A week ago, Athletic Director Bruce Van De Velde's decision to turn to Wayne Morgan just hours after he was left at the altar by Jeff Lebo – and just minutes after he seemed to indicate to the local media the coaching search would continue – seemed like a panic move.
It seemed like it was a choice made more on the basis of ending the bloodletting that had engulfed the Cyclone Nation since the Des Moines Register story printed on April 28th detailing Larry Eustachy's late-night escapades than about Morgan being the right man for the job.
Was Morgan ISU's best man, or the last man standing?
Well, by any objective measure you'd have to say that Morgan's first week on the job as Iowa State's new men's basketball has been a resounding success.
Morgan had several key early objectives to meet in establishing his program, and so far has accomplished each one of them.
First, he had to get the three recruits he played a direct role in signing – 3-star prospects Curtis Stinson, Will Blalock, and Reggie George from the East Coast – to honor their letters-of-intent to Iowa State. That happened in no time, and Morgan said that Stinson in particular was so overjoyed with ISU's decision to give him the job that he wept.
Second, Morgan needed to convince second team junior college All-American Damion Staple, who he did not have a direct role in recruiting, to remain in the fold. Staple's size is a key for the Cyclones, but he was hardly sold on ISU after the tumultuous last few weeks. In fact, Morgan told KXNO's Larry Cotlar in an interview Wednesday morning that Staple told him three times he wasn't coming. Morgan was actually beginning to move on the next day after Staple's visit and look at other available prospects when he got a call from Staple and his coach saying that Damion was coming after all. Morgan apparently won over Staple with his sincerity and willingness to grant him his release.
Third, Morgan had to re-sell Iowa State to promising sophomore-to-be Adam Haluska. Rumors had been swirling for weeks the Carroll native was thinking of a transfer, perhaps even to rival Iowa, although his father released a statement on Tuesday saying the talk was overblown courtesy of Internet message boards and sports talk radio. Nonetheless, Morgan told KXNO in his Wednesday morning interview that there certainly were times he wasn't sure Haluska would remain in Ames.
Couple these developments with the genuineness and enthusiasm for the job Morgan communicates in every public setting he's been a part of thus far, and it appears that Morgan and the Cyclone Nation are now fully in the throes of a honeymoon swoon.
The last few weeks preceding Morgan's hire were Iowa State's version of Antietam, turning cardinal-and-gold brother against brother (or sister as the case may be). It appears everyone in the Cyclone Nation is ready for the "healing" Morgan spoke so much about at his introductory press conference last week to begin. Instead of going back to Bull Run, Cyclone fans are ready for Appomatox.
Even we in the so-called jaded, cynical media have bought into the positive groupthink and are rooting for Morgan to succeed. As a result, Morgan is going to be given every available benefit of the doubt from the fans and media while you can trust ISU will provide him everything he needs to be successful. And it also doesn't hurt that he's affable and accessible, two areas where he differs greatly from his predecessor.
Already Morgan has demonstrated why he has a national reputation as a recruiter, and already he's won over the hearts of many with his earnestness. He still needs to get three rising seniors (including starters Jackson Vroman and Tim Barnes) to hit the books this summer and become eligible, and he still has to put a quality coaching staff in place. Plus, the jury is still out on if he can coach or not considering the mixed reviews of his tenure at Long Beach State. Lord knows he's facing some very stiff Xs and Os competition in the Big 12 conference.
Nonetheless, I like what I see so far.
Bruce Van De Velde update
It seems as if the anti-Bruce Van De Velde sentiment that was sweeping the message boards and my radio program has subsided somewhat, thanks to the honeymoon everyone's enjoying with Wayne Morgan.
However, there is still a segment of the Cyclone Nation that is eager for Van De Velde to come forward about what he knew about Eustachy's behavior and when did he know it. I talked to the ISU athletic director about this on Sunday night and he was adamant to me that he is eager to come forward and discuss the matter.
Van De Velde asserts the reason he has not done so already, either in interviews or press conferences, is because of legalities and the terms of Eustachy's settlement. ISU's legal-eagles have not cleared Van De Velde to discuss his role in the Eustachy saga publicly yet in great detail, but Bruce is hoping that could come as soon as next week.
Personally, I've always felt that Van De Velde has received a bad rap for some of the things that have gone on under his watch. Nonetheless, perception is often reality in the eyes of the public and there is clearly a perception out there that he rid ISU of Eustachy out of personal spite as opposed to because he principally felt Eustachy had lost his moral authority to preside over the basketball program. In addition, the silence from Van De Velde has been deafening, and allowed for those who believe he is micromanaging the ISU athletic program into oblivion to have their opinions shared without rebuttal.
A large portion of this healing everyone is talking about is Van De Velde's responsibility because he is the man in charge, and a captain is always responsible for everything that happens on his ship on his watch. He is primarily charged with fundraising and representing the university's athletic department interests to the Cyclone community and the community as a whole. Given what we've seen these past few weeks, he's got a busy summer ahead of him in that regard.
It's doubtful we'll really be able to put this matter behind us until Van De Velde puts his management of this controversy up to the scrutiny of a public cross-examination.
(Steve Deace can be heard each weekday from 4-7 p.m. on 1460 KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)