I was skeptical in year 4 - that was the 4-7 year, with several near misses against good teams. Even though the talent level was steadily improving, the full 85 were on scholarship, and the schemes appeared sound, but bonehead choices were still being made. The offense would go into a bunker mentality with a second half lead. The team would too often play for the tie than the win. The little things that lose games drove everyone nuts.
I'm not sure how many of us Cyclone fans realized how difficult the corner is to turn. At some point teams get the right mix of talent, depth and heart, win a big ballgame, and suddenly know how to beat the teams they are better than.
I haven't seen enough of Steele's teams to know whether he's a decent X and O guy. Maybe the problem is not enough talented bodies, but it appears the hardest, most elusive part of coaching is getting inside a player's head and convincing them they can do what is asked of them, and that they will find a way to win.
It took 5 years for that to arrive in Ames. The fan who evaluates a coach only on wins and losses will want Steele canned. But is the talent getting better? Can they control the line of scrimmage part of the time? Do they fade in the 2nd half due to poor depth? When the wins aren't there, you have to look for improvement in other places.
The Toughest Part - Even with the losses it was easier to have patience with the top dogs saying that incremental improvements were being made in the things that would eventually pay off with success. But the hardest thing to take was the on-the-job training. We had some HORRIBLE game day decisions, which left me feeling hopeless after a final season game in Kansas where we were mounting an impressive comeback before Mac made a really bonehead move to the ultra-conservative which to my mind lost the game. Rumor is that Gene Smith (AD at the time) sat Mac down at that point and explained that "our market is looking for a different approach" in those situations. From then on, it seemed that Mac let the offensive guys do their jobs and the problem has not existed since.
dedhed From day one I was a bit of a skeptic. Mac's ties to the University of Iowa put him behind the 8 ball in my eyes from the start. I'll admit it, I can be petty, but growing up within the shadow of Iowa can make you hate everything about that place, but I digress...
I was at Mac's first game against Wyoming when he chose to have the ball first in OT and play in the "loud end" of the field. Everyone knows you always want to play defense first in OT and the stadium was rarely ever "loud" in those days. He seemed to have an image his team that was hard for the rest of us to conceive.
There were several more coaching related calls over the next couple of years that increased my skepticism. But Mac alway kept a positive outlook and the improved skill level of his players was becoming evident. Not to mention, Troy and Darren were running wild keeping things interesting. Size and speed had always been areas that Cyclone football lacked in across the board. Mac's nonstop work ethic and ever positive attitude was attracting believers and it was starting to show on the field.
However, Mac was still climbing up the steep part of the head coaching learning curve. I witnessed the 2nd half meltdown against Kansas State and put that loss squarely on Mac's conservative approach after half time.
The schedule helped us, and Mac, the next year. The athletic ability on the team had definitely improved but if we had this years schedule 3 years ago, it may have been the end. That team would not have beaten this year's Iowa or Nebraska and would have never made the FSU game remotely close (IMO). A 4-5 win year would have been miraculous. If the close calls of the previous year had been followed by another 4 win season, who knows what might have happen. I would not have complained about a change at that time believing that Mac had taken us as far as his positive attitude and lack of head coaching experience could take us.
The bowl games and winning seasons aided by the favorable schedule made Mac's sales pitch believable. We were arriving! Just look at the success! We're there!! It just may be a case of telling yourself something enough times and after a while you start to believe it and actually become it.
I am still critical of Mac at times. But even I cannot argue the facts that he has taken the program to levels it had NEVER seen previously. We are not a school with a storied football past so expectations need to be realistic. Much like Baylor's situation I would guess.
The bottom line on Mac is...No one will ever out work this guy. You cannot get him down. His relentless positive attitude will not allow it. He stuck to his guns and has made believers out of many skeptics, myself being one of them. If your coach has the character and intangibles we all now see in Mac, he needs to be given ample time to develop his program. If you see cracks in his character under pressure they will become more evident in the foundation of the program. Mac never cracked and has been rewarded.
However, before we start talking life time contracts and sainthood, let's see how this year finishes and how he follows it up next year. If Mac can lead us to 9-10 win seasons this year and next against the cream of the Big 12, I will truly believe we have arrived.
My 2 cents - Clearly Mac's attitude (intensity and enthusiasm) carried him through the tough times early. I remember walking away from the stadium several times scratching my head at some of the decision making. Then you'd hear the guy speak openly and honestly after the game and it was hard to hold a grudge.
