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Penn State Hires Mike Rhoades

The Nittany Lions get their next head coach. How did they do?

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Albany Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

As you may have heard by now, Penn State men’s basketball has hired Mike Rhoades - most recently the head coach of the VCU Rams - as their replacement for Micah Shrewsberry. The 50 year old head coach has nine seasons of head coaching experience at the Division 1 level in addition to another decade as the head man in the Division 3 ranks and nine years as an assistant. Rhoades is 176-113 in Division 1 (373-189 overall) and has made three NCAA Division 1 tournaments while winning the Atlantic 10 tournament twice and Atlantic 10 regular season once. He is yet to win a NCAA tournament game although we should note that his 2021 team had to forfeit due to COVID.

Penn State has approved a seven year contract for Rhoades with $25.9 million in guaranteed money. His compensation in year 1 is $3.4 million, but his average salary across the contract will be $3.7 million. $3.7 million is good enough to put him in 4th in the Big Ten (behind Izzo, Underwood, and Willard) and 17th in the nation (just behind Baylor’s Scott Drew).

Who is Mike Rhoades?

Rhoades played his college ball at Lebanon Valley College - a small private college in Annville, Pennsylvania - where he led the Flying Dutchmen to the 1994 D3 national championship, becoming a two time All-American, and the 1995 D3 national player of the year. He still holds the records at Lebanon Valley for assists, steals, and free throw percentage.

Just one year after graduating, Rhoades would start his college coaching career as an assistant at Division 3 Randolph-Macon before taking over the top job there following Hal Nunnally’s retirement in 1999. During 10 seasons at Randolph Mason, Rhoades went 197-76 making four NCAA Division III tournaments. Under his leadership, the Yellow Jackets won 4 straight ODAC regular season championships and reached the Division III Sweet 16 three times.

Following his successes at Randolph-Macon, Rhoades was hired onto the VCU staff by Shaka Smart as their associate head coach: a role he would hold for five seasons. During that time, VCU went on to reach the 2011 Final Four but Rhoades departed VCU for the Lone Star state a season before Shaka did when he took the head coaching position at Rice University.

Over a three year period, Rhoades turned around a struggling Rice program (12-49 the two seasons prior to his arrival) and finished 23-12 in their third year - Rice’s first 20 win season in over a decade. Interestingly, his Rice teams played a much different style than his later VCU squads. While defense has become Rhoades’ strength at Rice, it was the offense that carried the load and the pace was generally faster with the team more reliant on three point shooting.

In 2017, Rhoades returned to VCU to take over for departing Will Wade. At VCU, Rhoades has generally alternated strong seasons with average ones and made the NCAA tournament three times - twice as an at-large. Like most good head coaches, Rhoades has shown that he is capable of winning his conference with two A10 tournament championships and the 2019 A10 regular season championship.

Reasons for optimism

  • As a Pennsylvania native (Rhoades is from Mahanoy City, PA), Rhoades isn’t going to take the next job to come along. His ties to the region should also help when it comes to building fan support and in recruiting the state.
  • Rhoades has shown an ability to recruit at a solid level. VCU has had the top ranked A10 recruiting class three of the past four years and saw two players get drafted under Rhoades: Nah’Shon Hyland in 2021 and Vince Williams Jr. in 2022. A handful of other players have made it to the NBA and a third was drafted when Rhoades was a VCU assistant but I especially love that Penn State’s website gives Rhoades credit for Mo Alie-Cox making the NFL as a TE.
  • Rhoades has a solid coaching background and experiences to lean upon. He’s not a first time head coach, he’s had success at his previous stops, and while there is a jump between the A10 and B1G, it’s not as massive as say the jump between the Ivy and A10.


  • Penn State’s 3 point heavy offense led to some massive upsets this year and helped them punch their ticket to the Big Dance. If you can’t matchup with teams playing their style, chuck a bunch of three pointers at the basket. Rhoades doesn’t really do that. His teams have been built on defense, creating turnovers, and working for a good shot inside the three point arc. The past two season’s VCU has ranked near the bottom of the country in three point attempts. Despite being in the top 10 for creating turnovers five years in a row, the Rams have not overly used those turnovers to get out in transition and run. Stylistically that may win you basketball games, but it’s not going to help catch the attention of a Penn State fanbase that often ignores basketball. That fanbase support is crucial to create an intimidating atmosphere that opponents fear and recruits love.
  • VCU has a long history of success as a program. Rhoades didn’t crater that but he didn’t elevate it either. Anthony Grant, Shaka Smart, and Will Wade all made the NCAA tournament at a higher clip than Rhoades while at VCU. Grant and Shaka struggled massively at Alabama and Texas while Wade got fired from LSU over some strong ass offers. Even Jeff Capel - the guy that kickstarted the VCU program into what it is today - struggled after moving on to Oklahoma. If Grant, Smart, Wade, and Capel couldn’t succeed at basketball programs with more resources (and usually historical success) than Penn State after more success at VCU, why would we expect Rhoades to be successful at Penn State?
  • Set up to fail: major roster issues in State College. Of last season’s 13 scholarship players, five (Dread, Funk, Wynter, Pickett, and Henn) have exhausted all eligibility. Seth Lundy has also declared for the NBA draft. Evan Mahaffey, Jameel Brown, Dallion Johnson, Kebba Njie, and Caleb Dorsey have all entered the transfer portal. That leaves just two scholarship players on the books: Demetrius Lilley, Kanye Clary.

To make things worse, all three members of the incoming recruiting class have asked for release from their national letter of intent and are likely to follow Shrewsberry to Notre Dame.

It’s not all bad news. Both Mahaffey and Brown attended Rhoades introductory press conference and there is a chance they could be recruited back. Brown in particular as a Philadelphia native seems like a decent bet, but he did follow Shrewsberry from a Purdue verbal commitment to Penn State so we will see. Additionally, five VCU players have entered the transfer portal. That includes Atlantic 10 player of the year Ace Baldwin Jr.


BoilerUp89: B. Rhoades is a fairly safe, if uninspiring choice. While I suspect Dusty Mays and Pat Kelsey weren’t obtainable, if I was a Penn State fan I still would have preferred Colgate’s Matt Langel. Rhoades has a higher floor than Langel but if I’m the Penn State program that has struggled to get fan support, give me the higher upside guy. A high floor at Penn State looks a lot like Pat Chambers’ tenure: a team that doesn’t embarrass you, but not a team that excites you either. Rhoades slots in at 10th on my Big Ten coach power rankings.

misdreavus79: B+. This grade is a combination of both the administration for not only putting up the money to get a decent coach, but for actually making that public. Contract details are not made public at Penn State, but this time around, they wanted to show potential players that they mean business.

My biggest concern with the hire is that the Big Ten is already composed of 12 teams that are relentless on defense, optional on offense, and Iowa. So hiring a coach that will make it 13 teams that play defense first is going to require an upgrade in talent that Micah Shrewsberry was only starting to make a dent into.

I hope Rhoades is willing to evolve his philosophy to match the conference he’s in, and it appears that his hire of Joe Crispin acknowledges that challenge. After all, Rutgers made two tournaments with offense optional teams, so if Rhoades can figure out the formula that would be pretty awesome.