Note: Neither Iowa nor Iowa State receives state funding for athletics anymore. Iowa State got off the dole in 2011 while Iowa has been self-funding since 2007. I point this out to say that while each of these athletic departments are financially independent of the state and each other, that does not make either program a private operation, sheltered from the observations of Iowans or fans and alums of either institution. And with that, and in the spirit of Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part II ("Keep your friends close but your enemies closer."), I got somethin' to say...
Let me start by saying, I enjoy Paul Rhoads. Or, rather, I enjoy the idea of Paul Rhoads. A lot. How could you not? But, we're all Iowans here at BHGP (literally or figuratively) and all Iowans, no matter their terminal degree or degree granting institution, all have a few things in common: they've tipped a cow; they've stiffed a waitress; they've voted in a caucus; been to the Iowa State Fair; have read, rented, or visited The Bridges of Madison County; and, they value education, which means we think it's important to be smart. So, when Iowan doesn't fully understand Iowan, it's cause for an article.
Paul Rhoads is that odd example in contemporary college football - an enterprise that has been, of late, zealously preoccupied with the bottom line - of a figure whose output is a mantle of mediocrity buried beneath a continental crust of charisma. There was a time when a college football head coach was charged with graduating student athletes, running a clean program, winning the occasional rivalry game, and mostly just making sure the trains run within 10 to 15 minutes of their scheduled time. No longer. Football is the real business within the business of higher education. Nowadays a head coach is charged with all the responsibilities listed above, plus running a program that is so compelling, so uplifting as to be must see. Selling tickets is usually, in fact, paramount and selling tickets is almost always a function of winning. Win games you sell tickets; lose games you have empty seats. It is the standard formula in almost every single conference, and at almost every single school in major college football.
And then there is Paul Rhoads.
One could easily argue there is no collegiate football coach whose job is more sheltered, more weatherproof as a consequence of personality and little more, than that of our neighbor to the west: Paul Rhoads. You know the numbers, they're gaudy and in all the wrong ways: 27 wins against 36 losses, the infrequent but dramatic upset win sandwiched between a string of blowout losses. The numbers are terrible, truly troubling, and trending worse yet. Nevertheless, with each passing season Paul Rhoads seems to only strengthen his weird and wonderful stranglehold on Ames. Rhoads appeal is simple: he comforts his quixotic community with frequent soaring platitudes, recurrent staff turnover, and a heavy dose of vacuous pride rhetoric, all intended to wall out oppositional points of view and keep fanatical eyes focused inwardly. It really may qualify as a form of what psychologist refer to as traumatic bonding. It all seems to have been made possible by the fact that Ames has never so much as sniffed a football championship, of any kind, since they took on football and thus they're powerless to make use of their most basic senses in evaluating him.
Enter Mark Mangino into the funky fray.
This offseason Paul Rhoads decided to bring former Kansas coach Mark Mangino out of obscurity and back into the spotlight of Big 12 football. Mangino will receive a two-year contract worth $725,000 to serve as the Cyclones Offensive Coordinator. Could this seemingly innocuous hire mark the beginning of the end of the munificent spoils we have come to expect from one Paul Rhoads?
Mark Mangino is the sort of coach that Paul Rhoads is not now, has not ever been, nor is likely to ever become. That is to say, Mark Mangino is the personification of gritty reality wrapped in a puffy coat of authenticity. Mangino comes without cliché; with him on board one questions if there can continue to be the adoring reassurances and Oprahian comforts that Iowa State has come to expect under Rhoads. Unlikely.
Mark Mangino is nothing if not a pair of overworn Red Wing white sole work boots - the 877 for the aficionados - with blood on the soles. Mangino comes off as a man who views football through a lens of unvarnished petulance: win or go the fuck home (and punch a kitten). A slew of pillowey football player at Kansas learned up close and personally that winning at any cost, for Mangino, is not a strategy but a religious conviction. It's as if his personal Hierarchy of Needs has winning on the same need order as food, water, crapping and sleeping. Remember, this is the man who refused to accept winning on a curve at Kansas. "Mark, Kansas is a basketball school. Football is a diversion until the basketball season starts. Go easy. Lay low. Beat Missouri or Kansas State every other year and you'll have a job for life. " Fuck you. Thus, his personality is the complete and utter opposite of his new boss. While Rhoads waxes poetic and finds nobility in losing to ranked teams, Mangino whacks with impunity at the notion of it.
