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Interview with Mack Rhoades

By mrasor Published: February 13, 2006

Miscellaneous


I know many of you awaited my interview with Mack Rhoades. I have a lot of scoops for you, but none involving a football stadium. Sorry, he was unable to comment on most stadium-related questions. The partial interview is the Buchtelite. The full transcript can only be found below...


When Mack Rhoades was introduced as the University of
Akron’s new athletic director on Dec. 20, he kept
talking about the importance of a new football
stadium.


Rhodes comes from the University of Texas – El Paso,
where he was senior associate athletic director.
Rhoades, who is married with three children, comes
with strong credentials in marketing and fundraising.


Rhoades sat down with the Buchtelite Monday afternoon
to answer the burning questions on Zips fans’ minds
about a possible move to a bigger conference, a new
sport, and, oh yeah, that ultra-important new stadium.

What did you know about Akron before the athletic
director job opened?

I actually watched the (MAC) Championship game. What
an unbelievable game for Akron. They never gave up.
For them to find a way to win that game was amazing. I
had heard of what the football team had done in years
past. I knew the basketball team was winning games.
Overall, everything I heard was positive.

What have you learned since you got here?
I heard great things about the Akron community. They
are warm people and very friendly. Certainly that has
been the case since I’ve been here … Also, the
passion. There is a lot of passion here for Akron
athletics. People want to get better. They have gotten
better. The past five years have been tremendous.

How do you feel about the student support?
I haven’t been here long enough to get a great feel
for it. The few basketball games I’ve been to since
I’ve gotten here, the student support has been good.
I’d like to see more students out for games. The
AK-Rowdies have great participation. We need to grow
that group. To me, what makes college athletics
special, what separates it from professional sports,
is the students. If you look at Duke and Cameron
Indoor Stadium or Gonzaga, that’s what makes college
athletics special. We need to find a way to grow
student support.

What’s the potential for fan support. In other words,
in the best-case scenario what could Akron be?

I think the potential here is limitless. We’ve got to
do a great job in terms of creating a vision. There’s
no reason why the athletic department can’t continue
to grow. I’ve talked about three pretty simple goals
since I’ve come in. First is tradition. We want to
make sure we continue to build winning programs with
strong fan support. We need to be able to give our
coaches resources to build winning programs. The
second goal is experience. We want to make sure our
student-athletes have an unbelievable experience. Not
just athletically, but academically, socially, so that
went their eligibility expires, they will leave this
university with an undergraduate degree. That’s why
I’m in this business, for the student-athlete. Third
is compliance. In everything we do, we want to follow
all the rules. To answer your question, in terms of
fan support, I don’t know you can put a number on it.
But I think we can garner strong fan support here.
We’ll work to do this. We need to be proactive. We
can’t wait for people to come.

When will we have word about a football stadium?
Only being here for three weeks, we’re really trying
to get a handle on the stadium issue. I don’t know if
I can put a timeline on whether it’s a definite yes or
definite no. It’s something that’s extremely important
to the Akron community, to the university, to our
athletic program and to our football team. But we’re
working on it right now. We’re optimistic. At this
point, it’s too early to provide any specifics.

How far along is fundraising?
That’s not something that I can comment on because
it’s an ongoing process.

How many seats should the stadium hold?
Realistically, a good starting point is between
25,000 and 30,000 seats.

When’s the soonest a stadium could possibly open?
You’re looking at about a two- or three-year window
before breaking ground. It’s probably realistically
somewhere in that timeframe.

And maybe a year for construction?
Probably a little longer. And that’s just based on
what I know initially.

How far along are negotiations with football coach
J.D. Brookhart to extend his contract?

We’re in the process of it. We hope to finalize that
and bring something to the board of trustees in March.

Say you extend his contract for five years. He can
still leave, right?

At any point in time a head coach can leave prior to
the end of the contract. There may be certain aspects
of a contract where there’s buyout clauses, et cetera.
But what it does is makes a statement that we really
believe in you. We want you here. It also makes a
statement to the community and nationally that this is
someone we want. And it tells the young men that he’s
recruiting that we want him to be here.

Does Akron seem like a longterm home for Brookhart?
Coach Brookhart and I have had some great
conversations since I’ve been here. I think he really
likes it here. His family and him really enjoy living
here. He enjoys waking up in the morning and being the
head football coach here. You’ll have certain
situations where a head coach may not be happy living
in that community. But certainly that’s not the case
here.

What do you think about the perception that coaches
use Mid-American Conference as a stepping stone to get
to a BCS school?

I don’t know if stepping stone is the right word, but
there certainly may be some truth to that. I don’t
think there’s any secret that a MAC school isn’t going
to pay their head coach like a BCS school. I think you
hire the best coach possible. If for some reason, a
head coach has another opportunity at a BCS school
that can pay a lot more money, then the coach gets
that opportunity because they’ve done a great job with
your program. If they leave, your program is in great
shape to attract the next candidate. That’s the way I
look at it. I think you do what you can within the
means of your institution.

Is there any word on who the football team’s fourth
out-of-conference game may be against in 2006?

We’re working on that right now. I can honestly sit
here and say there has been no contracts signed.

How big of a school will the opponent be?
We’ve got to give our football program a chance to win
games. They are already going out on the road to play
at Penn State and some other tough non-conference
opponents. (Make your own inferences.)

How far are we from replacing Rhodes Arena?
I hope never. I love the name. (laughs) I don’t know
to be honest with you. A project of that magnitude
comes one at a time. Right now, the focus is a
football stadium.

What is wrong with Rhodes Arena?
It just doesn’t have a lot of the amenities. It lacks
suites, club seating, auxiliary space.

