Former Pelham coach, administrator Rick Rhoades selected to Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame

Published 4:18 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

After a career of service to the state of Alabama, and in particular the city of Pelham, Rick Rhoades will take his place in the most exclusive club in Alabama high school sports.

Rhoades was selected to the 2024 class of the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. He was among 12 inductees who were chosen from a field of 59 nominations.

Rhoades was surprised by the announcement and was honored to join the prestigious group.

“It just feels great and it’s just a tremendous honor and I’m so grateful,” Rhoades said. “It was really important to me. I’ve spent almost my entire adult life in Alabama until just recently when I moved closer to family. It’s really nice to know that part of me will always be here.”

After a successful college coaching career, he became the head football coach at Pelham in 1996. He spent much of his high school coaching career in Pelham, leading the Panthers for five seasons from 1996-2000 and coaching some of Pelham’s best players of all time, including Tyler Watts, who went on to play quarterback at Alabama.

Rhoades’ Pelham teams went a combined 41-19, including winning a region title in 1997, reaching the third round of the Class 6A playoffs in 1999 and won eight games in four of his five seasons.

“Pelham is just a great place,” Rhoades said. “We had so much fun when we coached here and great guys that coached and a great administration to work with at Pelham High School. Our principal there, Tom Ferguson, was first rate. We won some games and had a great group of parents that were fun to be around and to work with.”

Rhoades took a long and winding path before calling Pelham home. After growing up in Colorado and playing college football at Central Missouri, he got his big break on his second head coaching stop in Mountain Brook, leading the Spartans to a 14-0 season and a Class 4A state title in 1976.

After brief stints at Davidson and Andalusia, he made the jump to college, where he won two Division II national championships at Troy, one as a coordinator and another as coach, and also served as the head coach at Southern Illinois and Nicholls State, offensive coordinator at Kentucky, quarterbacks coach at Alabama and linebackers coach at Stephen F. Austin.

Today, he is the only coach in state history to win both an AHSAA state championship and a college national championship.

While he found success as a college coach, as the years went on, he came to more deeply appreciate how high school football prepares players for both the collegiate level and life after sports, which led him to Pelham.

“As you get older, you really realize the impact that high school coaches have because you’re able to see in later years what it has done and the foundation that they give young people,” Rhoades said. “And it cannot be overstated. It’s a very, very important part of the fabric of American life.”

Rhoades’ football career continued after his five seasons at Pelham, becoming an offensive line coach with the XFL’s Birmingham Thunderbolts in 2001 before serving as head coach at Delta State and in Austria, Sweden, France and Poland.

However, Pelham was never far from his mind, and he eventually returned to his adopted home.

He came back to Pelham as an administrator and was a key part in the formation of Pelham City Schools, serving as the inaugural school board president for 10 years until he announced his retirement in January 2023. During that time, he was also nominated for the AASB All-State Board of Education.

In addition to his role for PCS, Rhoades also worked on the side as a broadcaster for the AHSAA TV Network, serving as a lead analyst and color commentator for the network’s football Game of the Week as well as the Super 7 football championships.

After many years in Pelham, Rhoades cherishes his time in the city and is glad to have played a role in growing a place that means so much to him.

“Pelham is a really big part of me, and hopefully the Rhoades family is a little bit of a part of Pelham, too, because it sure is important to us,” Rhoades said.