Prohm wasn’t built in a day: Steve Prohm’s journey to Iowa State


Korrie Bysted/Iowa State Daily

Steve Prohm talks about his new position as head coach of the ISU men’s basketball team at a press conference on Tuesday, June 9 in the Sukup basketball complex.

Chris Wolff

Steve Prohm’s voice cracked and his eyes welled up as he struggled to hold back the tears during his first press conference as the head basketball coach at Iowa State.

It wasn’t just the beginning of a new job for Prohm. It was a lifelong dream coming to fruition.

That dream began long ago, when Prohm gave up his playing career.

He spent his college years as a student assistant before landing his first big boy job: an unpaid assistant coaching gig at teeny tiny Centenary College, where Prohm lived in the basement of a dorm.

“In any job, you’re going to have go through things — sacrifice — to get to where you want to get to professionally,” Prohm said.

It wasn’t his dream. It wasn’t even close.

He started from the very bottom of the coaching profession. Now, nearly two decades later, Prohm is quickly approaching the top as head coach of the Cyclones — a projected top-10 team in the coming season.

Like many, Prohm’s first dream was not to coach. It was to play.

He gave it a brief whirl at Oglethorpe University, a Division III school in Georgia, before calling it quits and transferring to Alabama, where his coaching career unofficially began.

He became a student manager for Alabama’s men’s basketball team, where he absorbed anything and everything he could. He did the crappy jobs that student managers are typically assigned: washing clothes, running errands for the coaches or rebounding for the athletes.

Prohm originally entertained the idea of becoming a sports broadcaster before being bit by the coaching bug. He switched his major to education and began pouring all of his energy into basketball.

When his time as a student ended, Prohm began searching for his first adult job, but breaking into the coaching profession proved to be difficult. So difficult, in fact, that it led him to Centenary, where he was offered no money. Instead, he was offered free housing in a student dormitory and a meal package.

“When I went down to Centenary College, I didn’t know what to expect,” Prohm said. “Show up, you’re living in a dorm room, got no money, you’re eating in the cafeteria and you got to decide: ‘Hey, man, is this worth it? Is this what I really want to do?’

“And then once you decide that it is, then you can’t look back and you got to be all in.”

Despite the laundry list of negatives, Prohm somehow decided it was worth it. Coaching basketball was his dream.

He refused to be deterred. He was all in.

Prohm comes to Iowa State by way of Murray State, where he spent the last nine years, four of them as head coach. At Murray State, Prohm developed a reputation as a winner.

His Racers racked up a record of 104-29 with Prohm at the helm, never winning less than 21 games in a season. The success at Murray State made Prohm one of the hottest young coaches in college basketball. It wasn’t a matter of if he would get high-major job offers, but rather when he would accept one.

That turned out to be Iowa State. The opportunity to coach Georges Niang, Monté Morris, Jameel McKay and the rest of the back-to-back Big 12 tournament champions was too much to pass up.

“He’s a proven winner,” ISU athletic director Jamie Pollard said when introducing Prohm at his first press conference. “I don’t care what level you’re coaching at … winners find a way to win.”

With a loaded roster and a projected top-10 team, Prohm is set up to continue winning at Iowa State. The bigger challenge may be having to follow Fred Hoiberg — the Mayor — whose presence and status within the ISU community is nearly impossible for a newcomer to match.

Still, ISU President Steven Leath is confident in Prohm’s ability to carry on Hoiberg’s legacy.

“We all know Fred left some big shoes to fill, but I feel fully confident that Steve [Prohm] has the personality, and more importantly, the skill set to not only maintain, but build on that level of excellence Cyclone fans have come to expect,” Leath said.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Steve Prohm was working for free at Centenary. He has endured the struggle and relentlessly worked his way through the ranks.

Next season, he will make $1.5 million for his efforts. It’s a far cry from his beginnings. It’s the realization of a dream.

When Prohm looks back on a career that started at the bottom, he considers it to be almost a blessing in disguise.

“I think it grounds you,” Prohm said. “Keeps you humble. It makes you understand that you’re very, very privileged to be in this situation. Everybody would love this opportunity, and I’ve got it now and I’ve got to make the most of it.”

There were bumps along the way. There were times when the dream of being a big-time coach seemed too far-fetched when faced with the reality of being an unpaid assistant.

But Prohm was resilient. Prohm triumphed.

“The highs were too high to get rid of,” Prohm said. “The lows are low, but the highs … you can’t wait for the next one.”

Prohm is now at an all-time personal high. He has yet to reach the pinnacle, but has a team poised with the ability to do just that.

Now, Prohm is focused on the upcoming season. He is used to long, winding journeys. He is used to the struggles that will inevitably arise. He’s been there, done that, both on and off the court, and he carries the same approach now as he did then.

“Let’s just be great today, then let’s be great tomorrow, then [eventually] we’ll do something special together,” Prohm said to his players at his introductory press conference. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”