Paul Rhoads tells the story behind the 'So Proud!' speech
If you are at all interested in college football and get on the Internet (and if not, how did you get here?), you've undoubtedly seen this speech more than a few times.
The speech was boiled down to one viral clip, Rhoads reminding his players amid exuberant squeezes of water bottles that he was "so proud" to be their football coach. It went viral, and ESPN even saw it fit for inclusion into its college football "Images of the Decade" video.
More than three years after that joyous locker room in Lincoln, Neb., Rhoads told the story behind that speech to a liberal arts and sciences class at Iowa State.
As Rhoads tells it, the inspiration for that message came long before that October day in 2009 when his Cyclones earned their first victory in Lincoln in the most improbable of fashions, forcing eight turnovers, half of them within five yards of their own goal line, as they preserved a 9-7 victory. Rhoads says it started before he even got the job, when asked in an interivew with Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard what he would tell the team in his first meeting, should he get the job.
"I told him then without much hesitation that I would stand up in front of them and the first thing out of my lips would be that I was proud to be their football coach," Rhoads said. "The reason that I wanted to tell them that, first of all, was to begin to establish a relationship. I was proud to be in the state of Iowa. I was proud to be at Iowa State University. And I was proud to be the football coach of the Iowa State University Cyclones."
After he got the job and with that quote in mind, Rhoads told the team he expected to conclude his first season as head coach with a bowl victory. Iowa State had not won a bowl game in four seasons to that point. But the Cyclones won six games in the regular season, and rang in New Year's Eve as Insight Bowl champions with a 14-13 win over Minnesota.
"People asked me if I really thought we were going to win a bowl game in the first year? It didn't matter," Rhoads explained. "What mattered was, in that very first meeting as the leader of the program I was setting the bar high. I was establishing that the expectations were to build a championship-level program and I needed to do that day one."
After establishing his expectations for the program, Rhoads set out to teach his players how to meet them: through unity.
"I told them that when we left the room that night we had to be one team committed together," he said. "I told them I didn't care if they were black or white. I didn't care if they were rich or poor. I didn't care what state they came from. When we leave here on this night we've got to be one football team moving forward."
Fast forward from that January night to Nov. 18, 2011, and things once again came full circle. On a chilly Friday night at Jack Trice Stadium, the Cyclones battled back from a 24-7 deficit to topple then-No. 2 Oklahoma State 37-31 in double overtime, and Rhoads said this to his team afterward.
See Rhoads speak to a class of lucky Iowa State students in his own words below.