Dible overtime: Culture club


Kelby Wingert/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State celebrates senior tight end E.J. Bibbs’ touchdown during the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series game against Iowa on Sept. 13 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The Cyclones defeated the Hawkeyes 20-17.

Max Dible

After the Cyclones limped to a 2-10 finish in 2014, capped off by a 55-3 drubbing at the hands of the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth, Texas, ISU coach Paul Rhoads began plotting out an overhaul of his program.

Changes — and cue the David Bowie — would do the Cyclones a world of good.

And so as winter descended on Ames, the coach convened a team meeting in which he outlined the cultural alterations to be implemented immediately.

His players responded, which would become a theme of the change inside the ISU football program.

“[It began] this offseason, sitting down, describing that culture, deciding that we’re tired of going through these losing seasons,” said linebacker Luke Knott. “It sucks, especially as a player. I know it’s hard on the fans. I know it’s hard on everybody. But as a player and as a competitive person, it absolutely sucks.

“We’ve been trying to build this thing for awhile now.”

Leadership wasn’t the initial problem, and so it couldn’t logically serve as the solution. The fault that ran through the team cut deeper, and it was Rhoads who identified it.

“There’s plenty of leadership on this team. It’s not one, two or four guys,” Rhoads said. “The biggest focus with this cultural rebuild has been getting guys to respond. We’ve got plenty of coaches and players barking out the right things. It’s the remainder of the guys responding to that.”

Rhoads described what he now witnesses all over the field, within all segments of the team, as an intolerance for mediocrity.

Do it again. Do it right.

That might as well be adopted as the official motto for this 2015 ISU squad.

“Mentality is everything,” Knott said. “Whether you’re going through an injury or just showing up at practice on a daily basis, there’s just so much positive energy around the team now. And it’s great to see.”

Beyond increased accountability and an influx of positivity, there has been a mounting closeness between Cyclones inside and outside of the locker room.

“That makes or breaks you. That’s part of being a team,” said linebacker and team captain Levi Peters. “If you have your teammate’s back, and you know he has your back, you’re going to be more successful than if you’ve got this clique over here who [are] worried about themselves.”

Ironically, it was a willingness to express vulnerability — a risk more likely to be viewed as weakness inside the testosterone-fueled culture of college football than in other contexts — that helped to strengthen the bonds between teammates, reinforcing them with trust.

Peters said that truly caring about the man next to you in the huddle is by a wide margin the most crucial element to a winning football team.

“You see a lot of guys open up to the team, tell some personal stuff that maybe they’ve told two or three people in their lives. They sit in front of the whole team and tell them, and that creates that bond, that feeling of comfort,” Peters said.

“And that’s special. I know some of the guys that have told some stories were not very comfortable telling them, but I’m very glad that they did. You find more stuff out about your teammates — it’s only going to make you closer.”

The strengthened interpersonal relationships among the players haven’t gone unnoticed by the coaching staff, and they provide further evidence to Rhoads that his plan to change the culture of ISU football is working. 

“There’s a closeness in the team, in how they care about each other,” Rhoads said. “And all those things are pieces of our culture right now.”

Lead. Respond. Trust. Bond.

Combine these traits, which have appeared conspicuously in the attitudes of ISU coaches and players throughout the course of the preseason, and they equal one overarching, defining characteristic.


Real pride in the man, in the team, in the cardinal and gold the Cyclones carry on their backs.

“There’s a single mindedness of purpose and focus on the practice field. Especially right now in game preparations, you really notice it,” Rhoads said. “There’s a pride throughout the position groups that pushes towards the sides of the ball, that pushes towards the whole team and how they do things.”

And that pride couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time, as Iowa State hopes to seize Saturday’s chance to break a two-game losing streak against Football Championship Subdivision teams in home openers.

The guest is a Northern Iowa squad loaded with former Division I and future NFL talent — a team that defeated the Cyclones 28-20 in the first game of 2013, kicking off a two-year stretch in which Iowa State mustered only five total victories.

The Panthers will prove a tough test to be sure, but one the Cyclones now appear ready for. The time for revenge is upon them. 

Will the Cyclones respond?