Tiger coach lands on his feet
     2015-09-17      By Frank Marquez    editor@geringcitizen.com
Photos by Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen - Coach Jimmie Rhodes talks to his players during a timeout in a game against the Kimball Longhorns last Friday night. 
Former Gering Bulldogs head football coach Jimmie Rhodes was hired at Mitchell High School last year after he and the Gering administration parted ways. Since then, he has found a new home, and a wider scope in which to ply his skills as a leader, and a head coach.

“The transition has been great, the kids have welcomed me with open arms. It’s been a fresh start,” said Rhodes about his first year with the Tigers. “That’s the most exciting part. The kids are excited to come talk to me. And, that’s cool. Parents have come out and talked to me about the positives. The losing (at Mitchell) is something we want to put behind us, and move on. There was a grey cloud hanging over the program. Now, they just want to keep winning. It’s about how we treat people. This climate is about us. It’s not me, it’s we.”

The Tigers won their first game at Bayard, 28-20, while losing their second game at home to the Gothenburg Swedes, 52-21. Rhodes believed Mitchell matched up well against the Bayard Tigers, and the game would be physical. “Our players’ mindset was beating Bayard,” he said. “We made a lot of mistakes, a lot of mental mistakes, like penalties. They were trying to be too aggressive.”

In the practices before meeting up with Gothenburg, “we cleaned that up,” said Rhodes, about the game in which Mitchell was down just 17-13 at the half. “They had more people than us. They just wore us down. In the end, they were better than us.”
In taking the activities director job, Rhodes intended to retire from coaching altogether. He was happy to be a mentor, and just be a part of the administration. Only a few months after he accepted the position, Mitchell High School came forward to say it wanted him as head coach, and he was the Tigers’ candidate.

“The move to activities director has been good,” said Rhodes, who was overseeing action on the links at the Scenic Knolls Golf Course just a few miles north of Mitchell for the Tigers’ Golf Invitational a week ago. “You get to go to all of the sports, instead of one specialized sport, and root for all the kids. That part is fun.”

Rhodes left Gering after 11 years. He served as an assistant under head coach Tom O’Boyle. Then he took over as head coach for his last four years there, after O’Boyle left the Bulldogs program for administrative reasons. He pointed out that as a head coach, a season can hinge on losing close games, which can prevent a team from making a playoff run and feeling good about itself.

“One of my goals was to be a head coach,” Rhodes said. “And, Gering gave me that opportunity. We had a lot of fun over there. All you can do is line them up right, and hope they can play.”

He added, “(Gering) is going through a transition right now. Sometimes, there’s a cycle, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Now doing his job at Mitchell, Rhodes continues to fulfill his desire to be a head coach, and being successful at it. “The guys here are starting to believe me,” he said after the victory over the Kimball Longhorns, 35-21, at an away game last Friday night. “If they keep working as hard as they do, they’ll keep winning. The guys fought through the third quarter (against Kimball). If you can win the third quarter, you can win the fourth. You just need to do the little things to be successful. After the games, we talk about that strategy, about winning the quarter. It’s about maximum touches, and eliminating mistakes.”

Rhodes started his coaching career working as an assistant at Dickinson State, N.D., Mayville State, N.D., and Chadron State College. He then coached at high schools in a suburb of Gainesville, Fla., and Glendive, Mont., where he was an offensive coordinator, before landing at Gering for 11 years.

Over that time, Rhodes has stayed true to his coaching philosophy. “It’s mentoring. It’s about life skills. It’s seeing where you start and where you finish. We want to bring players along. The life lessons in a Friday night game are everywhere, from adversity to taking criticism, and to winning with class.”

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