Coach Gene Chizik arrived on the Ames campus celebrated as one of the nation's top coaching prospects. He started the competition for recruits late yet managed to assemble an impressive class, particularly from the junior college ranks. On Signing Day, Cyclone Nation had the chance to sit down with Coach Chizik as well as new defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt and new offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Robert McFarland. Here are the transcripts of those previously posted audio interviews with ISU's new football brain trust, presented in roundtable format.
Cyclone Nation: First of all I have to ask this question because you're all from down south. How are you adjusting to the weather?
Chizik: What weather? This is no problem. It's been fun. It's definitely different but you know you move around in this profession and you go to different parts of the country and that's what's fun about it. You get to meet different people from different parts and obviously when you make your travels the weather changes wherever you go. It's been interesting I'll say that.
Bolt: Well, I was at the University of Wyoming for one year. Not that I'm used to it, but being from Georgia and coaching at Alabama for the last twenty-some years, it's different. But I've got my wife here, we bought a house, and we've got our family here, which is our little dog and two cats, and we're getting acclimated to it. But this is home and we're here, and we're excited about being here.
McFarland: Well, you know I was just talking to the team. I told them to work hard the rest of the week and then enjoy a great weekend. I heard it was warming up to 15. But it's an adventure. I think that life's an adventure, and this is just one of the other adventures in life we'll take. I'm not new to this; I've lived in South Bend, Indiana, and I've lived in Kent, Ohio, so I've been up in the snow and cold temperatures before.
Cyclone Nation: Let's start talking football with the offensive line. You had a number of offensive linemen here for Signing Day that are already enrolled in school. You lost a number of players off the offensive line. What are you looking for in terms of competition amongst the young men coming in for that very important part of the game?
Chizik: We're looking for competition at every position but certainly in the offensive line. That was one of the reasons we brought in four junior college offensive linemen at the semester break. We're looking for them to be able to compete and help us fill in some spots that we really feel like we need help at. Competition is the name of the game in college, so we're going to make sure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to compete and to win a job. Certainly we think those guys have a chance to do that or we wouldn't have brought them in here in January.
McFarland: Well, you know you basically have no starters coming back, so it is wide open. Obviously with the new staff there are no starters that have a guaranteed job. Everything's going to have to be earned, still. But we just don't have those bodies there that have played at this level. So it's going to be fresh faces all the way across. We have maybe one player that's had any kind of time, really, playing in the Big 12 at this level. So, it's going to be a bunch of new faces out there, with a bunch of new experiences, and I think every play, every game, every week‘s going to be something new, so how quick we mature I think is going to be the tale of the tape.
Cyclone Nation: What are you looking for in terms of offensive linemen?
McFarland: Obviously we need size. We have to get guys in there with the size and the strength to be able to play. But, bottom line, they have to have the athletic ability. They have to be able to move and do things. It's necessarily not so much speed, as it is quickness with the offensive linemen. But they have to be athletic and quick enough to sit there and counteract the defensive linemen we're going to face in the Big 12.
Cyclone Nation: How big of an advantage for you is it to have four of your new offensive line recruits already here, enrolled, and working out?
McFarland: It's just huge. They come in here and they learn first of all the offense from the ground up. They know as much about our offense as this entire football team does because right now nobody knows anything. Therefore, they're on the same level competing-wise mentally. They're able to get in here with our strength coaches and get in the condition and shape they need to do what they wouldn't have done either at their community colleges, or sitting at home. Plus we get 15 days of practice, and whatever meeting time the NCAA allows us, we get that as well. And that's something you just wouldn't get if they weren't here on campus.
Cyclone Nation: Let's switch over and talk defense. Gene, this is obviously your forte and we hear so much about speed on defense. How much of a priority is that for you in recruiting?
Chizik: Obviously speed in college football is so important today. The game is so spread out and there's so many talented athletes on the field today especially with offenses they spread it out and make your defenses run sideline to sideline. I think that one of the first things that everyone is looking for is speed, and so that's an element on defense that we don't feel we can do without.
