DALLAS – In his introductory remarks at a news conference Monday, new Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades mentioned that his wife and three daughters were excited about moving to Waco.
“They want to meet Chip and Joanna Gaines more than they want to meet the coaches,” he said of the hosts of HGTV’s Fixer Upper.
If you need a perfect analogy for what is supposed to be a new era for Baylor athletics, there it is.
Rhoades, 50, is trading a dumpster fire at Missouri for a burnt-out dumpster at Baylor. While there will continue to be lawsuits and revelations, Baylor has reached the point where the problems have been identified and need to be solved.
After 15 months at Missouri, Rhoades is moving to a school that is experiencing its second scandal in the last 13 years.
“I never looked at it as a comparison,” said Rhoades, whose official start date in Waco is Aug. 15. “Some mistakes have been made and the Baylor community has done a great job of fact-finding and put a lot of things in place to fix things moving forward. I’m looking forward to create an athletic department that is excellent in all areas.
“Let me be clear. Simply, I see opportunities and not challenges. I can make all sorts of promises but doing is better than telling.”
With the dismissal of Art Briles, the gutting of the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes and the hiring of interim coach Jim Grobe, Rhoades’ first job will be assessing a football program that appears headed to challenging times.
“We’ll begin to evaluate immediately,” Rhoades said. “I’ll be open minded I’ll look at how the season goes. We’ll have things lined up at the end of the season if need be. Coach Grobe is the football coach and I’m going to work with him.
“I have great respect for coach Grobe and look forward to meeting him. He’s brought stability in a short time, he’s earned the trust of the staff and the student-athletes.”
Since last October at Missouri, Rhoades had to deal with a one-day boycott of the football team regarding racial tensions on campus, with the resignation of long-time football coach Gary Pinkel, the announcement of an NCAA investigation of the men’s basketball team and investigating the women’s softball coach that led to the team playing a game under protest.
“My time in Columbia was short but the memories will last a lifetime,” Rhoades said.
Regardless of the memories, Rhoades was intent on leaving Columbia before the next brush fire. He had earned $600,000 for his first year of work and he owes Missouri $800,000 to escape his five-year contract. Baylor is paying Rhoades $1 million a year and will no doubt be happy to write the $800,000 check, in care of the University of Missouri.
Before Missouri, Rhoades was athletic director at Houston from 2009 to March of 2015 and prior to that he was at the University of Akron for four years. Those two jobs helped him add important bullet points to his resume. As with any resume, there’s a need to read between the lines.
At Akron, the Zips won their first Mid-American Conference in school history and the basketball team had its best winning record in school history.
When he was at Houston, the Cougars got back in the national spotlight with a 13-1 record in 2011. For the first time in two decades, Houston finished in the Associated Press top 25 (but the final ranking of 18th showed a lack of respect for the program and Conference USA).
Athletic directors at successful programs can bask in the glow if their coaches win – and some ADs even have contracts with cash incentives for conference of national championship. Rhoades has been helped by success through association.
When he took the Houston job, Kevin Sumlin was the coach and he was in charge when the Cougars went 13-1 in 2011. Rhoades tabbed Tony Levine when Sumlin climbed the ladder to take the Texas A&M job.
After three seasons, Rhoades canned Levine and hired Tom Herman, who had been the offensive coordinator for Ohio State’s national championship team. A fine choice. The Cougars went 13-1 and Herman’s coaching star is white hot.
During his time in Houston, he helped raise money to build facilities that cost more than $160 million. He won’t have much building to do at Baylor as the school’s athletic facilities have been upgraded and built to the point they are as good as any school in the Big 12.
Rhoades’ biggest challenge will be a football program that starts this season with just 70 scholarships, two recruiting classes that have been gutted and an interim coach. The heady days of back-to-back Big 12 titles might not return in five or 10 years.
But if Rhoades can hire the right coach and that coach gets the program back on track in a short time, Rhoades will have done the job Baylor hired him to do.