Any head coach worth their salt will tell you that the strength and conditioning department is the single most important facet of any football program, and the head of that department is maybe the second most important member of the entire staff outside of the head coach himself.
That same coach will also tell you that the offensive line is arguably the most important position group on the entire offense. And who could argue with them? As Iowa State fans saw this season, if your team doesn’t have an offensive line that can protect the quarterback and create room for the running backs to do their thing, you probably won’t have much success (or fun) when your team has the ball.
As I mentioned and as you are almost certainly well acquainted, Iowa State struggled mightily on offense in 2022, in large part due to poor offensive line play. Struggles in pass protection made it more difficult for young quarterback Hunter Dekkers to be successful as the first new Cyclone starting quarterback since 2018. On top of that, run blocking may have somehow been even worse, as Jirehl Brock, Deon Silas, Eli Sanders, and Cartevious Norton all struggled to establish any sort of momentum, and Iowa State’s running game was one of the least efficient in all of college football.
So, at the end of the season, a handful of coaching staff changes were made. Out the door went offensive coordinator Tom Manning offensive line coach Jeff Myers, and strength and conditioning director Dave Andrews. And while not actually “let go,” Joel Gordon headed to South Florida to be quarterbacks coach for Alex Golesh.
Combined running backs and wide receivers head coach Nate Scheelhaase was named as the offensive coordinator while retaining his role as receivers coach, which always felt like a strong possibility given his reputation as one of the best young coaches in college football. Possibly even more so than the yet-to-be-filled running backs and quarterbacks coach positions, the strength and offensive line coach spots were being closely monitored by Cyclone fans.
The first to be announced was new Director of Football Strength & Conditioning Reid Kagy, who left the same position at Boise State. Prior to his stint at in Boise, he was an assistant at Oregon, and was an assistant on Rudy Wade’s staff at Iowa State before that. So, in a way, this a sort of homecoming for Kagy, who will have the opportunity to improve upon the shortcomings of the Wade and Andrews eras.
I won’t pretend to know all of the inner workings and technical side of what makes a strength and conditioning program successful or unsuccessful. Most people that haven’t played college football themselves (heck, even some that have), don’t truly understand what’s involved with making the most of this vital cog in the football machine. However, I can look at his resume and see some indicators that he may have the right experience for the job.
First, he’s been at Iowa State. Granted, it was on a staff that was eventually fired, but he was not in charge of that strength staff, and surely learned from some of those mistakes. Second, he was an assistant at Oregon. The Ducks’ strength and conditioning staff is one of the best in college football, and have consistently produced elite athletes at every position group. He also has experience at Boise State, a program known for winning with under-recruited and undeveloped diamonds in the rough. Kids that might be a technique adjustment or 20 pounds of quick-twitch muscle away from being an elite player.
We may not see the full impact of this hire for a couple years, but there are few things we can look for as soon as next season to see what direction this strength staff appears to be headed. There are at least a few young and incoming and returning players that could benefit from significant changes in their own S&C program.
Will McLaughlin is a promising young linebacker with excellent sideline-to-sideline speed, not at all dissimilar from a young Mike Rose. However, as Mike Rose got older, Andrews’ program had him playing at outside linebacker at 250 pounds, which robbed him of some of that speed. Rose remained a great linebacker throughout his career, but he may have been even better had he been able to retain all of that speed.
That’s just one specific example of potential immediate impacts, but the real changes will be felt two, three, and four years down the line when the incoming freshman are nearly done with their time in Ames. That’s especially true for offensive lineman, which can take a notoriously long time to develop, especially from a physical standpoint.
Speaking of the offensive line, while it hasn’t been officially announced by Iowa State Athletics, it has been widely reported that UNI Offensive Line Coach and Offensive Coordinator Ryan Clanton is expected to be named as Iowa State’s new offensive line coach. If you’re a listener of Down the Pipe & Natty Lite, you’ll remember
Tom Manning’s Burner Nate Scheelhaase Burner and I mentioning back in late October that we’d be interested in seeing Clanton as the new offensive line coach because of his success at Northern Iowa.
Recently, Clanton has produced Spencer Brown, the starting left tackle for the Buffalo Bills, and Trevor Penning, a first-round pick in the 2021 Draft by the New Orleans Saints. Both of those guys are known for being extremely physical, tough-nosed maulers on the offensive line, a trait that’s been largely absent in Ames as of recently.
Saints rookie offensive lineman Trevor Penning was kicked out of practice on Wednesday for fighting in three straight practice days https://t.co/P4wvk5EKBc— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) August 4, 2022
Is trying to fight everyone and their grandma in practice for three straight days the best way to start your professional football career? Probably not. Is it exactly the type of attitude Iowa State needs up front?
Trevor Penning plays nasty in every drill lmao. He's doing his best to start a fight pic.twitter.com/qcMWWQrg5Z— Billy M (@BillyM_91) February 3, 2022
I would like five of those. Please and thank you.
Even if the technique needs improvement, offensive lineman that play with that kind of attitude can be extremely effective, especially in the running game. If playing with that kind of attitude gets Iowa State a lot more running lanes and a few extra unnecessary roughness penalties, that’s a 100% massive win. That style of play not only can dominate physically, but can absolutely demoralize an opponent over the course of the game.
Given Iowa State’s desired style of play by winning through a physical running game and controlling possession, a shift in the mentality to of the offensive line to play with that kind of nastiness is a match made in heaven.
Make no mistake, there are no guarantees in this industry (or really anything close), but by all estimations, this hire appears to be a complete home run. Maybe the best possible move that could have been made in this situation.
When you combine a new strength and conditioning staff with an offensive line coach with a proven track record of producing physical, nasty, in-your-face offensive lines, the potential for Iowa State to finally have the dominant offensive line Cyclone fans have dreamed of is within reach.
That said, this is far from an overnight fix. First, you have to have the guys the fit that play style and want to play with that nastiness, Does Iowa State have those guys on the roster? Possibly. One obvious name would be Hunter Deyo, a redshirt freshman that may as well have been created in a lab specifically to play on a Ryan Clanton offensive line. Brendan Black is a member of the incoming 2023 freshmen class that could be a great fit as well.
However, that’s certainly not an exhaustive list, and a good position coach like Ryan Clanton can unlock some of those traits in guys already on the roster. The answers to the offensive line problem might already be on the team, waiting for the right guy to help them realize their potential.
While we may not be able to complete a full evaluation of either Clanton or Kagy for a couple seasons, that duo has a chance to build an offensive line that can power Iowa State to success in the seasons to come and this next chapter in the Matt Campbell era.
It’s a shame we have to wait another eight months to see it on the field.