When Mack Rhoades is introduced as Baylor’s new athletic director on Monday, it’s highly likely that interim president David Garland or some other university officials will frame Rhoades’ experience as Missouri’s AD during that program’s football protest last season as a qualifier that he’ll "clean up" Baylor athletics.
It’s not. What’s happened at Baylor and Missouri in the last year couldn’t be more different. Creating some kind of one-size-fits-all "oversaw, survived scandal" résumé bullet would be naive, especially when the candidate in question was something less than beloved at Mizzou for his role.
Rhoades is a Texas hire, and a football hire. The former gives him equity — eight years at UTEP and six at Houston — and the latter gives him appeal.
Rhoades is close with several key head coaches, including current Cougars head coach Tom Herman. Behind Herman is current Cal coach Sonny Dykes, a Texan who has twice communicated with Rhoades regarding positions at Houston and Mizzou.
Herman is arguably the hottest name in coaching and likely to top the lists at Texas and Texas A&M, if they make changes, due in large part to the vision established by Rhoades.
In 2014, Rhoades fired a winning coach, Tony Levine, to bring in Herman, previously Ohio State’s national championship-winning offensive coordinator. It was a bold move meant to cap fundraising efforts of over $100 million for brand-new TDECU Stadium, and it worked. The one-loss Houston Cougars of the middling AAC beat Florida State in 2015’s Peach Bowl.
Houston’s run is a smaller version of the financial success by former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw and former head coach Art Briles: a new stadium and record donations galvanized by a former also-ran's on-field wins.
Rhoades is a high-profile hire, but he’s not the culture reformer Baylor probably needs. His hire isn’t a response to the ongoing allegations of student-athlete sexual assaults and the subsequent cover-ups by athletic department coaches and administrators.
Could he create substantive change in the culture that bred the allegations at Baylor? Maybe?
But the move was primarily made because of a football question: can Rhoades woo Herman to Waco?
Baylor can use that speculation to bridge the gap during Jim Grobe’s likely single season as interim coach. Herman becomes the local talking point, the most powerful kind of distraction in a football culture.