ISU football playing more than a football game on Saturday

Iowa State’s head coach Paul Rhoads argues a call Saturday November 14, 2015 during the third quarter in Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. 

Luke Manderfeld

The ISU football team’s Saturday game against West Virginia (6-4, 3-4 Big 12) will signify more than just the end of the season. When Iowa State (3-8, 2-6 Big 12) travels to Morgantown, W.V., it will mark the end of an era. 

ISU coach Paul Rhoads will be coaching in his final game after he was told he was being let go on Sunday morning. He was given a chance to finish out his ISU career with one more game.

Rhoads jumped at the opportunity.

“I’m no quitter,” Rhoads said. “I’m not going to walk away from the job. I wouldn’t walk away from coaching these young men.”

Although Rhoads will likely find another coaching job elsewhere either as a defensive coordinator or in another role, most — if not all — of the 18 departing seniors are playing in their final competitive football game. 

Mixing that with Rhoads’ final game as the head coach of the Cyclones, and the players have plenty to win for on Saturday. 

“We have to show positive energy,” said captain Levi Peters. “I’ve got to get these guys to rally together. There’s a lot of reasons to win this last game. It’s not all coach Rhoads, it’s for all of the players — all of the seniors that have worked so hard.” 

That mentality was molded overnight. When players walked out of the Sunday morning meeting where they were told Rhoads was out, many of them looked broken down and emotional, certainly not in position to prepare for a football game. 

When some players talked with the media on Monday, though, they were as ready as ever. 

“We thought there was going to be a lot of distractions,” said redshirt senior Brock Dagel. “But as soon as we got in that meeting room, and as soon as we got on the field it was like, ‘We’re just going to do what we’ve been doing all season.’

“If anything, we had a little more pep in our step because we realized that this is our last chance to do something for this coaching staff that has done so much for us in the past five years.”

Rhoads is taking a similarly opportunistic view of his curtain call, approaching it as one final chance to send his players out right, specifically his two sons on the team, Jake and Wyatt. 

“I’m a ball coach, so I’m going to keep coaching,” Rhoads said. “I relish the relationships we have with our players. I’ll probably keep an eye on a couple of players this week and see how they do. Nothing specific.”

It was difficult for players to envision how it would feel when they stepped on the field for the final time under Rhoads. But the one consensus was that it would be extremely emotional to say farewell after Rhoads’ seven years as the head coach of Iowa State. 

“I think like it’s going to be like the senior game, it’s not going to hit me until the end,” Dagel said. “But I’m expecting it to be pretty overwhelming.”