Without a doubt, what I think saved Mac and made him the coach he is today was the people he hired behind him. Experienced assistants who he trusted to delegate responsibility to. Bobby Elliot comes immediately to mind. Mac has learned from and benefited from their experience and expertise.
Talk to Mac 5 minutes and you realize he could sell ice to an Eskimo. Hence, new unbelievable facilities and the talent on the field to make Iowa State football a force to be reckoned with.
Name coaches and expectations - One of my old buddies from the dorms is a "cyclone fan" (he loves us more than the U of Iowa now that we're winning), and I had the argument over ISU firing Mac back in '98. He said that Mac would never get over the hump at ISU, and we should cut our losses, fire Mac, and shell out the dinero for a hired gun like Lou Holtz. Now Lou Holtz is a pretty good coach and I'm sure his mother loves him a lot, but I have no desire to see the program improve quickly only to be slapped down with NCAA sanctions.
My reply at the time was that ISU should be happy to have a guy as driven as Mac was, and getting rid of him now would be just wasting all those losing years where he was learning how to be the #1 guy in a program. Besides, what name coach could have pulled ISU out of the gutter any faster than Mac did, without mortgaging the rest of the athletic department to pay for the job? When you hire a mercenary to coach your team, he might do a hell of a job, but your AD always has to look over his shoulder to see if a bigger school is coming to poach the coach.
I like to use Northern Iowa as an example of why NOT to hire a name coach. When Darryl Mundra retired, Terry Allen was his #1 assistant, and DM's handpicked successor. Apparently, this wasn't good enough for the AD, and he went out & hired Earle Bruce. Now EB has had a hell of a career, but he had no real ties to UNI. He came to town, won a few games, and leveraged his season into a better paying position at Colorado State. The AD had to go back to Terry Allen with his hat in hand and offer him the job he should have had in the first place. Allen went on to keep UNI a powerhouse in Div.1-AA, but without that lost year, he might have been able to build an even better program by the time KU came to hire him away.
When Mac first came, the program was pathetic. Every one knew it would take time, nobody knew how long. The first couple years was clean-up and foundation setting, and a little learning curve. No coach should be expected to win that early. But by year three, slight improvement could be seen. A recruit here, a recruit there. Not necessarily great ones, but better ones.
For me, starting with the 3rd year, one could measure progress in ways OTHER THAN wins and losses. Such as offensive and defensive stats, getting more competitive in games even though we still lost, recruiting, and our rise in computer rankings! Every year since year three, without exception, this program moved up in these categories. As long as improvement continued, it was going to be just a matter of time before it meant a winning season. The most surprising thing is, the improvement hasn't peaked yet!
The Big-12 is tough! If you try to measure early improvement by merely wins and losses, you will most likely be mislead, and disappointed. For patient Cyclone fans, appreciating the early signs of progress, resulted in enjoying the later results of the progress!
And boy, are we having fun now!
The key was that the cupboard was BARE when Mac came in. As a fan, it hurt to see us suck so bad, but at least each year-- if not each game-- typically showed incremental positives. You could see the players getting bigger, stronger, and faster. The improvements continued as you saw that we were starting to compete. Again, it was in small increments.
First we could compete in the first half. Then we started playing teams tough through the 3rd quarter before running out of gas. Heck there were even times that we could have/should have won but didn't. Then, we started to beat-up on some of the weak sisters in the pre-conference season and started to play tough Big 12 games well into the fourth quarter. Then the 9-3 season showed that they could turn those 4th quarter losses into actual wins.
The key is patience and having a charismatic and positive attitude, which Mac has. But unlike Walden, you could also see the maturation of the program on the field, too. The number of wins is certainly important, but to allow a program to GROW, you really have to see what is going on inside of the program itself. The wins will come, and the past 3 years have shown this.
It is a slow road, and we're certainly not a nationally-recognized program yet (although the respect is quickly coming). Things sure are getting ex-CY-ting!
Extremely interesting how these comments about feelings experienced during Dan McCarney's first seasons at Iowa State mirror those of some of the Baylor fans' with regard to Kevin Steele. The main difference is "hindsight" which is always "20-20." Had the Iowa State administraion listened to disgruntled fans and pulled the plug after year four, year five probably would have never happened. The question that begs to be asked and answered is "Can Baylor fans, who feel they are just as sure about Kevin Steele as some of these fans were about Dan McCarney, be 100% positive that Kevin Steele can experience the same kinds of successes if given as much time?