Mizzou welcomes Mack Rhoades as director of athletics.
Back in 1996, Mack Rhoades stood at a crossroads. With an opportunity to stay at Yale University Athletics following a one-year gig as a marketing assistant, he and wife Amy, with 2-year-old and newborn in tow, returned to their hometown of Tucson, Arizona. A career in sports temporarily on hold, Rhoades delivered pizzas to meet ends while awaiting résumé replies.
Nineteen years later, he stood on a podium, warming up a Mizzou audience for the first time.
“I’m going to give this a try,” Rhoades said. “You know what’s coming, right? M-I-Z!”
Moments earlier, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin had introduced Rhoades as the University of Missouri’s new director of Intercollegiate Athletics. The MU Student Center, crowded with students, faculty and staff, answered with a resounding “Z-O-U!”
Rhoades, former vice president for Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Houston, succeeds Mike Alden, who announced Jan. 30, 2015, his plan to take a faculty position in MU’s College of Education beginning Aug. 31. Rhoades’ duties officially began April 27, and Alden, after 17 years on the job, is assisting with the transition.
“This is not a fixer-upper,” said Rhoades at the March 10 event. “I remember a moment [early in my career] when I said, ‘I want to be at a place someday that is the best — a national leader in our industry.’ The University of Missouri, and this athletics program, is just that.”
Loftin cited Rhoades’ genuineness — as well as his reputation for upholding academic integrity, social responsibility and competitive excellence in his programs — as outstanding strengths.
“[Rhoades] has directed athletics at consequential institutions, and, in both instances, he took [the programs] to a higher level,” Loftin says. “He has proven that he can make a quick and effective transition between institutions. He has also proven that he can be successful by every important measure.”
During the 2013–14 academic year, 10 of Houston’s 17 sports programs competed in NCAA postseason competition. The football team played in bowl games four of the past six seasons, including the 2011 season when the Cougars were ranked as high as No. 6 in the BCS standings. In almost every academic measurement, including GPA and academic progress rate, Houston reached record levels. In addition, Rhoades created the Cougar Pride Leadership Academy to teach leadership skills to student-athletes.
Rhoades also has a strong fundraising track record, having raised nearly $100 million and built $160 million in new facilities at UH, including a campus football stadium and a men’s and women’s basketball development center.
“I’m not sure there’s a secret to it,” Rhoades says. “You must create and articulate a vision, and you need to develop relationships and earn people’s trust. Any time someone invests money, they want to see return on investment. They want to make sure their generosity is having an impact.”
Prior to his six years at Houston, Rhoades served three years at the University of Akron as athletic director and seven years at the University of Texas at El Paso as an assistant to Athletic Director Bob Stull, who coached Mizzou football from 1989 to 1993.
“Columbia is a great city, and Amy and I haven’t lived in a college town since Bloomington, Indiana,” says Rhoades of the town where he earned a master’s degree at the Hoosier State’s flagship institution. “Columbia, like Mizzou, is on an upward trajectory.”
Rhoades and Amy met at the University of Arizona, their undergraduate alma mater. Amy meant to set up Rhoades on a date with her sister but changed her mind when she realized she was falling for him. Now the Rhoadeses have three daughters: Nicolette, 21; Natalie, 19; and Noelle, 17.
With numerous accomplishments in the rearview mirror and national championship aspirations on the horizon, Rhoades recalls those pizza-delivery days with a smile.
“At that point, I thought my very brief career in college athletics was done,” says Rhoades, who confidently envisions his current position as his “last” job.
“The SEC is the best conference in the country, and Missouri has been extremely competitive in its initial three years. The great news — there’s still a lot more opportunity.”