GRIDIRON: Coaches keep up with their alma maters


Photo: Victoria Harjadi/Iowa State Daily

Paul Rhoads, head coach of the ISU football team, speaks on ISU football to media members on Aug. 4 at the Jacobson Athletic Building. Rhoads believes that his 2011 team is the the most talented team he’s had in his three seasons in Ames.

Jeremiah Davis

As Iowa State celebrates its 99th Homecoming, coaches of the ISU football team prepare their players for Texas A&M.

The Aggies come to Ames at 4-2 (2-1 Big 12) and are firing on all cylinders coming off a 55-28 drubbing of Baylor. The Cyclones, however, limp into Saturday’s matchup on a three-game losing streak.

While the coaches attempt to get their players ready for Homecoming, a few harkened back to the days when they were on the playing field themselves.

“Oh, that takes me back a while,” said running back coach Ken Pope, when asked about his playing days. “I played three years [at Oklahoma] and we had a lot of success.”

Pope played at the University of Oklahoma from 1970-73, playing on the freshman team his first year, then at defensive back his final three. Pope played on a Sugar Bowl-winning team in 1972 and made a name for himself on the field along the way.

“I guess my biggest claim to fame would be the fact that when we played the 1972 [game] against Nebraska — as a matter of fact we played in Lincoln, [Neb.,] for the conference championship that year — that was my best game,” Pope said. “I was Chevrolet Player of the Game that game. That was pretty unique. I had two interceptions that game — probably the best game of my playing career.”

Pope said the biggest thing about playing on those Sooner teams was that the players always felt like they had an opportunity to win. The Sooners won the then-Big Eight Conference title in 1972 en route to the Sugar Bowl.

Defensive tackles coach Shane Burnham may not have ever been able to play for a conference championship — the son of ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham played at South Carolina from 1994-97 — but did get to play for his dad.

“I hated it my first couple years,” Burnham said, laughing at the question of playing for his dad. “Thought he was unfair and all this other stuff, but my last couple years I finally got to see the field, which made it a little more fun.”

Now, 14 years later, Burnham is coaching alongside his dad at Iowa State. He said playing for his dad was as much about his future in coaching as it was his present as a player.

“I knew I wanted to coach — at least I thought I wanted to coach,” Burnham said. “And I thought, even if I never played a down [at South Carolina], the chance to play underneath [my dad] would be beneficial for me down the road in the coaching profession.”

Now that these former players are in the coaching world, it’s hard for them to keep up with their alma maters as much as they’d like.

But they try their best.

“Absolutely,” said coach Paul Rhoads, when asked if he keeps up with his alma mater, Missouri Western. “Every week I follow their scores and see how they’re doing. Their head coach now was a student coach when I was a freshman, so he and I are good friends. [I’m] very proud of the progress they’ve made under him.”

Rhoads, a defensive back from 1985-88, said he hasn’t been able to make a game since he left the school because he went into coaching right away.

“You know, I’d sure like to see them play,” Rhoads said. “Because of my profession, I’ve never got to see them play or even been back there for a spring or anything like that.”

Across the board, the coaches — more than anything — wish their alma maters success. They know better than anyone what went into their time as players, and still pull for their former teams.

“You still got a lot of pride,” Burnham said. “All the blood, sweat and tears you put into a program, you want to see them be successful.”