In nearly 40 years as a college coach, Dusty Rhodes has taught countless numbers of student-athletes how to win.
The coach who put UNF on the national radar as a baseball power will be immortalized with arguably the greatest honor a college baseball coach can receive. The American Baseball Coaches Association has chosen Rhodes as a 2009 Hall of Fame inductee. The ceremony will take place Jan. 3 during the 2009 ABCA Convention in San Diego.
“I’ve been part of the ABCA for 40 years, and the fact that organization is not only honoring me but also this University is something I didn’t expect,” said Rhodes, one of more than 5,000 college and high school coaches who are ABCA members.
In 28 seasons as a head coach at UNF and Palm Beach Junior College, Rhodes has compiled a 1,130-481 record. He has guided UNF to 16 postseason appearances, including five College World Series appearances, four district NAIA championships and six conference championships in NCAA Division II.
“For me, I’ve been lucky because I started out as a junior college coach, then to the NAIA, then to Division II and now we’re Division I, so I’ve met coaches from all over the country at all levels,” he said.
Perhaps more important than the stellar record are the former players he inspired to become baseball coaches or administrators.
“I already knew I wanted to coach, but once I learned his system, I wanted to apply it to the way I coach,” said former player Gil Morales, head coach at Eagles View Academy in Jacksonville. “Things that are normal at UNF are unique to a lot of other people. He’s always able to get the best out of players who may not be the most talented, and he knows how to win with that system.”
Rhodes has been named conference coach of the year eight times and regional coach of the year three. His 827 Osprey victories are the most by any UNF head coach. He ranks 12th all-time among Division II coaches with a .694 winning percentage. Under Rhodes, the Ospreys have been ranked No. 1 seven times – three in NAIA and four in NCAA Division II.
Rhodes built the UNF program from the ground floor, helping to raise funds to build UNF’s on-campus facility, Harmon Stadium. In 1988, Rhodes’ dream came true with UNF’s first year of competition.
“UNF baseball was all based upon a dream of being a program that UNF could be proud of,” said longtime UNF supporter Dave Polovina. “We had a vision and tried to appeal to people’s dreams. We raised more than $1 million to get it off the ground … We were able to raise that money based on Dusty’s reputation.”
The Ospreys were winners from the beginning. In the first two seasons alone, UNF compiled 100 wins, which was a first for a beginning baseball program at any level to win that many games in two years. In 1989, Rhodes guided the Ospreys to an appearance in the NAIA World Series.
“We knew that Dusty was the right guy to start this program based on what he did at Palm Beach Junior College and Florida,” Polovina said. “The proof is in what I call the three Rs. He does things right, he gets
the results and he has the reputation. This honor is richly deserved.”
In addition to the magic he has worked with the Ospreys, Rhodes is an acclaimed international and professional coach. The pinnacle of that experience occurred when Rhodes was selected as the head coach of the Greek Olympic team for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. He returned to serve as head coach of the Greek National Team in the 2005 European Championships. Previously, he served as an assistant coach for Greece in 2002 and 2003 and as an assistant coach for the 1996 Australian Olympic Team. In 1993, 1994 and 2001, he was an assistant coach for the U.S.A. National Team.
Rhodes also spent time as a hitting and infield coach with New York Yankees’ Class A affiliate Greensboro Hornets (1982), as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Rookie League team in Helena, Mont. (1988-89, 1991), and as a coach with the Class A Beloit Brewers (1990).
He was inducted into the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. During his eight years there, Rhodes posted a record of 303-118, leading the school to a No. 1 national junior college ranking in 1979.
Between 1982 and 1987, He was an assistant baseball coach at the University of Florida before being selected to start the UNF baseball program.
Rhodes received an associate of arts degree from PBJC in 1966, a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Florida Southern College in 1969 and a master’s degree in education from Florida Atlantic University
Rhodes said he thanks UNF for giving him the opportunity to build the university’s baseball program from the beginning all the way to Division I.
As for the Hall of Fame, he said he never thought he’d be in this situation. “It means a lot just to be in the category of the guys in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “They’re all great coaches, and to be considered in that category is really a great honor.”
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