Restoring the Border War is a top priority for new Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades. In fact, Rhoades has already discussed the issue with Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger.
“We would certainly like to play them again,” Rhoades said of the Jayhawks. “I think the people that really are impacted most are our student-athletes, our coaches and our fans. They’re the biggest losers in all of this.”
During a perfunctory conversation when Zenger called to congratulate Rhoades on his new job, Rhoades took the opportunity to break the ice in an effort to thaw relations with the Tigers’ most-heated historical rival.
According to Kansas officials, “Sheahon told Mack that he would ‘never say never,’” KU associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said. “But Sheahon was saying that, if it does happen, it will be years down the road.”
Kansas has refused to schedule Missouri since Mike Alden, the previous athletic director at Missouri, spearheaded a move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference. But the logistical hurdles to restoring the rivalry might be more intractable than any lingering hurt feelings.
“It’s a lot more complicated that just saying, ‘We want to play again,’” Rhoades said. “They’ve gone on and have done their scheduling. We certainly have done the same.”
The Border War, of course, isn’t the top item on Rhoades’ agenda this week.
He said during a news conference Thursday at Mizzou Arena that personnel and organizational structure, facilities and relationship-building — with staff, the academic administration and donors among others — are his top priorities as he takes over for Alden, who had served as the athletic director since July 1998.
“I’ve begun meeting with each staff member, and we have over 200 staff members,” said Rhoades, 49. “... I really want to get to know the people that make up the Mizzou athletics family.”
He hopes to finish those meetings, which started Wednesday, by mid-summer.
Rhoades, who has yet to sign his contract with MU, also has a prominent staff position to fill. Former deputy athletic director Doug Gillin left April 6 to become Appalachian State’s athletic director.
Hunter Yuracheck, who had been Rhoades’ right-hand man at Houston and before that at Akron, was the top choice, but he was promoted this week as Rhoades’ replacement at Houston.
Rhoades said he is interviewing a candidate for the job this weekend, though the job might change from Gillin’s role.
“I’ve been transparent with our staff,” Rhoades said. “There’s going to be changes, and I need them to be open to those changes.”
More aggressive ticket sales will also be an immediate priority under Rhoades, who hopes to implement a more professional model for filling seats.
Rhoades hopes to piece together a five-year plan for facilities. The new softball stadium and constructing a south end-zone complex at Memorial Stadium are among the top agenda items.
Architects are in the process of designing a new softball stadium, which will be built east of the Hearnes Center. The south end-zone complex remains in the discussion phase.
Rhoades wants to understand how it impacts MU’s overall facilities. He’d like the football team to remain engaged with other student-athletes rather than be isolated at Memorial Stadium.
Additional premium football seating might be part of such a project, but Rhoades said he doesn’t believe the stadium’s capacity needs to increase until games regularly sell out.
Rhoades also touched on the men’s basketball program, which endured one of the worst seasons in program history last year under Kim Anderson. Rhoades expressed faith in Anderson, calling him a capable coach and great person to restore the program and vowing to give him time — though not unlimited time — to rebuild the once-proud program.
Rhoades also said he reviewed the terms sheet for Gary Pinkel’s contract extension, which was announced Friday, but that he wasn’t part of the negotiations.
“The elements of the contract were happening before or were happening right as I was introduced as the director of athletics, so I had nothing to do in terms of what the actual terms (were),” Rhoades said.
He said Alden kept him in the loop and was consulted about his comfort level with the new contract.
Rhoades acknowledged MU chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s desire to add men’s tennis, but said “it’s probably not a priority of mine yet, and Dr. Loftin and I have had that conversation.”
Rhoades said his preference is to focus on the existing 20 athletic programs and to put each in a position to win.
“We’re never going to add a sport just to add a sport,” Rhoades said. “If we add a sport, it’s so we can compete right away.”
Rhoades floated the idea of setting up satellite offices in Kansas City and St. Louis to increase fan and alumni engagement and sell tickets.
“We’ve got to think outside the box,” he said. “We really do. But I think it’s a great opportunity that you have two great cities like that we can draw from.”
The Star’s Rustin Dodd contributed to this report.