The University of Houston Magazine

Mack Rhoades

“Rhoades” to Glory

New AD offers hope to Cougar faithful.

by Richard Bonnin

Mack Rhoades has all the attributes of a leader — a drive for perfection and an expectation of excellence that quickly put his name on the map nationally in athletics circles.

The University of Houston’s hiring of Rhoades as its new director of athletics, succeeding the retired Dave Maggard, offers the Cougar faithful hope for an eventual return to the glory days of Cotton Bowls and Final Fours. Coinciding with Rhoades’ arrival, the young, but talented, Cougar football team achieved immediate success, rising as high as 12th in the nation after a signature early-season win over Big 12 foe Texas Tech.

Rhoades, 43, who spent the past three and a half years as AD of The University of Akron, brings an impressive track record to UH. The numbers speak for themselves: 765 total Dean’s List honors, 213 all-conference honors, 83 student-athletes named Academic All-Mid-American Conference, 20 team conference championships, 14 MAC Players of the Year, 12 All-Americans and 11 team runner-up finishes on the conference level.

The on-field success has been matched off the field as well. Akron’s student-athlete federal graduation rate stood at 68 percent through 2008, and the overall student-athlete GPA went from a 2.789 to a 2.964.

The success of the athletics program under Rhoades’ leadership was accomplished under a balanced budget each of the past three years. On the national front, he served as a member of the NCAA Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet — also serving on the Administrative Committee of that cabinet as well as chairing the MAC’s External Relations Committee.

UH President Renu Khator says hiring Rhoades is an important element in advancing the university’s goals.

“We all believe the University of Houston is going to be a Tier-One university,” Khator says. “We are grateful to the Legislature and the community for helping move us toward that goal, but a Tier-One university is not going to be built without a Tier-One athletics program. His passion and vision to build athletics here into a Tier-One program is something that impressed me.

Mack Rhoads press interviewRhoades, who arrived in Houston with his wife, Amy, and daughters Nicolette, Natalie and Noelle, calls UH “a special place.”

“It’s special because of its tradition, the teams and the national championships,” Rhoades says. “But, what makes it more special is the people. That’s how you win. That’s how you move forward. You do that with quality people.”

To achieve UH’s vision of excellence, Rhoades must overcome numerous challenges, including mobilizing the university’s fan base. The last time the football team averaged 32,000 in home attendance — the capacity at Robertson Stadium — was in 1981 (when home games were played in the Astrodome). Since the Cougars’ last Final Four appearance in 1984, they have topped 6,000 in average men’s home basketball attendance once.

“I never would have pursued this position if I didn’t honestly believe we could recapture the greatness of the past,” Rhoades says. “There’s no reason why we can’t build a football program here that is able to get into the top 25 and remain there. And in terms of basketball, again there’s great opportunity.”

Winning creates excitement, as evidenced by the on-campus record crowd of 32,114 for the Texas Tech game, but Rhoades recognizes that he must address other obstacles if UH is to elevate all 16 of its intercollegiate sports programs.

“We’ll have to work hard with all of the various student groups on campus to convince them that this is the place to be for athletics events,” he says. “That doesn’t happen overnight.”

Rhoades’ successes in fundraising and improving facilities were key factors in his hiring.

“I really believe in grassroots marketing,” Rhoades says. You can have billboards and signage, but we need to go beyond that and get on the phones, develop fan clubs and talk and meet with people in person and ask them to attend our games.”

As he develops a strategic plan for the athletics program, Rhoades says he has three objectives: building a tradition of winning championships with strong fan support, providing the student-athletes an experience that molds them into “champions for life,” and complying with the NCAA rules.

“We’re going to do it the right way,” he says. 

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