The university bussed students and paid for their
tickets to the Motor City Bowl in Detroit. Will the
university do anything similar if the basketball team
reaches to postseason?

That’s a tough question to answer. That depends on
where we’re headed. The great thing about the Motor
City Bowl was the proximity. That was an unbelievable
sight to see so many people wearing the gold and blue.

Your predecessor fired the football and men’s
basketball coaches after decent seasons. How fast will
you be to pull the trigger if you think a program is
headed in the wrong direction?

That’s something I can’t comment on at this point.
I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the
programs. There’s a lot that goes into it. You
evaluate every situation differently. I don’t know if
you can give a specific answer about how fast you make
a change.

With 16 wins in the past four seasons, what’s your
perception of the women’s basketball team?

It’s really hard to comment just coming into the
situation. Like all of our head coaches, we will
evaluate her at the end of the year.

You recently hired Caleb Porter as the new men’s
soccer coach. What do you like about him?

Caleb comes from the best college soccer program in
the program in the last 20 years. He’s a natural
leader. He’s an unbelievable recruiter. He knows Ohio
as well as other states.

Fans have complained about the men’s soccer facility,
which isn’t exactly fan friendly. What is being done
about that?

That is something we are currently looking at.

Are any other facility upgrades coming?
At this point, I’m still in the process of visiting
the facilities.

Is there anything in the works to improve the radio
or television situation?

I think the television deal is getting Akron some
good exposure across the state. I think the radio
aspect of it is good, but I’d like to grow it. I’d
like to add more stations.

In 10 years, what conference do you see Akron in?
The best conference that we can be in. That might be
the Mid-American Conference, that may not be. The
bottom line is we need to concentrate on ourselves. We
need to do whatever we can to make the program as good
as it can be. In 10 years, that may be the
Mid-American Conference and it may not be.

What about the Big East?
My opinion is that the Big East is going to have a
hard time staying together with 16 teams for
basketball. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next two
or three years some of those basketball schools, who
don’t play football, start their own conference. If
that happens, the Big East will go somewhere else to
bring in new colleges. All the sudden, the domino
effect happens like it did last year. Again, I want to
reiterate that the MAC conference is a great
conference. All we can do is control our own destiny
and make ourselves the best that we can be.

Is the university close to adding any sports?
We’re looking at adding a women’s sport in the next
two to four years. We’re evaluating what’s logical
right now.

Can you give me any possibilities?
Women’s golf, maybe. Also, one of the NCAA’s emerging
sports is bowling.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
The University of Akron is a special place. We want
the students to know they are an important part of
that process.


I hope you enjoyed. He was a nice guy, and I look forward to talking with him once he gets more of a grasp on the athletic programs and facilities.


While I'm at it, here is my column from the Buchtelite...


New athletic director Mack Rhoades sees a first place
men’s basketball team and wonders why more students
aren’t coming.


Every day, associate athletic director Mike Waddell
sits at his desk, coming up with ways to make the Zips
more prominent in the community.


Graduate assistant Matt Newhouse has had one thing on
his mind since the day he started his new job: “How
can I get students to show up at men’s basketball
games?”


These three men are doing all they can to lure
students to Rhodes Arena for Zips games.
And they are failing. Akron is eighth of 12
Mid-American Conference teams in home attendance at
3,038.


Why? It’s not for a lack of effort.


Earlier in the semester, Newhouse attended floor
meetings for every floor of every residence hall on
campus. He even gave football jerseys to RAs.


Waddell has come up with many entertaining and
rewarding in-game promotions to attract fans, such as
giving out cups, shirts and posters. Hardcore fans say
he’s the best thing ever to happen to the athletic
department.


And despite being on the job just three weeks, Rhoades
also is working hard.


Waddell acknowledges that fans won’t support a losing
team, but the men’s basketball team is 18-5.


“Before, it wasn’t cool to come because we weren’t
winning,” he said. Now that the men’s basketball is in
first place, “we should have overwhelming numbers.”


More than 2,000 students live on campus. Plenty more
live within walking distance of Rhodes Arena. Yet,
only 143 students went to the Western Michigan game
last week.


“If we can get 10,000 fans to go to the Motor City
Bowl, we should be able to get 1,000 students to walk
across the street to go to a basketball game,”
Newhouse said. “They’d rather sit home, do their
laundry and watch The O.C.”


Even the Zips players are perplexed.


“The team is playing great and we’re winning games. I
shouldn’t have to say anything,” senior center Rob
Preston
said when asked to explain low student
turnouts.


Since the residence hall campaign has been
unsuccessful, the university is trying to connect with
the fraternities and sororities.


“We’re saying, ‘Why don’t you come out? You’re
supposed to be leaders on this campus,’” Newhouse
said.


Their problem is that Northeast Ohio is full of
frontrunners. The Indians had horrible attendance
until they had two strong seasons in 2004 and 2005.
And for 10 years, you could hear a pin drop in the
former Gund Arena before LeBron James came to the
Cavaliers. Also, don’t get me started on all the
students wearing black and yellow leading up to and
following the Super Bowl.


No one can do anything to change the frontrunner
mentality. Not Newhouse. Not Waddell. Not Rhoades.
All you can do is establish a winning tradition over
several years.


If the Zips go to the NCAA Tournament, like I believe
they will this year, you might see those 10,000 fans
again. Some of those fans will carry over to next
year’s regular season.


Frontrunners, you have few chances to break away.
Akron will play Bowling Green tonight at 8 at Rhodes
Arena. Leave your Steelers jerseys at home.

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