Be prepared, Mark Mangino is almost certainly going to make Iowa State better, because just by his very substantial existence Mark Mangino will make the Rhoads Show more obviously a hoax. He will. And that is scary, but also this is a shame.
The Rhoads Show is the closest an Iowa fan can get to being dealt a royal flush on their first hand at the Bellagio. With Mangino roaming the locker room one can only expect ISU players will eventually come face-to-face with the realization that which everyone outside of Ames has understood for years: the culture of Rhoads is that of the affable loser. Under Mangino's direction, I expect the first Iowa State offensive practice this spring likely will feel as shocking to this group of Rhoads-reared players as watching the parachute failure of Soyuz 1 was to Russian aerospace enthusiasts. Mangino is neither lovable nor a loser and he's about the most unlikely coach in all of football to be complicit in any Rhoads "proud" porn. It's hard not to imagine a Lord Of The Flies-like locker room divide at some point.
At Kansas, where Mangino won national coach of the year honors, he was perpetually unimpressed by his own remarkable efforts. He had taken Kansas football to places not even the most ardent KU fan could imagine, his output had probably made him as close to unfireable as one can get. And, yet, he continued to push the envelope in his own tireless, if not maniacal and somewhat Shakespearian, quest to match his otherworldly mentor, Bill Snyder--former Iowa coach and instate rival who had groomed Mangino and author of how to build a college football program in Kansas. So, one can only imagine how he'll view the pedestrian undertakings of Rhoads. In eight seasons at Kansas Mangino took the Jayhawks to four bowl games, which is one-third of all bowl game appearances in Kansas football history. They won three of them, including a BCS win in the Orange Bowl. He finished his career at Kansas with an overall winning record...at Kansas...but with, as we now know, considerable sadistic fallout at the end.
For those who don't recall the fall of Mark Mangino, here is the short version: He was Bo Pelini before Bo Pelini. Because of his rotund appearance (yes, fat people are discriminated against, even in football) and disinclination to sincerely and convincingly apologize for his boorish behavior, he was wobbled out of town. At Kansas, at least in football, winning is not the only thing. His interpersonal methods were antagonistic but he was at least able to get a perennial football loser to actually win 12 games in a single season. Imagine that and then consider this: the last 12 Iowa State wins have occurred over the course of three seasons. Finally, in the four seasons since Mangino left Lawrence the Jayhawks have won 9 games, total.
So Mark Mangino can only help the bottom line at Iowa State. But make no mistake; a better Iowa State football team is still an Iowa State football team. Which is to say, it is still a straggling proposition. All the Mark Mangino's in the world are not going to improve a defense that has been scored on more than Taylor Swift at a One Direction after-party. That still falls on Rhoads, the coaching gift that keeps on giving (points to the opposition). Prior to the Mangino hiring it would not have been very difficult to imagine that short of firing himself or being relieved of his duties as man in charge, the schadenfreude express would continue to roll on. But now?
After getting over the initial shock of his hiring, because I for one did not see this coming, at all. I always expected Mangino to be back in the big time college football game, but with a coach that could through his own weight and substance keep Mangino in a box. Rhoads hiring Mangino confuses and disorients me. I cannot help but sense eerie undertones, similar to the days of Chizik and Malzahn at Auburn, on the horizon. It seems possible, if not inevitable, that Mangino may inadvertently reveal that the Rhoads has no clothes.
So let me take this moment to welcome you, Mark Mangino, to Iowa. The plot thickens with your arrival and as is the case in all blood thirsty rivalries, we Hawkeyes will be paying close attention to the impact of your arrival. I fully expect you to enjoy your stay too, although it will be put to the test the moment you hear your boss loquaciously welcome his players to spring camp on the heels of a three win season, with high fives and butt slaps aplenty, followed naturally by one of his bombastic pep talks - at which moment I imagine you saying to yourself, while staring with incredulity at the man they call Rhoads:
"Oh, hell yeah. I can take this guy."