Bolt: You know both the linebackers and the defensive linemen that we brought in, along with Allen Bell in secondary, can really run. Of course, that's first priority as far as our philosophy on defense. And getting them in here in the summer is going to be important as far as getting them in and acclimated to our strength and conditioning program, and getting with our players. Of course, our players did a great job of recruiting these kids. That's one thing that we, as coaches, were pleased with. Our players took these kids in and showed them Iowa State University. Because they didn't know us very well either, you know, it was all basically a crapshoot. But they did a great job of selling our university and what we had to offer here.
Cyclone Nation: How many of these guys do you think can come in and contribute right away on the defensive side of things?
Bolt: We hope that all the junior college kids can. They're a little bit older. Other than that I don't know. We've just got to wait and see. But when you recruit a junior college kid you hope he can come in and play, whether it's two years or three years. But we're not going to turn anybody down; if they can play, we're gonna play ‘em, and we‘re in this for the long haul, too. We'll see what happens.
Cyclone Nation: We know you want to get the junior college kids in here and ready to play right away, but in terms of your freshmen recruits what's your overall philosophy on that?
Bolt: The speed of the game is definitely different, just like when you go from junior high to high school, and high school to college, and even going to the pro league. It just depends on each individual person how he reacts to the speed of the game, and they're all different. They're being away from home for the first time. That's where the junior college kids have an advantage because they've already been away from home. The high school kids are going away from home for the first time. They've got to go to class. They've got to get up by themselves in the morning because they don't have their mama and daddy to get them up. And football is a tough, tough job. It really is a 365-day a year job, even though we don't get them but 20 hours a week during the fall. So it's demanding on a young freshman kid. It just depends on how they react. We're going to play a kid if he's ready to play. We'll put him out there. If he's not ready to play then we're not going to put him out there.
Chizik: I want to play the best player. If a freshman comes in and he's 18 and he has an opportunity to play because he's the best player then we play him. You know everything we do is going to be based on what they earn. I don't really have a philosophy of if he's a junior, if he's a sophomore, if he's a senior, I have a philosophy that we have to put the best product on the field that we can and whatever classification the student athlete happens to be that's who plays. We're about just doing the right thing and playing the best people and putting the best product on the field that we can be proud of.
Cyclone Nation: This is considered one of the top junior college recruiting classes in the country, so how do you think that's going to translate to success come fall?
Chizik: I don't know. I think that everything is up in the air. There's so many things involved, like team chemistry, how well do they catch on, and how well do they adjust to a new environment? There's so many variables in there. Obviously we wouldn't have recruited them if we didn't think they were good football players. And we hope they can come in and help us, but you never know how that's going to pan out till they've been here a while. It's kind of a been here and done that type of thing.
Cyclone Nation: In coming to Iowa State, two of the things that you mentioned that were so critical were integrity and loyalty. Those were two of the trademarks of the previous regime, too. How do you instill those characteristics in the young men that you're bringing in?
Chizik: We hope that when we go out and we recruit young men to be in this program we hope that they have a lot of that already. I think that's one of the key elements when I say that we're going to go for the right guy. Will he always be the biggest? Will he always be the strongest? Will he always be the fastest? Maybe not, but hopefully he is. What we mean by that when we say we want to get the right guy is we want get the guy that we know we're trying to build this program with. That is a guy of integrity, that is a guy of character, that is a guy of class, and that is where the mark of a man is very important. We don't feel like we can get him here and all of a sudden just teach that to him, we feel he has to have a background of that on his own, and we can continue to teach that to him. I think that's the key.
McFarland: I think that was obviously one of the bright points of the previous program. And I think you do build on that. You brag about it and you exploit it. You sit there and let everybody know that that's what we have accomplished and what we've done. But I think for us there just has to be a level of consistency. You bring it into your meeting rooms, you bring it onto the practice field, and you bring it off the practice field as well. There has to be some encouragement, both on and off the field, and I think that you have to basically sit there and try to get both to work together.
Cyclone Nation: Let's talk about the recruiting process. How did the coaching staff do recruiting to Iowa State the first time around?
