On a cold, blustery day in late February the Iowa State football offices at the Jacobson Building are bustling with activity. Most of it involves unpacking and the relocation of coaches' families. This is the lull between recruiting and spring practice, but when talking to ISU's new football coach it doesn't take long to realize that lull isn't in his vocabulary.
Gene Chizik is a coach's coach. He's personable, he's likeable, and he's a man that takes his faith and family seriously. However, there is no doubt that he's here to win football games -- period. The culture around ISU football is undergoing a massive paradigm shift, from personality-oriented to results-oriented. Gene Chizik isn't here to re-write the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." He's here to win championships.
In this exclusive Q&A, Iowa Staters get a revealing glimpse at who Gene Chizik is and what he stands for, even if he plays his cards close to the vest when it comes to talking about the team specifically.
Cyclone Nation: There was an urban legend going around that when you met the players for the first time shortly before your introductory press conference you told them, "I'm not here to win 6 games a year." Is that true, or were they words to that affect?
Chizik: I believe I told them, "I'm not here to be mediocre." I have been blessed to be around a lot of teams and coaches that were about excellence and I don't want to be around mediocrity.
Cyclone Nation: What are the biggest cultural differences between where you came from (Texas) and here (ISU)?
Chizik: In the Mack Brown era to win 11 games a year was expected based on results. 12 or 13 wins wasn't considered a great season, 10 or less not so much. To whom much is given, much is expected. Expectations are usually set by results. What we need to do here is set a standard and consistently reach it.
Cyclone Nation: A lot of people are comparing you being at Texas to Iowa State because they're familiar with the Longhorns because they're both in the Big 12. But I wonder if your stint at Auburn is more analogous to when you were at Auburn instead? The state of Alabama has roughly the same population as Iowa and there you're always behind the Crimson Tide in terms of prestige and media coverage.
Chizik: Without question that's a better example. The dynamics between Iowa and Iowa State are much like Alabama-Auburn in that you have the state school versus the "ag" school, so to speak. Before Pat Dye got there and later Tommy Tuberville they hadn't been doing much. But then Dye got Bo Jackson to sign and that sparked a passion for the game that's a perfect example for what I'd like to see happen here.
Cyclone Nation: You're building a house and your family is finally here with you and your kids are in school. How are they taking to Iowa so far?
Chizik: (Laughing) right now they think there's no green grass in Iowa because everything is white, but it's been great.
Cyclone Nation: What are your thoughts on your new boss, Athletics Director Jamie Pollard? Word is he and his vision were big selling points on you coming to Ames.
Chizik: He's a guy that has great vision and is on the cutting edge. He's not worried about the popular vote, and neither am I. There's always a means behind his madness and I like that. I came here because of his total vision for the athletics program.
Cyclone Nation: A means behind the madness…like the contrived controversy over ISU's ticket policies regarding the Iowa game this fall, for instance?
Chizik: That's a perfect example. That's what Jamie does and he does a good job of it. His only concern is ISU.
Cyclone Nation: What about your predecessor? Have you had a chance to talk with Dan McCarney yet?
Chizik: I called him recently and thanked him for what he did here and how much he accomplished these last 12 years. The reality is that if weren't for what he did here it would've been hard for me to come to Iowa State from where I was. That's the difference between where Iowa State was before he got here and where Iowa State is now.
Cyclone Nation: Obviously this isn't a staff that has a lot of Iowa ties. What kind of connections has the staff made in and around the state?
Chizik: One of the first people I called when I got the job was Ken Winkler, the head of the Iowa Football Coaches Association, to let him know we wanted to work with them. We've done a thorough job of sending guys out around the state and to clinics, like the recent one in Fort Dodge. The message is we're here, and we want to welcome to everyone.
Cyclone Nation: There is a perception out there that there won't be as many Iowa high school kids playing football as there were under the previous staff when 60-70 of the 120 kids on the roster were Iowans. Do you have a comment on that?
Chizik: I want the best player here. I don't care if that player comes from Des Moines or comes from Alaska. My only interest is not being mediocre. The question I have to ask myself when we recruit a young man is, "Are they good enough to play against Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska."
Cyclone Nation: How long will it take you to get acclimated to the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry?
Chizik: Rivalries are great for college football and this rivalry is great for the state. I'm in tune with that, but I've already been around some of the greatest rivalries in the history of the sport (Auburn vs. Alabama & Texas vs. Oklahoma). The passion for this rivalry is great, but our goal is to win the Big 12 title. The Iowa-Iowa State game is a great game, but at the end of the day make no mistake; we want to win the Big 12 North.
Cyclone Nation: Speaking of the rivalry, have you had a chance to talk to your counterpart in Iowa City yet?
Chizik: Kirk Ferentz sent me a note when I got the job, but we haven't met in person yet. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.
