Life seems to work out for new Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades.
It always has. Take his family, for instance.
Rhoades, 49, met Amy Haydukovich as an undergraduate student at Arizona, but it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
“When we met, we were just friends initially,” Rhoades said. “She had a sister (Lori) who was a year younger than her up in Flagstaff. I think she was working at Northern Arizona University at the time. Amy actually set us up on a blind date.”
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A few days before Lori was going to drive down from Flagstaff to meet Rhoades, Amy dropped a bombshell.
“You’re not having that date,” Amy said.
“What do mean?” Rhoades asked.
“It’s cancelled, because you and I are going to date,” she said.
Rhoades smiled, “That sounds good to me.”
The two have been inseparable since and are now married with three daughters — Nicolette, Natalie and Noelle.
“As it was getting closer to this initial blind date, I just remember having thoughts, going, ‘God, you know, I kind of wish Amy liked me. I’d like to date her.’ Apparently, Amy was thinking the same thing.”
Things worked out.
Growing up in Tucson, Ariz., Rhoades was a shortstop on the baseball team, shooting guard on the basketball team and quarterback on the football team.
His scoring prowess on the hardwood attracted the attention of schools like Air Force, Northern Arizona and Utah State.
“I wasn’t very good at passing the ball,” Rhoades joked. “But baseball was the one where, that was my sport. I could have gone and played at Arizona State, Arizona or Stanford.”
That was until a severe ankle injury during his junior year derailed those plans. Despite torn ligaments and several fractures in his foot, Rhoades continued playing until the injury required reconstructive surgery.
“I literally had to learn to walk again and run,” Rhoades said. “They took a tendon out of my leg and made fake ligaments for my ankle. Probably nowadays, you have that same injury and it’s not a big deal.”
It was devastating for Rhoades, but it led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in health sciences at Arizona, where he also coached high school basketball and junior high football and baseball.
“I just loved the impact that you could have on young people’s lives in terms of coaching them — being hard and demanding, but still loving and caring …,” Rhoades said. “Young people, and impacting young people’s lives, that became very important to me.”
Nearing graduation, Rhoades decided he wanted to stay more directly connected with sports, so he enrolled in graduate school at Indiana and earned a master’s degree in athletics administration/sports management.
Then, came another crossroads.
“I thought I had enough contacts to get into the coaching piece for basketball, and I loved coaching basketball,” Rhoades said. “But I remember having the conversation with Amy, ‘Well, I just don’t know because I didn’t play in college.’ … I decided to go administration, because, not having played, I figured it would be harder to get my foot in the door.”
He started as a marketing assistant at Yale, spent time at Marquette in the development office and got his big break as an assistant athletic director at the University Texas-El Paso under former Missouri football coach Bob Stull.
Groomed by Stull, Rhoades went on to transform the athletic departments at Akron and Houston before he was hired in March as Mike Alden’s successor and the 15th athletic director in Tigers history.
He’s a rising star in the profession in charge of an Southeastern Conference athletic department with a budget projected to top $100 million in the near future.
Things worked out.
The only pictures Rhoades has unpacked and displayed in his office are a collection of portraits of his three daughters, which spell “Dad” when lined up together.
More pictures remain wrapped in packing material, sitting unhung next to the leather couch in his office at Mizzou Arena.
Stacks of papers, some relating to his time at Houston but mostly detailing the minutiae of the tasks ahead of him at Missouri, are piled on his desk and some even litter the floor around it.
He’s hit the ground running in Columbia, buying a house and relocating his family during the last few months before the grind of the 2015-16 academic year sets in.
Rhoades is an ambitious man with an ambitious plan for Missouri athletics. He’s already talking about $150-200 million in facilities upgrades he’d like to make.
The centerpiece, of course, is a new football complex.
Tigers coach Gary Pinkel got the ball rolling on a south end-zone complex before Alden left, but Rhoades said that project might morph into something even more grand.
He wants a complex that rivals the palatial digs at Texas A&M, Oregon, Tennessee and Oklahoma State. Kansas State’s new renovations also caught Missouri’s attention.
“That gives you an idea, if we’re going to do something, that’s the level at which we need to do it or even better,” said Rhoades, who met with Pinkel and his senior staff to discuss the project early in the summer.
The north end zone beyond the rock “M” or a complete renovation of the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex also could be options, but a meeting later this month with the campus’ master planner with begin to flesh out those details.
“Everybody agreed that you get one time to do this and we need to do this the right way,” Rhoades said. “This needs to be a facility that hopefully will catapult us ahead and not just catch us up to people.”
Rhoades is dreaming big. He’d even like to include a new full-length indoor practice facility for football, a project that was pushed to the back burner under Alden when talks turned to the south end-zone complex, as part of any upgrade.
“The preference would be to try to get it all done at one time,” he said.
Rhoades is also crafting a plan to handle the Hearnes Center, a sprawling but outdated facility that currently houses wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics and indoor track along with a slew of administrative offices.
Several sites are under consideration for a new, more-intimate arena that would house wrestling, volleyball and gymnastics, but Rhoades wouldn’t elaborate on those plans — at least, not yet.
He said the Mizzou Athletic Training Facility also needs a renovation, baseball’s Taylor Stadium probably needs more upgrades (or a new stadium like softball’s getting) and the Tigers’ indoor tennis facility requires expansion.
Rhoades isn’t familiar enough with MU’s donor base yet to know what’s feasible.
“Do I have a sense yet? No, and it’s probably good that I don’t,” he said. “I still think it’s probably a little bit early in terms of getting that feel. We all understand, that’s an aggressive goal. That’s a big number, but we’re going to fight, scratch and claw to get there.”
Rhoades hopes things will work out in his favor again. His track record suggests it will.