Friday, June 12, 2009

University of Houston announces new athletics director

Yesterday, the University of Houston announced the name of their newest Athletics Director. Mack Rhoades, who spent the last three-and-a-half years as the AD of the University of Akron, will succeed Dave Maggard, who abruptly announced his resignation from the helm of the athletics department last April.

According to Chronicle UH reporter Steve Campbell, Rhoades appears to have been highly-regarded at Akron, where people described him as dedicated and motivated:
Rhoades is 43, and people in Akron say the UH community will really, really, really like him. They say he's a mover and a shaker, a tireless worker, a master at building relationships, a person who expects results but provides the resources to do so.

"The University of Houston is unbelievably fortunate," Akron executive senior associate AD Hunter Yurachek said. Yurachek noted UH's history of Final Fours and Cotton Bowls and said, "Mack will embrace that tradition, and you will see that tradition really bloom again here in the next couple years under his leadership and vision."

Rhoades, 43, has been the AD at Akron since the start of 2006. On his watch, Akron has had an athletic renaissance. Rhoades pushed through the construction of a $55 million on-campus football stadium set to open in September. He put in place plans to improve the basketball facilities. He has emphasized academics and given attention to a previously neglected women's athletic department.

"You have a guy who to me has the potential to be a star, really, because he's an out-of-the-box thinker," Akron basketball coach Keith Dambrot said. "I don't want to sound like his publicist ..."

But ...

"He's a tireless worker," Dambrot said. "That's kind of an overused term, but he's the last guy out of this department every night. He works like a coach rather than an athletic director. I know a lot of athletic directors won't like that, but he's here late."

That's great, but what do I think about this hire?

The upside is that he can raise funds. That, in fact, is clearly the main reason why he will be Houston's next AD. You don't raise $55 million to build a completely new football stadium at the University of Akron - a school whose football history and fan support, believe it or not, are worse than Houston's - without possessing considerable skill in that regard. While AD at Akron, he also oversaw the addition of an indoor football practice facility. It's very obvious that UH President Renu Khator expects Rhoades to address the athletics program's facility-related needs, especially as they relate to Robertson Stadium and Hofheinz Pavilion.

The emphasis Rhoades places on academics is also a plus. Under his watch at Akron, the graduation rate of student athletes rose from 60 percent in 2006 to 68 percent in 2008. In that regard, he is expected to build on the success that Dave Maggard had in increasing the graduation rate of UH's student athletes.

The downside to Rhoades is, in my opinion, twofold. First of all, Rhoades does not appear to have much of a track record when it comes to making big coaching hires. At Akron, he was not there long enough to hire new coaches for either football or mens basketball. However, he did see fit to extend Dambrot's contract after Akron won the MAC conference championship and went to the Big Dance this past season.

Here at UH, Rhoades is stepping into a situation that will likely require him to make some major hires within the near future. For example, it's highly likely that, unless he manages to coach the basketball team to the NCAA Tournament in 2010, Tom Penders will be shown the door. Rhoades will then have to find somebody who can build on the modest success that Penders has had (to be sure, the basketball program is in better shape today than it was when he arrived, although progress has stalled) and bring the once-gloried UH basketball program back to something resembling relevance. Meanwhile, the baseball program is struggling and the seat underneath coach Rayner Noble is getting warmer. Finally, there's the sad but true fact that football coach Kevin Sumlin, should he remain successful, is likely to be attracted to a bigger program in the future.

And speaking of folks that are probably not going to be at UH for the long haul, it's worth mentioning that Rhoades was only at Akron for three and a half years before making the jump to Houston. As somebody at Akron warns Campbell:

Another Akron insider, too, said people will like Rhoades. Just be wary of falling in love with the man entrusted with building on the work Dave Maggard did the past seven years.

"You'll probably be looking for another athletic director in three years," the insider said.

This is, in my opinion, the other downside to Rhoades. Since legendary AD Harry Fouke retired in 1979, the AD's position at UH has been a revolving door. I am convinced that this lack of stable leadership at the helm of the program is one of the major reasons why Cougar athletics has fallen so far from its glory days of Cotton Bowls and Final Fours. At seven years, Maggard was the second-longest-tenured AD, and I was hoping that his successor would be somebody who would be at Houston for even longer. However, unless Rhoades decides that he really likes it here, it's highly likely that he'll be here for more than a few years. Which means that the University of Houston will have to undergo this process again soon.

But clearly, longevity wasn't a concern for Khator or the higher UH administration - they were more concerned about finding somebody who could bring short-term results, especially as far as facilities upgrades are concerned - and they feel they've found that person in Mack Rhoades. Regardless of how long he is here, I can only hope that he builds on the foundation set by Dave Maggard and continues the task of bring the University of Houston's athletics program back to national prominence.

Rhoades' first day on the job will be August 1st. Scott and Holman and Fourth and Fifty have more.

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