Chizik: I'm really excited about our coaching staff because I think that it's a great mixture of different personalities that are going to be good for our kids. However, the common denominator is that I've got guys in here that are going to care about these young men, they're going to coach them hard, and they're going to coach them right. They're going to teach them the things they need to do in life beyond football to go out of here and be successful. That's who I hired, and that's whose here. That fires me up! That makes me really excited because I know that will trickle down in to our football team. When guys walk out of the door three, four, five years from now I know they will really feel an allegiance to this place because of the way they were treated here.
Cyclone Nation: In a couple of instances there was an Iowa State alum or someone that was affiliated with Iowa State and that gave you a recruiting edge. How have you been able to build that network of connections so quickly?
Chizik: Well, we just sort of stumbled into a couple of those that were unexpected that helped us. I think that shows you the great pride and the great allegiance to this university when a teacher in a school sees you walk by with an Iowa State insignia on your sweater and then chooses to help you because they had such a great experience here as a student. Those we kind of lucked out on. Then a lot of the other guys we recruited we had prior relationships, prior ties you know before this recruiting process started. Of course, when we went out we had to use those because we didn't have anything else to hang our hat on.
Cyclone Nation: A common thread among the recruits who are already here was that the unique academic environment played a role in their recruiting. Thins like animal sciences and engineering were specifically brought up. How do you utilize the great academic offerings of this institution to help sell your football program to potential recruits in the future?
Chizik: I think that number one the academic status of this university has been so favorably looked upon for so many years that it kind of sells itself. Every guy is different, they are interested in different things, and they are interested in different professions. Typically most of the kids that we recruited were sold on a particular profession that we happen to be really proficient in here–whether it be engineering, animal science, or business. And those were professions where our school is very highly looked upon. I think that was big because again that shows you what the credibility is of this university.
Cyclone Nation: Faith, family, and personal example, are so important. How do you think that will play in the future? How did it impact being able to recruit this year, and how do you feel that will impact your ability to go into living rooms and to bring young men to this campus in the future?
Chizik: Faith and family are the two things that I hang my hat on every day that I get out of bed. I mean that's where I start and everything else is third, fourth, fifth and so on, and I don't think I'm a guy that hides that. I mean I'm a guy that what you see is what you get. I think people respect the fact that I'm upfront with the way I believe and the way I feel. I think that will play a huge part in developing this program because many of the guys that are here with me that I have hired feel the same way. This is about changing lives, this is about touching lives, this is about making peoples' lives different, and you have four or five years to do it. I don't make any bones about it up front and I have a vision and I feel I know exactly how to get to that vision. I don't try to be someone I'm not, I just put it up front and again what you see is what you get and I feel really good about that.
Cyclone Nation: Moving forward, what's next for the offense and the defense?
Bolt: We got some immediate junior college help at defensive line, at linebacker and with Allen Bell at secondary. So we felt like because of the kids we had a chance to recruit we have a really good chance of getting some help right away. We have a really good situation with the new defensive linemen like Michael Tate, Chris Lyle, and Chris Weir. Other than that, right now I don't really know a lot except for little things I've seen here or there. I know Alvin Bowen is a proven player and other than that, just what people say is what I know, and of course we're going to make our minds up and go from there.
McFarland: We're going to have to sit here and see what we have during workouts and practices. But I know, coming in here blind basically, that we have Bret Meyer at quarterback and he's good. And I do know we have a heck of a receiver in Todd Blythe as well, and that's encouraging. I do know that we've lost 70% of our offensive line and that'll be something we'll have to address this spring. Obviously they're going to have to allow our quarterback to do certain things, and we'll have to find out what they're able to allow him to do.. So in the spring we'll basically get a feel for what we have and what we can do. But I think it all starts with your quarterback, and I think he's versatile, and our backup (Austen Arnaud) is versatile, and the guy we (Phillip Bates) we signed is the same way, so on offense we'll be able to be versatile as well. Blythe, a receiver that someone's always going to have to be accountable for, presents a problem and I think anytime you build an offense you start right down there. You've got to have a great quarterback, you've got to have a great receiver, and you've got to have a great tailback. And I think we've addressed those issues, either with what we have on this football team now or with recruiting. Now it's just going to be what we can develop as an offensive line and give those guys an opportunity to make things happen.