DALLAS — After a difficult 15-month stint at Missouri, Mack Rhoades will step into another tumultuous situation as Baylor’s new athletic director.
But Rhoades believes he can help Baylor rebuild a tarnished football program with integrity and develop a culture in the athletic department that doesn’t tolerate sexual assaults.
He expects the football program and the university to have the same vision.
“There are just certain things that we won’t tolerate, and moving forward everybody will be on that same page,” Rhoades said. “And when I say everybody, that’s the university, that’s the athletics department, that’s our coaches, our student-athletes, everyone.”
Rhoades held his introductory press conference Monday afternoon at the Omni Hotel after he was named Baylor’s athletic director last week. He wants Baylor to be a leader in dealing with sexual assault issues.
“Sexual violence is a topic throughout our country and it certainly happens on other campuses, and this is an opportunity for Baylor University and certainly the athletics department to be a leader in how we deal and handle sexual violence,” Rhoades said. “I’ve got three unbelievably beautiful daughters that I love, and if you ask what’s your motivation, there’s my motivation.”
Baylor interim president David Garland believes Rhoades is the right man to lead the athletic department following the resignation of former athletic director Ian McCaw on May 30.
“Mack is a relationship builder,” Garland said. “He cares about people. He strives to know them, and from coaches and staff to colleagues across campus. I’m confident that he’s going to build the kind of partnerships that we need to make the improvements that Baylor is committed to make.”
Before his arrival at Baylor, the 50-year-old Rhoades was athletic director at three previous schools, including Akron from 2006-09 and Houston from 2009-15 before a tension filled stint at Missouri.
Last fall, Missouri football players threatened to stop participating in team activities in an attempt to address systemic racism on campus. Their actions led to university system president Timothy Wolfe’s resignation on Nov. 9, 2015.
Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel also resigned due to health reasons.
Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine has been the subject of an ongoing internal Title IX investigation for allegations of verbally abusing players. Missouri’s men’s basketball program is coming off a self-imposed one-year postseason ban after a 19-month investigation of former coach Frank Haith and his staff uncovered several NCAA rules violations.
Despite those problems, Rhoades believes Missouri made positive steps to deal with tough issues in its athletic department during his short tenure.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished over the 15 months, and I think that the University of Missouri, the athletics program is in a much better place than it was 15 months ago,” Rhoades said.
“I think certainly the culture has changed. We’ve created a culture within that (Missouri) athletic department of we’re going to care about people. People come first. We’ll never do anything at the expense of people and we will create that same type of Christian culture here at Baylor University.”
Though Rhoades officially begins his tenure as Baylor’s athletic director on Aug. 15, he will spend the next few weeks exploring the issues Baylor has been dealing with.
He applauded Baylor’s hiring of former Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe as interim coach after Art Briles was fired on May 26. Grobe has served as head of the ethics committee for the American Football Coaches Association.
“I’ve got unbelievable respect and admiration for Coach Grobe,” Rhoades said. “In just a very short time, he has brought stability. He has certainly done a great job in terms of beginning to earn the trust of some of our student-athletes, the staff. And I look forward to working with him.”
While there has been speculation that Baylor will attempt to hire Houston Cougars coach Tom Herman following the 2016 season, Rhoades indicated he will give Grobe a chance to prove himself as interim coach.
“Coach Grobe right now is our head football coach and I’m going to get into the trenches and roll up my sleeves and work with him,” Rhoades said. “I will be open minded. We will look to see how the season goes. We will begin to identify the process, potential candidates if need be. We will have things lined up by the time the season ends if need be.”
Rhoades is looking forward to meeting with the Baylor assistant coaches who were formerly on Briles’ staff.
“I’m going to talk to all of our staff, including all of our assistant coaches in terms of expectations and how we’re going to work and work together,” Rhoades said. “For the existing staff, the best thing that they can do is do everything they can to put our student-athletes in a place to succeed. They will know that and they will understand that. At the appropriate time, we will certainly evaluate as to where we head in the future.”
Rhoades believes Baylor has already begun making progress toward correcting problems within the athletic department with the Pepper Hamilton Report and by expanding the Title IX department.
He’s anxious to help Baylor implement more measures to deal with sexual assault issues.
“I think in a very short time aggressively Baylor has done a wonderful job in terms of beginning to implement new processes,” Rhoades said. “I think they’ve done that certainly with any of the people that have been hurt on their mind, empathetic to those, and we will certainly continue that.”