The Road That Led To Rhoades
As he was growing up in Tucson, Mack Rhoades learned many of the core values that shaped him into who he is today. His grandfather and his father passed along timeless traits that have served him well over the years, such as respecting everyone regardless of their position in your life.
“You treat everybody with the same respect, whether they’re a $10 million donor or just a role player, you need everyone to win,” Rhoades says. His motto, prominently displayed on his desk, proclaims: “There’s no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t mind who gets the credit.”
Rhoades began his college career at the University of Arizona in pre-med studies. He says he quickly saw that it wasn’t a path for him. A timely call from his cousin in San Diego presented an escape through an exciting business opportunity, one that required him to drop out of school and immediately raise $4,000.
His parents didn’t support the idea. He went to his paternal grandmother to secure the seed investment, which upset his father even more. After tearful goodbyes, Rhoades drove off to San Diego in his Volkswagen to start a business venture and spread his entrepreneurial wings.
The budding businessman wasn’t prepared for what he found in San Diego. Starting a Charlie Chips snack food business with virtually no knowledge of the food industry was both daring and overwhelming. After a year of growing the business, the young partners sold it for nine times the amount they had invested to start it.
His successful venture behind him, Rhoades came away with the lessons of experience. He re-enrolled at the University of Arizona at age 24. It was a pivotal season, one in which Rhoades had the chance to engage with Arizona’s athletic director, Cedric Dempsey. A half-hour conversation with Dempsey would prove to be life changing as Rhoades came away convinced that he wanted to be a coach or an athletic director.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, Rhoades enrolled at Indiana University for graduate work, earning a master’s degree in sports administration and marketing. From there, he began an internship at Yale.
Although Yale offered him an assistant marketing job when his internship ended, Rhoades decided to return to Arizona.
At 27, Rhoades married his best friend, Amy. They’ve been blessed with three beautiful daughters: Nicolette, 21; Natalie, 19; and Noelle, 17. While delivering pizzas to support his young family in Tucson, Rhoades interviewed everywhere he could to get a job. He was close to accepting a job with Merrill Lynch when Marquette University called and offered him a position as the athletics advancement officer.
He spent a year in Milwaukee, overseeing all external operations for Marquette’s Office of Athletic Advancement and the Blue & Gold Athletic Scholarship Fund. He left Marquette to work as assistant athletic director for development at University of Texas–El Paso. During his seven years at UTEP, he worked his way up the ranks to become associate athletic director.
From Texas, Rhoades’ career path took a turn through Ohio. In 2006, he landed his first athletic director job at the University of Akron. During his three-year tenure, Rhoades put his signature on the program by building a $61.6 million football stadium and grew the department budget from $13.5 million to $19.2 million.
His leadership style caught the eye of University of Houston officials, who hired him as athletic director in 2009. Bringing a vision for an award-winning athletics department — both academically and athletically — Rhoades electrified the university and the city of Houston with bold plans for Houston Athletics as its brand continued to spread nationally. Under his watch, the football program returned to the national rankings — rising as high as No. 12 in the AP poll.
Finally in 2015, Rhoades landed his dream job at the University of Missouri, a Southeastern Conference school. The 49-year-old’s drive for perfection and expectation of excellence has already been noticed at Mizzou. He had to “fight, scratch, and claw” his way to where he is today, he says. Now, bringing together a staff with the right people and one vision is the key, Rhoades believes, to taking Mizzou Athletics to the next level. Rhoades is looking to work with individuals who will serve others with enthusiasm and care for them as family.
From dropping out of college to start a business, to fundraising and constructing two major university football stadiums, Mack Rhoades has endured unsettling moments for him and his family. Yet his key philosophy remains the same: “Just serve people.”