From the start, I thought Penn State got it right by hiring Mike Rhoades to be its next men’s basketball coach.
After the brilliant decision to hire program legend Joe Crispin as one of his assistants, I started to love the hire, not just like it.
After watching Thursday afternoon’s introductory press conference, I believe Rhoades is almost perfect for Penn State.
I only say “almost” perfect because nothing in life is perfect, but Rhoades is a better fit than anybody Penn State could have realistically hired.
I’ve long believed it’s hard not to “win” a press conference. If a coach, athletic director or whoever is impressive enough during the interview process to get hired, they should be able to speak at a podium for 20-30 minutes.
With that said, there’s a difference between saying the right things during a press conference and dominating it.
That’s what Rhoades’s boss, Pat Kraft, did when he got introduced as Penn State’s next AD last April, and that’s what Rhoades did almost a year later.
Kraft did it by visibly displaying a fire often absent from his predecessor, Sandy Barbour.
Rhoades did it by proving that he’s something his predecessor wasn’t; a Pennsylvania guy.
Let’s face it: Micah Shrewsberry was an outsider
That’s not a criticism, just reality.
Shrewsberry led Penn State on one of its most magical runs ever and should be remembered fondly by Nittany Nation because of it.
But that magical run led to Shrewsberry taking a job where he isn’t an outsider; Indiana. He’s an Indiana guy who grew up in the Hoosier state, went to college in the Hoosier state and has coached in the Hoosier State there for most of his career that started in 1999.
Now, after two seasons at Penn State, Shrewsberry is back home. He’s the head coach at one of the premier schools in Indiana and the country: Notre Dame.
Shrewsberry’s departure just days after Penn State was fighting for a Sweet 16 berth brought about a lot of emotions and just as many concerns.
One concern was whether Penn State could find a coach who could both win and would see the school as a destination rather than a stepping-stone.
I believe Rhoades checks both of those boxes.
He’s won everywhere he’s been, most recently at VCU, where he went 129-61 with three NCAA Tournament appearances over six seasons.
Just as important, I think Rhoades is in this for the a while.
As mentioned above, Shrewsberry is an Indiana guy.
Rhoades is a PA guy.
Unlike Shrewsberry, Rhoades’s ties to his home State aren’t evident from his coaching resume.
Rhoades has been a college coach for 27 seasons. In that time, he’s coached in Virginia and Texas, never Pennsylvania.
Penn State doesn’t release contract details for its coaches often. Sure, James Franklin’s salary has been well-known since he signed his big extension in November 2021, but for other coaches, such as Shrewsberry and wrestling savant Cael Sanderson, the figure was kept a secret.
Penn State made Rhoades’s contract public, which is detailed here.
One of, if not the first thing that sticks out about that contract is the length: seven years.
It’s hard to think that Penn State wouldn’t have offered Rhoades a deal for that long if it didn’t believe he’d be there for the long haul, and it’s hard to think that Rhoades, 50, would have agreed to a seven-year deal if he didn’t intend to be at Penn State long-term.
Rhoades didn’t just grow up in Pennsylvania, but he’s a Penn State guy, too.
How do we know that?
Well, during his opening statement, Rhoades, a Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, native, predicted that Penn State’s attendance would go up thanks to his family that’s still in the area.
This led to him dropping the best line of the press conference.
“If you put a Yungeling truck out there, look out.”
But Rhoades’s love of PSU transcends family and even beer.
During his press conference, Rhoades told an anecdote about him and his wife, Jodie, watching a PSU-Iowa wrestling match on their porch in Virginia last year.
Some would hear that and point out that Penn State and Iowa are America’s two top wrestling programs, so maybe Rhoades just wanted to watch some good wrestling.
Rhoades also has a Penn State wrestling sweatshirt, so it’s deeper than that.
So, yes, Mike Rhoades is a Penn State guy.
His dad got a graduate degree from there. His brother and sister both earned their undergraduate degrees from PSU.
Now, any coach can make their next destination sound like a dream job.
What are they supposed to say?
“I’m excited to be the head coach at insert school here and look forward to bouncing as soon as a better opportunity comes.”
I don’t think so.
So it’s understandable for people to take Rhoades’s words with a grain of salt.
But tell me this isn’t a beautiful response to beat reporter Mark Brennan’s question to Rhoades on if he saw Penn State as a destination job.
“It’s Penn State,” he said.
Rhoades then explained his family’s history with Penn State mentioned above and his personal history.
He watched games at Rec Hall and worked basketball camps at the University.
“It’s a cool place, No. 1,” he said. “Who wouldn’t wanna be here?”
Listen to the way Rhoades said the above quote, the passion in his voice, and tell me he wasn’t sincere.
“And then you get to coach basketball here?” he said. “I mean, I’m going to wake up tomorrow and be the head coach at Penn State every day and coach basketball and help young people pursue their dreams. Are you crazy? Why not?”
So can Mike Rhoades be a Penn State men’s basketball coach that consistently has winning teams and stays for a decade or longer, a combination Penn State has yet to have since Bruce Parkhill left back in 1995?
To quote the new coach, “why not?”