‘Best days are still ahead,’ Mack Rhoades is here to stay

By George Schroeder | LTVN Managing Editor

Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades signed a 10-year contract extension and said he aims to finish out his career at Baylor and continue the Bears’ streak of athletic success, proclaiming the best is yet to come.

The former athletic director at the University of Akron, the University of Houston and the University of Missouri has never stayed anywhere longer than five years, but now he said he felt called to add a decade to his five-and-a-half-year stay at Baylor.

“You begin to think and maybe wonder, ‘are you still having an impact, are you still making an impact, is there still more work to be to be done?’” Rhoades said. “I believe this, and I say this with all my heart, and hopefully it comes across with humility, but our best days are still ahead of us.”

With 10 more years in his sights, Rhoades’ priority isn’t having the largest stadiums or the largest budget; it’s maintaining an identity and uplifting student athletes.

“I’m not saying we’re perfect at it, but we’re not going to talk about it and not do it,” Rhoades said. “We’re going to do the very, very best we can to live that out.”

After Baylor men’s basketball returned to Waco as national champions last year, the country watched as head coach Scott Drew coined what he called Baylor’s Culture of Joy, a message that seemed to permeate the entire Baylor athletic department.

“Jesus, others, yourself, that’s always going to be front and center for us, you know, we talk about it a lot here ‘for His glory,’” Rhoades said. “That’s where it has to begin and that’s where it has to end for us.”

As the university plans to break ground on the Fudge Football Operation Center and the Foster Basketball Pavilion, navigating the changing NCAA landscape on transfer portals and NIL policies remains on Rhoades’ radar.

“Our success isn’t because we’ve tried to be like everybody else; we’ve found our place, we know our purpose,” Rhoades said. “How do we continue to ensure that our student-athletes have a great experience and that our coaches still feel supported and still feel like they’ve got the resources to compete at the highest level?”

Rhoades said there will always be improvements to be made in academic and athletic success, spiritual growth and character formation. With that improvement, caring for the mental health of student-athletes will be a priority.

“This idea of truly impacting young people, impacting our student-athletes, when we talk about what’s our purpose, our purpose is to prepare champions for life,” Rhoades said. “How do we navigate that space better? We have to be able to do that better.”

Rhoades arrived amid a turbulent time for the university in 2016. His leadership helped steady the athletic department in the wake of an investigation that found allegations of sexual assault had been mishandled. Former football head coach Art Briles, who had taken the program to prominence, was fired.

Matt Rhule took over and led the Bears back to their winning ways before leaving to become head coach of the Carolina Panthers. Then, in Dave Aranda’s second season, Baylor won the Big 12 Championship and the Sugar Bowl.

Both Rhule and Aranda, who brought massive success to the program, were hired by Rhoades, and he has made many other quality hires across Baylor’s programs. Can fans expect more great picks in the future?

“No pressure, right?” Rhoades said.

Rhoades said he hopes the situation doesn’t come up, but if it does, he attributes it to people understanding the identity of Baylor as an institution. With that being said, fans should have nothing to worry about.

“If for some reason somebody decides, ‘Hey, there’s another opportunity that God’s calling us to,’ then yeah, I feel confident that we’ll be able to hire that next great coach,” Rhoades said.

Ten more years at the university will give the department time to continue cultivating its identity and improving athletics. Rhoades said because of Baylor’s athletic success, he knows people are watching, and while he works to make sure that success continues, he doesn’t take all the credit.

“It’s a direct reflection of the unbelievable people, the talented people, that I get to work with, that I’m blessed to work with each and every day,” Rhoades said. “We’ve got great coaches, we’ve got great staff, and we’ve got great, great student-athletes.”