New Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades got a firsthand taste of the underlying fervor that fuels his fan bases’ side of the Border War during a welcome-tour stop Wednesday at Westport Flea Market.
He fielded roughly 25 questions on topics ranging from his bow tie ownership to MU’s marketing strategy to why pro athletes don’t donate more to the universities they once played for during an hourlong Q&A with fans on his first official stop in Kansas City.
“They’re passionate, and absolutely passionate about Kansas City and our presence and what they feel about the University of Missouri and how well we do or do not engage them in our presence here,” Rhoades said.
Early in his tenure, Rhoades has made it clear that he would like to see the Border War resume, though rival Kansas remains intractable, but his proclamation drew a mixed reaction from the crowd of hundreds.
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Rhoades also joked that after Missouri improved to 2-0 on his watch by sweeping two softball games against Kansas last weekend during NCAA regional action, “We’re not playing them anymore.”
He wasn’t joking about the Tigers athletic department’s stance on acting up or acting out.
Rhoades pledged “zero tolerance for breaking rules intentionally. We’re going to be a program, and we are a program, of great integrity.”
That doesn’t mean that every minor-in-possession or fistfight will result in dismissal from Missouri, but it does mean that on more weighty issues of conduct, student-athletes have little wiggle room.
A few hours before his appearance, word leaked that sophomore defensive end Marcus Loud has been dismissed from the Tigers’ football team.
“It’s sad and unfortunate for that young man, but there are certain things for which we just have zero tolerance,” Rhoades said. “This particular incident, coach (Gary) Pinkel and I were on the same page, discussed it and that’s the way we’ll handle all of our discipline.”
Rhoades said such decisions will be made in conjunction with the sport’s coach and the sport’s administrator in charge.
Winning is important, Rhoades said, but winning the right way is paramount, even if it’s more difficult.
Still, mediocrity will not be tolerated.
“The vision really is about being one of the best in the SEC, and football has done that the past two years, but that needs to be the mindset for all 20 of our sports programs,” Rhoades said. “The great news is, if you’re one of the best in the SEC, then guess what, you’re one of the best in the country.”
Nearly a month into the job, Rhoades, who replaced Mike Alden on April 27 after six years as the athletic director at Houston, said he’s absorbed a lot, but there’s much more he needs to soak in to really feel comfortable in his new environs.
“Right now, it’s drinking water out of a fire hose,” Rhoades said. “My personality is I want to get everything done yesterday and tackle everything at one time. That’s hard to do. We certainly have some areas that we can improve upon and build upon, but I don’t know if there’s really one thing that’s surprised me.”
Rhoades said that Missouri is staring down the barrel of $150 million in facilities upgrades to Memorial Stadium, Taylor Stadium, the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex and eventually the razing and replacement of the Hearnes Center, which currently houses wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics and indoor track and field.