RICHMOND, Va. — VCU fans may never want to hear of the possibility, however small, but Mike Rhoades may not have ended up as their head coach.
There was a short stint as a professional player in France. If he was a little better over there, maybe a long career in Europe changes his life after playing.
But that didn’t happen. Rhoades got cut and returned to the states wondering what his next move would be.
He wanted to play again but needed something to do in the meantime. His mother was a teacher at his alma mater in Mahanoy City, Pa. Another teacher fell ill and the school needed a long term sub. Enter Mr. Rhoades.
“I taught fifth-grade social studies and one period of sixth-grade math,” Rhoades recalled on Monday. “24 bucks a day.”
Rhoades’ classroom was in the corner of the basement at the junior high school. A very long way from the floor at the Barclay’s Center in New York City, where he will lead the Rams onto the court for their first game in this year’s A-10 Tournament Friday at noon.
Being a coach is being an educator, albeit on the court and not in a classroom. As such, Rhoades enjoyed being around kids every day, as he does now. But after a couple of weeks, he announced to his mother that his classroom teaching days were over.
“I want to coach all the time,” Rhoades remembered telling his mother. She warned the phone would ring the following Monday morning asking for his services again.
“I’m out,” was the reply.
Rhoades was ready to devote his entire life to coaching basketball. “When I wake up in the morning, I want it to be about basketball and players. When I go to bed, it’s about basketball and players.”
Less than two months later, he met with former Randolph-Macon head coach Hal Nunnally about the assistant coach opening with the Yellow Jackets. Rhoades had some history with Nunnally and the RMC program already. As a senior at Lebanon Valley College, Rhoades played in what became the Rees Jewelers Holiday Classic that RMC has held for years. Lebanon Valley won, and he made a bit of an impression on his future boss.
He was offered the job the same week his future wife Jodi graduated from college.
“Coach (Nunnally) called me and said ‘Do you want to be a college coach?’ I said ‘Yes sir.’ He asked ‘Do you have a passport?’. ‘Yes sir’. He said ‘Be here Wednesday. We leave Saturday for South America.'”
Rhoades spent the next 18 days in Chile, his first as a college basketball coach.
His next 18 (or so) days will be spent guiding this year’s Rams through the A-10 tournament and an all but certain trip to the NCAA’s which begin next Thursday. Not one of them will go by without Rhoades being appreciative of where his journey began and where it has led.
“I get paid to be a college basketball coach in March?” Rhoades asked incredulously and rhetorically. “Are you kidding me? It’s pretty cool.”
“I’ve been fortunate. I’ve never had a real job. Well, except once.”
For a couple weeks in a basement classroom.