s undeniable that he has a great eye for culture builders. I think one of the best candidates to rebuild the culture is Loyola-Chicago head man Porter Moser. From what I’ve learned, he’s the kind of guy that cares a lot about player development and runs the “team first” mentality into his players heads. If we don’t get him (I know I’m in the minority here) you have to give Fred a call. He can’t be happy. We’re not happy. Let’s be happy together! The last guy on my radar is Baylor assistant Jerome Tang. I really don’t know much about him, but he was apart of the ultimate Baylor rebuild. Can he do it again? No idea but maybe it’s worth a shot.

Sean: This is a complicated question with no easy answer. Everyone wants someone who can do it all but how realistic is that? Where can we make deals when we need to? Do we want to tap a guy that has potential but no experience like an established long-time assistant coach? Do we want the aging AARP member that has a plethora of experience but a ticking clock in his before going back into retirement?

I’d consider something we haven’t done before. I’m looking for a guy that hasn’t had flashpan success at a mid-major in a short time, which goes against what Pollard has looked at in the past. I want someone who can identify four-year guys that you can build around, and let everything else fall into place. Iowa State will never be a one-and-done program. Get the recruits who will stay, develop, and fit the culture our next coach brings. Give me Porter Moser (or longshot Dana Altman).

Matthias: Cliche here but win. I know basketball is about being flashy and getting all the best recruits but Iowa State fans want a winning basketball team. Recruit, retain and develop and win. Just get it done.