Flanked to the left and to the right by a new man, Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads smiled as he formally introduced the latest wave of Cyclones coaches.
After the get-to-know-you press conference, Rhoads chilled at the back of Hilton Coliseum's media room with his wife, Vickie, near the refrigerator stocked with soda, while offensive coordinator Mark Mangino and running backs coach Louis Ayeni glad-handed with the press.
Good times had by all: The 3-9 season is in the rearview, just a bad memory now, and the Cyclones have filled two of four offensive staff vacancies, the offensive line gig opening Thursday morning as first-year coach Chris Klenakis bolted to a more familiar, comfortable situation at Louisville, hired by Bobby Petrino, who he worked with for several years at Arkansas.
In a week the Iowa State staff will hit the recruiting trail to pursue some new targets and re-recruit some old. They'll be outfitted with hope — a recruiting weapon they might not have had a month ago — as the Cyclones have built themselves a bull market; in a Big 12 conference with a shaky middle class, they might be a sleeper.
A few years after Tom Herman left for bigger and better things at Ohio State, Rhoads flipped the script and hired Mangino, a fallen coaching star who took three years off from the game after being fired by Kansas — but a star nonetheless, and a respected name at that. Mangino is worth a couple more wins than Courtney Messingham, a smart, kind man, but one better served as a position coach. Compare Messingham's resumé to Mangino's, and it's a bag of M&Ms to a chocolate fountain.
"Fresh start is a good way of saying it," Rhoads said.
Mangino has overseen the renaissance of three familiar programs. Kansas State went from doormat to Big 12 runner-up under his watchful eye. Oklahoma went from dragon-in-slumber to national champion. In one of the most surprising turnarounds of the last decade, Kansas went from Kansas to Orange Bowl champs.
With a twinkle in his eye, Mangino said he'd blend elements of each offense he's coordinated and take inspiration from each branch and twig of his coaching tree (Bill Snyder, Mike Leach) in trying to breathe life into an Iowa State offense that was No. 97 in yards per game in 2013.
"It may be a little bit of all of it," he said. "I need to first evaluate our players, their strengths, their weaknesses, then from the background of coaching I've had … we will be a team that spreads the ball to around to a lot of people out of multiple formations. We are going to do also what our players can do, things they're capable of."
Iowa State fed wide receiver Quenton Bundrage last season, throwing at the sophomore around 10 times a game, and got tight end E.J. Bibbs involved in the passing game. Those are two players to build around. However, unless more targets emerge, Bundrage and Bibbs will face too much defensive attention.
"We've recruited personnel to an offensive system designed get the ball to a lot of people," Rhoads said. "We've got a competitive quarterback situation that we're excited to see play out this spring. We've got a deep backfield … we've got an offensive line we look forward to having healthy that will be deep and certainly more experienced than a year go."
A strong ground game will again be a priority under Rhoads. The Cyclones might not have a 1,000-yard rusher on their roster, but that's OK, if Aaron Wimberly, DeVondrick Nealy and a third player — maybe Tommy Mister? — form an effective rotation.
"To win games you know you've got to run the football, so it's gonna be a great place for guys to come run the football," Ayeni, a four-year member of Toledo's coaching staff, said.
Added Mangino, who will handle hires to fill offensive staff positions while Rhoads reserves veto power: "We have to be able to run the football, and we will."
At the risk of unleashing bowl-or-bust expectations, Mangino's hire should be a quick fix. The last four offenses he coordinated averaged more than 400 yards a game. His system is player-friendly. He comes to Ames with a newfound zeal for coaching after serving this past season as assistant head coach in charge of tight ends and recruiting coordinator at Youngstown State, his alma mater.
Most of all, he has some toys — Bundrage, Bibbs, Wimberly, his pick of quarterback — to play with.
"The cupboard's not bare," Mangino said. "I'm not coming here as a rebuilding job on offense. There are players here, there are talented players here. This is more of a remodeling job maybe, than a rebuilding."