MBB: Despite struggles, Pollard remains supportive of McDermott

ISU coach Greg McDermott watches from the sidelines Tuesday as the Cyclones face Missouri at Hilton Coliseum. ISU Athletic Director Jaime Pollard gave McDermott a vote of confidence, ensuring he would return for his fifth season at the helm next year. Photo: Zhenru Zhang/Iowa State Daily

Zhenru Zhang

ISU coach Greg McDermott watches from the sidelines Tuesday as the Cyclones face Missouri at Hilton Coliseum. ISU Athletic Director Jaime Pollard gave McDermott a vote of confidence, ensuring he would return for his fifth season at the helm next year. Photo: Zhenru Zhang/Iowa State Daily

Nate Sandell —

Say what you will about Greg McDermott, but the four year Cyclone coach will be at the helm of the ISU men’s basketball program next season, athletic director Jamie Pollard announced Monday.

In the wake of Iowa State’s recent struggles, Pollard and McDermott held a surprising joint press conference to address the current state of the men’s basketball program.

“When I look at this team and the character the coaches and the student-athletes have exhibited through some pretty tough times, there is a lot of resiliency there and there is a lot to be proud of,” Pollard said. “So we look forward to coach McDermott and his staff leading our program to the same level of success we’ve achieved in some of our other programs. I look forward working alongside [McDermott] for quite a long time.”

Pollard’s address to the public was a direct result of a growing unrest among the Cyclone fan base.

Despite a renewed outlook prior to this season, Iowa State has stumbled to a 15–16 regular season record and a 4–12 mark in the conference. These struggles compound what has already been a rocky four year tenure for McDermott, who has five years remaining on his contract.

Amidst a slew of player departures and untimely injuries, McDermott’s Cyclones have posted a 59–67 overall record and an 18–46 Big 12 in his four year in Ames. Up until last Saturday’s upset victory over No. 5 Kansas State, McDermott had yet to obtain a signature win over a program ranked in the Top-25 nationally.

“Unfortunately the men’s basketball program hasn’t achieved at the level we would all like it to achieve,” Pollard said “It’s been frustrating, it’s been disappointing for fans and for coach McDermott and his staff and the players.”

The steady slew of disappointments has caused portions of the Iowa State fan base to become vocal of the unhappiness with the current state of affairs.

“The overwhelming message that I get from our fans is that they are just frustrated,” Pollard said. “They want to win. That’s a lot of time and money to spend coming to games and you want to go home feeling good about it. That’s been the frustrating part, because we have been close.”

That frustration has led both the fan base and the athletic department to critically examine McDermott’s position as head coach.

“It’s made us stop and think about why someone is giving the opportunity and privilege to be one of our 18 head coaches. And winning is a big part of that, but so is one’s integrity, so is one’s character, so is how the student-athletes perform in and out the classroom. In all of those categories things have gone extremely well.”

Regardless of the recent criticism McDermott has faced, he said there was no uncertaintyuncertainty in his mind that he would still be coaching at Iowa State next year.

“Jamie and I have had conversations throughout the season like we always do. And he has been unwavering in his support of me and the program and I appreciate that, because that allows me to continue to do my job and prepare the team to play,” McDermott said.

Although McDermott remains aware and understanding of the growing adversity among fans, he said he will continue to do what he can to turn the program around.

“Its good to wake up in the morning and know you are coaching where people really care and that’s why Jamie is here today, because our fans care and they are disappointed we are not winning at the level that I would like to see as well,” McDermott said. “But all I can do is continue to work as hard as I can and be who I am. And I am not going to change that.”

With the arrival of Marquis Gilstrap, LaRon Dendy and Scott Christopherson last fall, the anticipation and hopes for this year’s Cyclones were elevated. But those high hopes were quickly dashed after key injuries to Jamie Vanderbeken and Charles Boozer, as well as the sudden departure of Lucca Staiger, left the Cyclones with a depleted roster.

Adding to Iowa State’s woes this season has been the nature of the majority of the team’s conference losses this season. Eight of the Cyclones 12 Big 12 losses have been decided by seven points or less.

“I really believe that the plan that we had in place and the team we had in place at the beginning of the year I really believe we would have accomplished our goals,” McDermott said. “The reality of it is that the team we’ve played with the last 16 games is not that team. We’ve had to retool what we’re doing. Part of what we’ve done this year is find a way to be competitive when we’re short handed.”

Iowa State finally received a slight reprieve to its long string of disappointments on Saturday when the Cyclones defeated the fifth-ranked Wildcats. However, the Cyclones understand it will take more than a surprising upset to turnaround the program.

“I don’t think one win changes the mind of this fan base,” Pollard said.

While the 11th-seeded Cyclones still have a chance to make a run in the Big 12 tournament this week, thoughts of next season have already surfaced. Iowa State must deal with the likely loss of forwards Craig Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap. The absence of the Cyclones’ top two scorers is tempered by the potential return of three other starters, as well as the return of Vanderbeken and Boozer.

“Next year’s team is going to be much different than this year’s team because we’re probably not going to have a guy who’s going to average 17 or 18 points a game,” McDermott said. “But I feel the balance of our team will be much better.”

Regardless of what happens in the Cyclones’ tournament opener against Texas Wednesday night, Pollard and his department remain confident McDermott is still the right person to lead the basketball program.

“What you really look at is the individual leading. Are they exhibiting the characters, the integrity and qualities we look for in anybody who is at Iowa State University?” Pollard said. “From that perspective there is no question in my mind the coach McDermott and his staff do it the right way. The wins will hopefully come.”