Matt Rhule may not be able to engineer a quick turnaround for the Huskers but he will get it done probably sooner than later.
Why Matt Rhule Is Going to Fix Nebraska
While Nebraska head football coach Matt Rhule did play college football, he was hardly a five-star recruit. In fact, he was a walk-on linebacker at Penn State in the mid-1990s.
At his previous stops as the head man in college, his teams did not show immediate and dramatic improvement. However, slow and steady, the progress was evident. After going 2-10 in his first season taking over an already bad Temple team, his second season resulted in a 6-6 win-loss record. This was followed in 2015 and 2016 with records of 10-4 and 10-3, respectively. Given the limited resources and ability to pay the big bucks at Temple compared to other FBS college programs, Rhule left Philadelphia after three seasons for Baylor University as he quickly became a hot college coaching commodity.
At Baylor, a similar win-loss trajectory occurred. His first season with the Bears was even worse than his first season in Philadelphia with the Owls as his Baylor team went 1-11. However, his second season again showed noticeable improvement and went 7-6. This was followed by a third season where his squad went 11-3. Again, bigger money came calling as new Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper lured Rhule from the college ranks with a $60M contract after firing the coach he inherited, Ron Rivera.
Before all of this, Rhule also paid his dues as a linebackers coach at Albright College, and offensive coordinator at Temple in 2008 before a stint as an assistant coach with the NFL’s New York Giants.
He Knows Who He Is Now
Matt Rhule’s two-plus but less than three seasons with the Panthers were not good, to say the least. Based on his prior history, many looked past his initial season where the team won five and lost 11 games. Unfortunately, year two showed zero progress as the Panthers went 5-12 after the NFL increased the number of regular season games from 16 to 17. Year three was no better as the Panthers started the season 1-4.
An impatient Tepper then pulled the plug and let him go. Matt Rhule now knows that he is a college football coach and not a headman for an NFL franchise. And there is nothing wrong with that. Ask Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino, and Steve Spurrier to name just a few.
While at Temple, Rhule implemented power run schemes using two tight end sets and the defense ran a traditional 4-3 scheme. Essentially, a pro-style philosophy. Having All-American linebacker Tyler Matakevich to anchor Rhule’s defense didn’t hurt as Matakevich had Rhule’s grinder personality just with a lot more talent.
After being enticed to take the head coaching job at Baylor, Rhule knew that the same offensive philosophy wouldn’t get it done in the offense-heavy with defense-optional Big-12. He quickly installed a spread offense knowing it had to be done to keep up with the competition in the conference. Clearly, it worked as his Bears went from one win to 11 in two short seasons. Nebraska is fortunate not only to have Rhule as their head man but he’s already scratched his NFL itch and knows it’s not for him. Coach Rhule is a thinker and a keen observer. He will figure out what’s going to work in the ultra-competitive Big Ten. His team will be improved next year and look out in year three again.
Three games into his first season at Nebraska, the Cornhuskers sit at one win with two losses after a close loss at Minnesota that they gave away, another loss in Boulder to the surging Colorado Buffaloes, and an expected win over Northern Illinois. Without tipping his hand, Rhule will most likely employ a combination of the pro-style offense he ran and Temple and the spread he ran at Baylor. Fans in Lincoln shouldn’t be concerned about a slow start based on his track record and they shouldn’t be concerned with him leaving.
If he brings The Huskers back to their glory days the locals may erect a statue of him outside Memorial Stadium.
With college football realignment in full swing, resulting in more interesting and difficult schedules beginning in 2024, Rhule may have a hard time delivering a national championship to Lincoln. His ceiling as a college football head coach is unknown because he left his previous two stints after four and three years, respectively.
It’s possible he only achieves Bo Pellini-like success in the regular season which got the former fired. How they long for the days of 9-3 in the heartland now. Who knows if a 9-3 record in the future will get a team into the college football playoff once the field expands to 12 teams beginning with the 2024 season. But Matt Rhule has done it twice, turning around two programs with limited prior success by taking the slow steady common sense approach. The odds are he will do it again and stick around.
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