Pope, who has coached running backs at Iowa State for the past four years under Paul Rhoads, has been part of several college football staffs over his more than two-decade career, so he knows something special when he sees it.
In a telephone interview with The Oklahoman, Pope said Rhoads is the type of coach any parent would love their son to play for.
“Barry (Switzer) was a very energetic guy, and he does remind me of coach Rhoads,” said Pope, who was an Oklahoma defensive back in the early 1970s.
“You felt like you could walk in his office anytime, and you felt good about having a conversation with coach Switzer. He knew what to say, he knew how to motivate you each week, and he was fun to be around.
Pope has been an assistant coach all over the country — Alabama, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and UNLV have all been stops during his career.
When Rhoads was hired as Iowa State’s head coach after the 2008 season, a mutual friend put him in touch with Pope.
The longtime coaching veteran said he was immediately attracted to Rhoads’ energy and enthusiasm, which has shown through in his passionate postgame speeches — “I am so proud to be your coach!” he has told his players in videos that have gone viral on YouTube — after big wins.
Pope said the Rhoads seen in those videos is the same Rhoads he sees every day.
“What you see is really what he is,” Pope said. “He is that way all the time, and all the players know this is real. Everything about coach Rhoads is real.
“I’ve loved every minute of working for coach Rhoads. It’s been a pleasure because of the way we go about working.”
Here is more from my interview with Pope, on various subjects:
On coaching against his alma mater:
“I treat all games the same way. When you prepare each week, you prepare the same way. But obviously when you play your alma mater, you always like to be able to find a way to win; it kinda makes you feel good. I don’t really see me putting any more extra work in; I do the same thing preparation-wise each week. But sure, you’d love to be able to beat those guys.”
On Paul Rhoads as a motivator:
“Coach Rhoads, in my opinion, does a great job motivating the team and getting the team to believe in what we’re doing. Each week we talk about continuing improvement. The key to us right now is the emphasis he brings to the team. The players believe they can win. They believe they can win every Saturday, and that’s how we approach each week.”
On the viral videos of Rhoads’ postgame speeches:
“That’s him every day. It’s nothing artifical. He’s that way every day, and that’s what makes him so unique. He’s the type of coach the players love. The players love that emotion, and if you came in every day, you’d see that same energy.”
On how scholarship restrictions have helped create more parity in college football:
“That’s why we feel like we can build a championship program, because everybody has that small number to work with. If you go out there and do a great job of evaluating and recruiting, you’ll have a chance to build that championship program.”
On building a championship program at Iowa State:
“It’s gonna take time, but the time is right now. Each week has been challenge for us.
“But the fun thing about being here has been that every day, you see something get a little bit better and you see this building toward being a championship program.”