Cyclone Nation: For several seasons I personally had intimate access to the ISU football program, and rarely did I ever hear anyone within it talk on or off the record about winning the Big 12 title. Why are you so open to discussing it?
Chizik: I think the goal of being the Big 12 champion is realistically something we have to set a standard to do. The truth is that every team in every league, even Duke, ought to be doing that.
Cyclone Nation: At times it has been a challenge to get Iowa Staters to believe they could dream big and reach those dreams. I know Jamie is confronting that now within the fan and alumni base, are you doing the same within your own player ranks?
Chizik: That is something we still have to convince our people of, including our players. We've got to break down those beliefs that when something goes wrong "here we go again." We've got to get our guys to believe. This is a state where the people have great hearts but are very modest. One question I kept getting when I took the job was, "Why would you take this job?" That offended me and I thought it was an unfair question. That type of question shouldn't even be asked. We've got to change that thinking. I think I'm blessed to be here and that I'm the lucky one.
Cyclone Nation: Who have been the biggest influences on your coaching career?
Chizik: I've been around a lot of coaches that have influenced me in different ways; everyone from Mack Brown at Texas, Tommy Tuberville at Auburn, and Danny Ford when he was at Clemson. At each place I've been I've seen things I agreed with and things I didn't. I've taken all the right ingredients and mixed them together.
Cyclone Nation: Are there words or phrases that describe your coaching philosophy?
Chizik: Discipline, mental toughness, and a passion for the game.
Cyclone Nation: How is winter conditioning going?
Chizik: I don't know yet. We won't know how it went until we get to see them out on the field this spring. But I know what we want to do, and I know it's tough. You have got to want to be here, you have got to love the game and ISU, to do this every morning at 5:30 a.m. It tests your endurance. It tests your spirit.
Cyclone Nation: Now, coach, lots of times the new regime puts the holdovers from the previous program through a regimen like this as a means of testing their resolve. A separating the wheat from the chafe, if you will. Is this strength & conditioning program just an attempt on the part of you and your staff to find out who really wants to be here, or is the typical of what future Cyclones should expect from winter conditioning?
Chizik: It's S.O.P. (AKA standard operating procedure)
Will spring practice be open to the public as it was in the past?
Chizik: The first two will be open and then after that they'll be closed until the Sring Game. Spring practice begins on March 21st.
Cyclone Nation: Are all returning players going to start spring practice at their previous positions or have you identified certain guys for position switches yet?
Chizik: We've talked about some but nothing is definite yet and nobody's been notified of any position switches. Nothing will be definite until we get them out on the field in a few weeks.
Cyclone Nation: Talk about the summer camp. Will it be padded as it was under the previous staff?
Chizik: It will be very similar to what you've seen here in the past. It will definitely be a padded camp. Anytime you can put kids in pads, and not all states allow you to do that, you take advantage of it as a coach because that helps in your evaluation. Texas doesn't allow padded camps, but Iowa does.
Cyclone Nation: Will Iowa State be able to operate any "satellite" football camps in Florida or Texas this summer?
Chizik: Right now the NCAA is blocking that, and we're under the impression that won't change so the answer is no.
Cyclone Nation: How or when will captains be elected?
Chizik: That's kind of a touchy issue right now because they'll have to earn that right. Right now we don't have any captains, so if somebody is going to wear the "C" on their jerseys they'll have to earn it starting now. We don't who that will be. It could even be different captains each week or 2-4 guys for the season. We'll just have to wait and see.
Cyclone Nation: What are your thoughts on former quarterbacks coach Todd Fitch, the only holdover from the previous staff, leaving to become offensive coordinator at East Carolina?
Chizik: I was really happy for him. I want the best for our coaches, and this was a chance for him to run his offense and he thought it was best for his family so we wish him well.
Cyclone Nation: In the past we used to have an August tradition at Iowa State of wondering which of the junior college transfers who signed in February would actually show up for fall camp and be eligible. So ISU fans are wondering if all the JUCOs you signed are academically on course to be ready for the season?
Chizik: Four of them are already here and they're being monitored closely in their classes. So far it's all going well. We are prepared for all the trials and tribulations junior college transfers go through so we feel good about how that will turn out. We feel good academically about the ones that aren't here yet, too.
Cyclone Nation: Where do you think this team has the capability for the quickest turnaround?
Chizik: I can't answer that, either, until we get them on the field. Right now we're trying to measure their heart, desire, and attitude. The guys are working hard and I'm very proud of them. But our offseason program is testing their will in every conceivable way.
Cyclone Nation: Do you have a depth chart yet?
Chizik: Nope. Right now our players are still in survival mode.
Cyclone Nation: There are rumors of uniform changes. Can you confirm or deny that?
Chizik: You'll have to come to our games to find out.