It was a night for celebrating birthdays at the Greater Des Moines Cyclone Club's "Meet the Coaches Night" at the Seven Flags Events Center in Clive.
Football Coach Dan McCarney, who turned 50, was serenaded by the estimated crowd of 1,000 ISU fans with a rendition of "Happy Birthday to You." Yours truly also celebrated his 30th birthday, and Mrs. Bruce Van De Velde – whose age was not disclosed – also blew out the candles. Unfortunately, during his state of the union-style speech the Iowa State athletic director forgot to mention his wife's milestone to the crowd.
It was also a night of wiping the slate clean after a rather tumultuous first seven months of 2003, and of remembering the late, great Pete Taylor. John Walters, who was a protégé of Pete's, made his emcee debut as the new Voice of the Cyclones and performed admirably. As a friend I was very proud of the job he did succeeding his mentor, and happy for him as well because I know how much he wanted this.
Without question the two most exciting events of the night were the auction, presided over for the fourth year in a row by an energetic cousin of B.J. Schaben, and the stirring speech by McCarney that served as the evening's finale. Despite a four-hour wait to speak, Mac was on his game and by the end of his talk I was wondering if Wal-Mart might have any shoulder pads that would fit me. He talked candidly about character and integrity of student-athletes, and how he would never compromise the program where that's concerned while citing Cris Love's suspension as a recent example.
Mac was also very emotional about the lack of preseason expectations from the pigskin pundits across the nation, poignantly asking is there anybody that has the guts "to go up to Jordan Carstens and tell him you're going 1-7 in the Big 12 and 4-8?" Without getting into any specifics about wins and losses, Mac expressed the utmost confidence in his football team a week before preseason practice begins.
Wayne Morgan also addressed the crowd, receiving two standing ovations. Wayne spent a lot of time discussing recruiting – both the incoming class and the class he's putting together this summer – and no time discussing the academic hurdles several key returnees are trying to overcome this summer. Morgan described incoming frosh Will Blalock as "Allen Iverson with a 37-inch vertical leap." He also pointed out this class is ranked anywhere from 12th-15th in the country for 2003.
That impressed the cardinal-and-gold throng, but it was what Morgan said about the recruiting he's doing this summer that really grabbed the crowd's attention. Obviously, per NCAA rules, Morgan is not allowed to go into any specifics about recruiting until a player signs a binding letter-of-intent. However, Morgan did point out that he and his staff are actively in on 14 of the nation's top 40 high school and prep school prospects and five of the top 15 junior college prospects. And, according to Morgan, that doesn't mean ISU is just one of the schools mentioned for these highly touted prospects but rather "in the top three." It appears Morgan's reputation as a national recruiter was accurate.
Van De Velde also had some news to announce on Monday night. ISU's athletic director says preliminary plans are in place to build a $5 million academic learning center on campus for student-athletes, that season-ticket sales for football will "shatter" the goal of 25,000 and be the highest they've been for the Cyclones in over 20 years, the press box at Jack Trice will be renamed in honor of Pete, and that ISU ranks first in the Big 12 Conference in graduation rate among student-athletes who exhaust their eligibility.
Van De Velde's speech was easily the longest of "Meet the Coaches Night" and he covered everything in great detail. He defended the character of ISU's student-athletes despite all the media reports to the contrary, by pointing that 98 percent of them avoid academic or legal problems. However, since this is intended to be an accurate portrayal of last night's proceedings, it should be noted that Van De Velde did face a few hecklers in the audience as his speech continued. Shouts of "sit" and "what about baseball" could be heard pretty clearly from the back of the room as he ended his turn at the podium.
As Walters came to the podium shortly thereafter, he jokingly asked if that was "Cyclone Jerry" back there. One of the hecklers responded by saying he was actually "Cap Timm."
Nonetheless, despite that tomfoolery that majority of the evening was a refreshing change from the all too real controversies and tragedies that have engulfed ISU athletics so far this year.