CSR: The Paul Rhoads Interview

It has been almost six months since Paul Rhoads returned to his home state to become head football coach at Iowa State. Cyclone Sports Report goes one-on-one with Rhoads to find out how things have changed for him since he took over the program and how the team is progressing as we head into the summer.

Cyclone Sports Report: How much more relaxed are you now that you have been on the job almost six months?

Paul Rhoads: In some ways I'm more relaxed in doing some of the tasks, the day-in-day-out routine, and with some of the decisions that I have to make. It is really becoming a way of life but what I'm not relaxed about is the fact that everything is fresh and first year. We're not relaxing when it comes to getting the itinerary ready for our first camp in order to make sure everything runs well.

CSR: How was it working with your new staff during spring practice for the first time?

PR: It's really been exceptional because I was able to bring in the right fit of guys to be on my staff. They all have met the criteria of what I wanted in an assistant coach. First, I wanted guys who were good teachers and that was confirmed by seeing what they did during spring ball. They showed that they are not just excellent with X's and O's but that they are also very good at motivating the players. The second thing I want from my coaches is that they care about the players and they have really showed that so far. I see players in coaches offices and the coaches are always doing a good job of stressing academics with all the players. The final thing is that I wanted not just good recruiters but guys who could recruit in specific areas throughout the country and we've got that. They are doing a great job of bringing names of players to me who are definitely the right fit for Iowa State.

CSR: Your new defensive coordinator, Wally Burnham, recently told me that you really gave him the freedom that he wanted to run the defense during spring practices. Was that somewhat difficult to do considering you have been running defenses for the past decade?

PR: It was not difficult at all because I have got so much to do wearing my new hat to dwell on it schematically. Lots of things prepared me for that type of thing but the one specific thing that jumps at me was when Dave Wannstedt moved me from secondary coach to linebackers and I always thought that I'd be looking over my shoulder but I never did. That switch helped me prepare for this type of thing. I really haven't worried about being a defensive coordinator because I have to worry about being a head coach.

CSR: What are two or three things that you learned about the make-up of your team during spring football?

PR: That they are a very hungry football team and that they are willing to put in the effort and time to try and get better. They also learned to be more directed with the time they put in and they have realized that you can't confuse commitment to get better with daily routine. Showing up at six in the morning to work out doesn't guarantee more wins. They learned that they have to appreciate that the little things are going to win games and so they have to work hard and turn that into positives on the field.

CSR: When the 2009 season begins do you expect Austen Arnaud to be your starting quarterback?

PR: I really do because he has the most experience at that position. He also has the physical and mental ability along with the leadership skills that we are looking for in a quarterback. The one thing I would say is that Jerome Tiller gets better on a daily and weekly basis. He has shown to have the best velocity on the team and the ability to make people miss. Austen has shown more athleticism in the pocket with the ability to get outside and make plays. Jerome just doesn't have the experience at this point but it's really great to have two good players at that position.

CSR: The Iowa State defense really struggled in 2008. What are some of the positive things that the defense showed you during the spring and what do they clearly need to get better at before the season begins?

PR: The first positive would be that the group understands that they have to play together in order to be successful. They also communicate extremely well and are consistently making the right checks which tells me that their knowledge of the defense is growing. In regards to improvements, we have got to become a much better tackling football team. We were bad at the start and we began tackling a lot better by the end of the spring. Our athleticism and team speed has to improve in regards to change of direction and making plays in the open field but I don't know how much we can do to improve that in such a short time period before the season starts.

CSR: How happy are you with the depth at running back?

PR: I'm very happy that we have three guys that we can put out there if needed. Alexander (Robinson) is clearly the starter and he really stepped up during the spring. The other two are big and physical backs that need to play more physical. Bo (Williams) has that combination of speed and power and Jeremiah (Schwartz) needs to drop his shoulder more and run people over because sometimes he's running too much like he's trying to make people miss.

CSR: When you got the job you were put in a situation where you had to scramble at the end of the recruiting season. How much more fluid is the process now that you have a full staff?

PR: I'm very happy with our recruiting process at the moment. We're now able to be very thorough and there is a lot more communication. The staff has done a great job of getting kids on the phone with me. The kids are calling us and I'm talking to a lot of these kis on a consistent basis. I have to have a better relationship with these kids that the other head coaches out there.

CSR: You have been on a few Iowa State caravan trips over the past few months. What kind of support have you been getting from the fans?

PR: It's been a great reception ever since December 20th and the one thing that I have noticed is that Iowa State fans and Iowa people in general appreciate having one of their own back leading the program. They are thinking that maybe we are the right people at the right time to get this thing turned around and we need to take advantage of this great opportunity. I think they are seeing that I'm genuine and sincere in wanting to do this and the great thing with Iowa people is that you don't have to force these things. They see who you are and the way that you work. I love representing this university and there is nothing better in the world than getting to coach football back in my home state.

CSR: What are the most important things that must happen for the team to get better during the summer heading into fall practice?

PR: The first thing would be athleticism and it must continually be developed. We have a ten week that Yancy (McKnight) has set up. We really haven't had a consistent time period where this could be done. We had about three to five weeks before the off-season grind and then there was not full-time lifting during spring ball but this time during the summer you have no grind. Speed, strength, and conditioning must get better. The second thing I would say is developing our mental toughness. There will be a lot of games this year where the difference in ability will be minimal but where the game will be decided is with mental toughness. When we have a key third down in the fourth quarter we have to execute better if we want to win the close games. If we are not mentally tough enough the consequences will be that we will not win enough games.

CSR: Who will win the NBA Championship and how many games will it take?

PR: If you were asking me about the Penguins and the Red Wings I would be more excited but considering I have seen Van Gundy a lot on the TV in my office all week long I'll pick the Magic in seven games.

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