Insider Report on Mack Rhoades
Reports surfaced on Sunday night that Missouri was hiring Houston Athletic Director Mack Rhoades. Those reports were confirmed by Mizzou on Monday morning. We spent a few minutes talking with Rob Sellers, who has covered Houston for CougarsDen.com during Rhoades' tenure at the school.
PowerMizzou.com: What's the reaction from Houston fans to the news that Rhoades is leaving for Missouri?
Rob Sellers: "Little bit of a mixed reaction. There's a faction of the fanbase that wasn't real happy with the job that Rhoades did as far as Houston. He was on the hook for the Tony Levine hire, which was a three-year deal that just didn't really work out. And maybe under different circumstances they might have given Tony another year or so to turnaround. But it's still fresh in their minds, having to get rid of Tony Levine so there's a small faction that will still kind of hold that against him. But for the most part a lot of people were like, 'this is no good, he's done so much for the school in the last five or six years and we're going to have to make sure we hire somebody that's an A-list type of person to replace him to continue to move forward.' Houston's big push right now is hoping for more realignment situations to come up in the future in hopes that they're not going to be left out. That's the biggest reason why Mack himself made a big push in the last couple of years to get this stadium built. They've started some renovations to the basketball facility as well. They've got an initial phase going up right now as we speak, a new practice facility. The next thing after that was going to be to completely refurbish the inside of the facility, which it badly needs. Little bit of a mixed reaction as it broke last night and this morning. Most people I would say are probably disappointed that he's leaving. He's done a good job overall. The baseball coaching hire he made, they opened the season ranked third in the nation. Your non-revenue sports like golf and stuff like that are all in a better spot since he's been here. So overall I would say other than a small little faction that's still a little bit hurt over the Tony Levine situation, I think everybody, they wish he wouldn't be going and they know they're going to have to get somebody good to replace him."
PM.com: What are his strengths? What areas did he excel in in his five years down there?
RS: "He's a tremendous money raiser. The AD that was here before him, Dave Maggard, tried for a long time to get upgrades to the old stadium, Robertson Stadium that they played in forever, and his biggest project that he tried to raised money for wasn't even successful. It was the end zone facility. Don't get me wrong, Mack gets the credit because he's the AD, but it wouldn't have happened without the big 2011 season that they had with Kevin Sumlin and Case Keenum when they went undefeated to the conference championship game before losing and ended up 13-1 on the season. That was a big contributing factor to the momentum that they carried into building the stadium, but nonetheless, this is now Akron before Houston and now here at Houston that he's built brand new stadiums leaving the program in better shape than when he got here. That's some of the biggest things. He was a tremendous money-raiser. He did a good job of rallying the fanbase and squeezing blood out of a turnip, so to speak, just to be able to get that stadium funded. Like I said, they wouldn't have done it without the big season that they had in 2011, but nonetheless, he gets credit for being the guy that spearheaded the effort. That's the biggest thing. He definitely leaves it in a much better spot than he found it."
PM.com: Flip side, what will his critics say? What are the areas in question from his time at Houston?
RS: "His critics are gonna say coaching hires. It was a bit of hot or cold with his coaching hires. The baseball team, the coach that he hired, Todd Whitting, they opened the season number three in the country. Golf has improved. Track and field has improved greatly. You've got Leroy Burrell and Carl Lewis both as coaches over here. All that's improved, but you've got hot and cold on the coaching hires. You're responsible for Tony Levine. He inherited Kevin Sumlin so he doesn't really get credit for that. He hired Tony Levine who wasn't successful and ended up being fired. Tom Herman has come in and done a great job early on, of course, they haven't coached in an actual game yet. We'll see how it plays out and it will be, since he made the hire, he'll be gone before he ever coaches. Basketball he hired James Dickey before and that was rather unsuccessful. He was responsible for getting rid of Tom Penders who was successful, but evidently not as successful as they wanted. He hired James Dickey, which was a few year project as well that was unsuccessful. Now he's turned around and hired Kelvin Sampson, which everyone views as a very good hire. This year they struggled because they're kind of rebuilding the program, they had a ton of guys leave after the coaching change. That's the biggest thing critics are going to hit on. He was hot and cold with his hires. Some were good, some were bad."
PM.com: But overall, you say he leaves Houston in a much better spot than when he got there?
RS: "Definitely. They're in a lot better shape. You give credit to the momentum that Briles started way back when, Sumlin came in when Briles left and continued that. Little bit of a hiccup with Tony Levine, although Tony Levine leaves and he didn't leave the cupboard bare. There's a lot of talent. Tom Herman said as much. There's a lot of talent on the team that he inherits that he's going to be able to work with. You're always going to have critics and all that overall, but I think he leaves the program in much better shape than when he got here. You've got brand new facilities everywhere, they've upgraded the baseball field, new football stadium, working on basketball, got a tennis agreement with the Zina Garrison Foundation, they're building a new facility there. He's done a great job of raising money and building new facilties which is very key."
PM.com: PR wise, dealing with fans, talking to boosters, what are the impressions of him from that standpoint with people that you talk to?
RS: "They like him, they think he's very personable. He's a fairly young guy so he gets along very well with the younger fanbase. I've never really heard anybody say anything bad about him that interacted with him. You have your fringe fans who are going to complain that have never even bothered to reach out to the guy. People that actually know him, that have worked with him, the big donors and stuff like that, everyone's been impressed with the job he's done. Everyone I've talked to the last couple days as far as big donors go, they're disappointed to see him go and they know they're going to have to make a really good hire to replace him."
PM.com: Do you have any sense at this point for people that work with him at Houston that could follow him to Mizzou?
RS: "That I'm not real sure. If he brings a guy, there's a guy named Jeremiah Dickey...He's a big rising star, so to speak, I think he's going to be a real good guy in the future. He was with Mack previously at UTEP and he's rejoined with him here. There's a guy that he hired that he's got a lot of history with and he worked with at Akron and this guy left and was over at Coastal Carolina for a couple years and he just hired him last year to bring him back over here. He's a guy I would keep an eye on. He was an initial name that someone put out as maybe a replacement...His name is Hunter Yurachek. He was with him at Akron and built that stadium and he was at Coastal Carolina and Rhoades brought him over just last year. He's the number one guy as far as internal. Jeremiah Dickey is one of the top guys in external relations. He handles all the big donors and stuff. He's the direct contact for all the big donors, so he's been pretty important to Mack and the fundraising efforts he's spearheaded. Those would be a couple names I would look at probably."