AMES, IOWA — Eight seconds of stone-cold silence descended upon the room at the Bergstrom Football Complex on Monday, each feeling like an eternity as Paul Rhoads hung his head and fought back tears.
He looked down. Then up. Then back down again.
When he finally began to speak, his voice cracked. The tears swelled.
“Most of all, I’d like to thank our players past and present that have given their all for the Cardinal and Gold,” Rhoads said. “I trust that I’ve made a small impact on you, because I promise you, you’ve made a large impact on Vickie and I."
Here Rhoads stood, in a $20 million facility he helped create, bringing finality to his now unfortunate fate. Entering the final game of his seventh season as Iowa State’s head coach, this was it. After Iowa State fired Rhoads on Sunday, he had entered that corner meeting room one last time to address the media.
In seven years time, Rhoads took the Cyclones to new heights.
Iowa State clinched bowl berths in three of his first four seasons, winning the Insight.com Bowl in his first year. The Cyclones knocked off the first top-5 opponent in program history when they upset No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011. The program defeated Texas for the first time in school history, knocked off three ranked opponents on the road and set record attendance in recent seasons.
Yet with the pleasant rise eventually came a hard and arduous fall.
Since a postseason loss three years ago in the third and final bowl appearance of the Rhoads Era, the program has won just eight games in three seasons. Ultimately, it was that number which brought the thrilling rise crashing down.
“Any time you’re fired it means you didn’t complete your task and were not successful with what you were trying to accomplish. In this sport that’s wins and losses,” Rhoads said. “It’s a bottom-line business and everybody in this profession well knows that and we accept it very openly when we get into it.”
That cruel reality struck Sunday, nearly seven years to the day that Iowa State ended Rhoads’ first regular season with a bowl berth. By the time Iowa State had reached another and then three in four seasons, schools were calling his name.
In the end, the Iowa native stayed put.
“I wanted more,” Rhoads said. “After three bowls in four years, yeah, you betcha I could’ve been gone. But I wanted to do what hadn’t been done before. So I stuck around and continued to give it everything I had.
“In the end, it wasn’t enough.”
While ultimately judged on wins and losses, Rhoads — who enters the final game of his Iowa State career Saturday with a 32-54 mark — leaves the program on the cusp of success that has in recent years eluded it. With a nucleus of young talent, it is a team that Rhoads pledged would be bowl eligible in 2016 and yet one he won’t get the opportunity to coach.
“Sometimes you can want something more than it wants you,” athletics director Jamie Pollard said Monday. “I wanted him to be our coach, he wanted to be our coach, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
And so Rhoads paused Monday to check his emotions.
Some seven years earlier, Rhoads had stood across the parking lot in a less spectacular building having just taken the reigns of a program that had, too, fallen on difficult times. He talked of the passion he had received from his father.
Then he paused. The tears swelled.
“I knew this would be hard, but this is fine,” said the teary-eyed Rhoads. “This is who I am, this is what you get.”
And in seven years, that part never changed.