Cotton: I feel very fortunate to land so well so quickly, and transition from one job right into the other. Sometimes that's not likely in the coaching world, so I feel fortunate to have landed at a quality institution like Iowa State.
CN: Go through the whole process of your being hired at ISU.
Cotton: The whole Nebraska deal started after we beat Colorado when they decided to let Frank (Solich) go. We then worked a very uncertain five or six weeks as we coached a team through a bowl game victory, and awaited our fate as far as our future at Nebraska. In the meantime, just about all of us had some feelers out in the coaching business trying to make sure that our futures could be secured.
I had run into (Cyclone assistant) Mike Grant down in Florida, but we really didn't talk about the spots that were open. I knew they had a position that would fit me. Mike called me the Wednesday I got home from Orlando and we talked a little bit. Coach Grant asked if I'd be interested and if I was that Coach McCarney would be interested in calling me. We set up a time for Thursday night and that conversation went well. He invited me out to Ames for lunch on Saturday and we spent the entire afternoon together, probably around six hours.
He encouraged me to go to the meeting Monday with Coach Callahan and all of the assistants who had worked the bowl game and stuck with Nebraska through the transition. I went to that meeting and found out which direction they were going. I talked with Coach McCarney, Don Knock, John Skladany, Terry Allen, Tony Alford, the new quarterbacks coach (Todd Fitch) and even Steve Loney during that two-day period when I explored the situation.
Everything looked real good and yesterday I got the chance to peek at what the contract was like. I talked with Coach McCarney late yesterday afternoon and accepted the position.
CN: An offensive coordinator can come out of a number of different backgrounds, and you were brought up as a line coach. What are the benefits of that?
Cotton: If things fit well for the front, it fits well for the entire offense. If it doesn't fit well for the front guys, it's very hard to be successful offensively. From that standpoint I think it really ties the entire offensive package together when everything fits good for the offensive line.
In the past, Iowa State has had an offensive line guy as its coordinator in Coach Loney. I'm kind of selfish in thinking that's a pretty good way to go. It all starts with physical play up front. You look at the teams that are the most successful in college football year in and year out, one of the things you always hear mentioned is the strength of their offensive line. It all starts with those guys up front. That will be a real focal point of what we try to get done through winter conditioning and spring – create a real foundation for the offense with the front.
CN: Tell us a little about Cyclone fans can expect from the offensive system you plan to install in Ames.
Cotton: First of all you have to look at the personnel and how best to utilize their strengths. Ideally, it won't necessarily be a situation with what they saw us do at Nebraska this year. Hopefully we'll be more like we were at New Mexico State the last couple years. We were about a 60-40 run to pass team or about a 2-to-1 team, where the quarterbacks threw for 2,400 yards but yet we still were a very successful running team.
My last year at New Mexico State we averaged 215 to 220 yards rushing and 195 yards passing. It was a run-based offense with a very heavy dose of the passing game. I hope our personnel will allow us to be fairly balanced, but yet be very physical. We want to be deemed a good rushing football team that has the ability to hurt you with the pass.
CN: That certainly was a recipe for success during Loney's days when the Cyclones relied on 1,000-yard rushers and solid play from the quarterback position to win its first bowl game in school history.
Cotton: I remember studying some of that film when I was at New Mexico State. I knew the guys at Nebraska and would come up and actually spend some time looking at Iowa State's offense during Steve Loney's run here. We actually employed some of that stuff down at New Mexico State. Some of the stuff people can expect could have some familiarity to them.
CN: You're inheriting a very young offense that took its lumps during a 2-10 season. What are your thoughts about taking over this unit?
Cotton: I look forward to seeing how this group improves in the weight room and conditioning. You can get an awful lot by being around your guys during this process. You can certainly see what guy's strengths are. Then you get into spring football.
The biggest thing we'll try to instill is a very physical attitude and try to create that kind of culture. That's what we're going to be about. That will be my first goal – help us be the most physical offensive football team we can possibly be.
CN: Certainly one of your biggest challenges will be to get the Cyclone offensive line back in order. How can you achieve this in 2004?
Cotton: Hopefully these young guys are a year older, so that they have more of a veteran attitude. We'll work hard this spring on lowering the pad level a little bit in the running game. We want to spend some time having guys work with the guys they play next to. I want to get guys used to playing with each other. It can get monotonous at times, but I'm a big repetition guy. We'll be doing the same things over and over again. I think that's how you get good at the offensive line. It's a blue-collar job where you do the same thing over and over again.
Hopefully we'll be able to plug in guys to certain spots and let them get used to those spots. Although I still think it's important for a guard to play both sides or maybe a tackle to flop. You need to have the right amount of depth.
CN: As far as blocking schemes go, is it fair to assume your approach will be similar to Loney's?
Cotton: I know they did a fair amount of zone blocking when he was here. There are always going to be man-block plays in your offense. But there's going to be a lot of zone blocking, whether it's true zone or two guys having these two guys. We'll spend a lot of time working two-man blocking combinations with the tackles and tight ends, tackles and guards, and guards and centers. The way I teach is we get into these two-man groupings an awful lot and work hard with the guy you play next to.
CN: When will you begin your tenure at Iowa State?
Cotton: Guys will be coming off the road this Friday for a big recruiting weekend and I plan on being there after lunch on Friday so I can be involved in the weekend. I've got to believe I'm one of the guys that's not on the road next week, and will be able to stay in the office, meet some of the players, watch some recruiting tape and maybe make a few phone calls.
There are lots of things you can do when you're in the office. It's real important for us to finish strong. Your recruiting classes are basically known by how you finish and not necessarily how you start out. We've got some slots that are very important to fill.