Nebraska hires Matt Rhule: Former Carolina Panthers coach will try to rebuild another college program

Nebraska has officially hired Matt Rhule to be his next head coach, the school announced Saturday. Rhule, who led turnarounds at Temple other Baylor before trying his hand at the NFL, was fired as coach of the Carolina Panthers earlier this year in his third season with the franchise.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska Football program,” Rhule said. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Best known for taking Baylor from 1-11 to an 11-3 campaign and 2020 Sugar Bowl berth, Rhule spearheaded one of the quickest turnarounds in Power Five history. He also led Temple from 2-10 to back-to-back 10-win seasons and an AAC championship in 2016 prior to departing the Owls for the Bears. Temple has not won more than eight games since he left after the 2016 season, posting a 7-23 record.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program. Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

He will be tasked with resuscitating a Cornhuskers program hoping to rediscover its form after a brutal beginning to its Big Ten tenure. The historically dominant program has faced hard times during conference realignment, failing to win 10 games in a season since 2012, its first year in the league. Nebraska has not made a bowl game since 2016.

Rhule follows Scott Frost as coach. Frost, a former championship-winning quarterback with the ‘Huskers, was seen as a program savior making his return to Lincoln, Nebraska. Instead, Frost accumulated a 16-31 record during one of the worst tenures by a coach in program history. He was fired three games into the 2022 season after a 1-2 start and loss to Georgia Southern.

Turnaround artist

When Rhule got his previous two jobs — Baylor and Temple — both programs had deep depths to overcome. Baylor was in the aftermath of a massive Title IX scandal and only had one player committed when Rhule took over the program. Temple had a few successful seasons, but fell to 4-7 before Steve Addazio left to take the Boston College job.

In both cases, Rhule tore the program down to the studs and rebuilt them in his image — one of development, toughness and high-IQ football. Rhule won the AAC with Temple, bringing home just the second conference championship in program history. While Rhule did not win the Big 12 Championship Game himself at Baylor, his players were the bulk of Dave Aranda’s Big 12 champions in 2021.

After nearly a decade of atrophy, Nebraska is in need of a refresh. Rhule will have an opportunity to rebuild the Cornhuskers and potentially bring back some of the physicality fans have missed since the heyday of the Blackshirt era of Nebraska football.

Contract stipulations

Rhule was in a cushy situation at Baylor, but interest from the NFL reached historic levels during the 2019 coaching cycle. Most expected Rhule to focus on the New York Giants — a team in his hometown for which he previously worked — but Carolina owner David Tepper offered Rhule a massive seven-year, $62 million contract before he interviewed anywhere else.

The Panthers still owe Rhule more than $34 million from his original contract, though offset language in his contract could lessen the brut. However, the guaranteed money could also play a role in a potential contract negotiations with Nebraska.

Nebraska has plenty of money to clear the $8.85 million guaranteed salary by the Panthers, but head coach salary could be a secondary consideration as Rhule will be paid by the Panthers for four more years.

organizational capacity

Rhule has spent just one year of his lengthy career west of Texas — a single-year stint as UCLA’s defensive line coach under Bob Toledo in 2001. However, Rhule’s greatest asset is his ability to smartly evaluate and hire coaching talent to develop his weaknesses .

When Rhule took the Baylor job, he had never been coached in the state of Texas. However, Rhule reached out to the Texas High School Coach’s Association and ultimately hired three high school coaches to his staff — off-field assistant David Wetzel, quarterbacks coach Shawn Bell and current Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire. The trio helped him immediately become a favorite of notoriously fickle high school coaches.

Rhule has a huge advantage already on staff — Mickey Joseph. The interim coach and former Nebraska quarterback has a clause in his contract that allows him to stay on as receivers coach and associate head coach since he did not get the full-time job. With his background at Nebraska and in Southeastern recruiting, Joseph is a no-brainer to keep aboard. While Rhule is coming from outside, he’ll gratiate himself quickly.

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