Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades on Tuesday compared his first year on the job to “drinking water through a fire hose.”
“We certainly had some challenges this year, some that certainly I didn’t anticipate,” said Rhoades, who was lured away from Houston last spring as Mike Alden’s successor. “I thought, candidly, that was maybe one of my strengths, but there are some things that happened that you can’t anticipate.”
Rhoades’ first official day as the lynchpin for the Tigers’ athletic department was April 27, 2015, and he was kept busy in his first nine months on the job.
There was a boycott by the football team amid racial protests on campus; the retirement of the football program’s all-time winningest coach, Gary Pinkel; a joint investigation with the NCAA into infractions within the men’s basketball program; and the Maty Mauk saga, which culminated in the Mizzou quarterback’s dismissal in January.
What has the last year taught Rhoades?
“Stay true to your core values,” he said at a news conference in Mizzou Arena. “You’re going to be bombarded with opinions. Everybody’s an armchair quarterback, ‘Oh, you should have done this,’ ‘Why didn’t you do that?’ You make decisions for the right reason. I’ve never made decision based on what looks best, but really what is best for our program moving forward.”
Despite the challenges, Rhoades said he’s more excited about the job than when he was hired and stressed that he’s eager to turn those challenges into opportunities for growth.
Rhoades also mentioned the many great things have happened at Missouri during the last year — including hiring Barry Odom as Pinkel’s successor, J’den Cox’s national wrestling title and subsequent Olympic berth, and a breakthrough season for women’s basketball.
“You look at our donation totals and our pledge totals since January 1st of this year compared to January 1st of last year — we’re up,” Rhoades said. “That’s been positive.”
Missouri’s cumulative student-athlete grade-point average for the fall semester — 3.03 — was the highest in school history.
Rhoades also said 75 percent of football season tickets have been renewed, which lags behind last year but is ahead of the pace from 2012 after the Tigers’ most recent 5-7 campaign.
“We think, moving forward, we’ll have about 85 to 86 percent renewal rate,” he said.
Partly in response to last fall’s turmoil, “Mizzou Made” will expand from a social-media construct into an all-encompassing, student-athlete enrichment program.
“We’ll unveil what we call ‘Mizzou Made: Preparing Champions for Life’ in the fall of 2016,” Rhoades said. “It will be a very dynamic, outside-the-box, fun curriculum that’s mandatory for all of our student-athletes.”
It will be in partnership with the wider Mizzou campus that focuses on life skills and career development among other core aims.
“When we talk about preparing champions for life, are we really doing that?” Rhoades said. “We want to make sure — when our students come in as freshmen and not waiting until they’re juniors and seniors — we talk about what you want to be and what you want to do … then making sure our student-athletes are graduating with meaningful degrees.”
While the litany of fires that Rhoades’ administration was forced to put out stalled progress in some areas — for example, he’s still working to connect with donors, fans and alumni outside Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis — there has been progress on things like the “south end-zone project.”
“We’re in the process of reviewing five different concepts, and none of them are in the south end zone, so I don’t know that we can call it the ‘south end-zone project’ anymore,” Rhoades said.
The new concepts involve renovating or rebuilding the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex and Devine Pavilion. The football program and wider athletic department already have outgrown the 101,000-square foot, $16 million training complex, which opened in July 2008.
The new facility would include new offices and meeting rooms for football along with a weight room, training facility, locker room and team lounge (perhaps including a barbershop) along with similar facilities for the Olympic sports housed there. It also would house a dining hall and academic services center for all student-athletes.
As soon as next month, Rhoades said a concept will be adopted and presented to donors.
Options for the Hearnes Center include preserving the historic building with a drop-ceiling to create a smaller venue, but it’s still likely slated for demolition.
Memorial Stadium may see additional premium seating, including a recruiting suite on the south end, and a new facade on the north end, but those projects remain in very preliminary phases.
Missouri also expects to receive the final report for the NCAA Committee on Infractions regarding the men’s basketball investigation soon.
The Tigers self-imposed a one-year postseason ban, two scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions in January after an 18-month joint investigation, and Rhoades doesn’t anticipate additional major sanctions.
“I would be extremely disappointed, because we did a lot of due diligence, looked at a lot of case precedent, talked to the experts,” Rhoades said. “The way we handled the investigation, the NCAA said it was exemplary, so I feel like we’ve done all the right things. I’d be very disappointed.”