Nebraska appears to be in the final stages of hiring Matt Rhule as their next coach, according to reports ESPN. Rhule, who oversaw turnarounds at Temple and Baylor before trying his hand at the NFL, was fired earlier this year as coach of the Carolina Panthers in his third season with the franchise.
Best known for leading Baylor from 1-11 to an 11-3 campaign and a berth in the 2020 Sugar Bowl, Rhule led one of the fastest turnarounds in Power Five history. He also led Temple from 2-10 to consecutive 10-win seasons and an AAC championship in 2016 before leaving the Owls for the Bears. Temple hasn’t won more than eight games since retiring after the 2016 season and has a 7-23 record.
If Rhule gets the job in Nebraska, he would be tasked with reinvigorating a Cornhuskers program in hopes of rediscovering his form after a brutal start to his tenure with the Big Ten. The historically dominant program has had a rough time during the conference realignment, failing to win 10 games in a season since 2012, its first year in the league. Nebraska hasn’t played a bowl game since 2016.
Rhule would succeed Scott Frost as coach. Frost, a former championship-winning quarterback with the ‘Huskers, was considered a program savior returning to Lincoln, Nebraska. Instead, Frost amassed a 16-31 record during one of the worst tenures by a coach in program history. After a 2-1 start and loss to Georgia Southern, he was released into the 2022 season in three games.
When Rhule got his previous two jobs – Baylor and Temple – both programs had to traverse deep chasms. Baylor was after a massive Title IX scandal and had signed just one player when Rhule took over the program. Temple had a successful couple of seasons but fell to 4-7 before Steve Addazio left to take the job at Boston College.
In both cases, Rhule tore the program down to the cleats and rebuilt them in his image – one of development, toughness and high IQ football. Rhule won the AAC with Temple, just the second conference championship in the program’s history home. While Rhule didn’t win the Big 12 Championship Game at Baylor himself, his players were the bulk of Dave Aranda’s 2021 Big 12 champions.
After nearly a decade of atrophy, Nebraska needs a refresher. Rhule will have an opportunity to rebuild the Cornhuskers and potentially bring back some of the physical abilities that fans have missed since the heyday of Nebraska football’s blackshirt era.
Rhule was in a comfortable position at Baylor, but NFL interest reached historic levels during the 2019 coaching cycle. Most expected Rhule to focus on the New York Giants — a hometown team he previously worked for — but Carolina owner David Tepper offered Rhule a massive seven-year, $62 million contract before he interviewed elsewhere.
However, the Panthers still owe Rhule more than $34 million from his original contract offset language in his contract could take the brunt. However, the guaranteed money could also play a role in possible contract negotiations with Nebraska.
Nebraska has plenty of cash to meet the $8.85 million salary guaranteed by the Panthers, but the head coach’s salary could be a secondary consideration with Rhule being paid by the Panthers for four more years. The complications with salary compared to other coaching considerations could prolong negotiations.
Rhule has spent just one year of his long career west of the Mississippi — a year as UCLA’s defensive line coach under Bob Toledo in 2001. However, Rhule’s greatest asset is his ability to intelligently assess coaching talent and target it to develop his weaknesses.
When Rhule took the Baylor job, he had never trained in the state of Texas. However, Rhule turned to the Texas High School Coach’s Association and eventually hired three high school coaches to serve on his staff — off-field assistant David Wetzel, quarterbacks coach Shawn Bell, and current Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire. The trio immediately helped him become a favorite of the notoriously fickle high school coaches.
Rhule already has one major asset on staff – Mickey Joseph. The interim coach and former Nebraska quarterback has a clause in his contract that allows him to stay on as receiver coach and assistant head coach if he doesn’t get the full-time job. With a background in Nebraska and recruiting in the Southeast, keeping Joseph on board is a breeze. While Rhule comes in from outside, he’ll be quick to ingratiate himself.