Nebraska Football: Answering any and all objections to hiring Matt Rhule

Nebraska football Head coach Matt Rhule is doused by the Temple Owls within moments of the Owls 34-10 win over the Navy Midshipmen (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Nebraska football Head coach Matt Rhule is doused by the Temple Owls within moments of the Owls 34-10 win over the Navy Midshipmen (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

Not twenty-four hours after Matt Rhule was announced as the next head coach of Husker football, Nebraska football fans were as divided as ever (especially on Twitter).

Even though the national media praised the hire, there’s a segment of Husker fans strongly opposed to the hiring.

As I’ve read and processed over the last day or so, I’ve found four primary objections fans of Nebraska football have against Matt Rhule.

I’ll answer them briefly and, at the same time, hopefully, provide some justification for why, I think, this is a good hire for Nebraska football right now.

Matt Rhule Has Never Beaten a Top 25 Team

There are people on the internet who are saying Rhule hasn’t beaten a top-25-ranked team.

A quick Google search shows the truth. Rhule beat 3 top 25 teams while at Temple: #21 East Carolina in 2014, #21 Memphis in 2015, and #19 Navy in 2016 to win the AAC title game.

It is true that while at Baylor (2017-19), Rhule did go 0-10 against ranked teams. Yikes, right?

Not so fast my friend, as Lee Corso would say. In the shadows of a sexual abuse scandal, Baylor’s roster had been gutted by the time Rhule arrived. The Bears had a total of 45 scholarship players. At the time of his first press conference, there was one–yes, ONE–verbal commitment to the 2017 class.

Strange as it sounds, Rhule came to bring healing as much as he came to win. Eventually, however, they did win.

Baylor won 11 games in 2019.

Rhule built that–basically from scratch.

Matt Rhule Stunk with the Panthers

Steve Spurrier. Nick Saban. Lou Holtz. Dennis Erickson. Bobby Petrino.

I could go on and on. What do these college coaching legends have in common?

They were all failures in the NFL.

Football is football. Well…kind of. The NFL and NCAA aren’t different animals. Success in one doesn’t always translate. It’s for a lot of reasons.

Sometimes it’s just talent. Everyone is talented in the NFL so some schemes just won’t work. RPO is more difficult to run and unless you have Lamar Jackson, you can’t just line up and do that.

Other times, it’s attitudes. The best NFL players make more money than coaches. I have never been in an NFL locker room, but I would guess that affects dynamics a tad. If a key player or two isn’t bought in, it can ruin a culture.

Most importantly, there’s the issue of personnel. In college, head coaches are also the general manager. They decide who to recruit and sign and play. In the NFL, your GM may decide to go cheap (sometimes because the owner is cheap).

And so they give you quarterbacks like Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield.

Oh…wait a minute.

The New Nebraska Football Coach Is Scott Frost 2.0

Scott Frost took an AAC team that was 0-12 to 13-0. How is Matt Rhule any better?

Rhule has rebuilt not one but two college football programs. What he did at Temple was unprecedented. In Temple’s 123-year history, they had one 10-win season before 2015.

Then Rhule did it back-to-back, claiming the Owl’s first conference title in half a century in 2016.

More than that, Rhule has a clear identity, something Frost lacked his entire tenure at Nebraska.

In his talk at the 2020 AFCA Convention, Rhule laid out his keys to winning football:

  1. Don’t beat ourselves.
  2. Make special teams special.
  3. Dominate the trenches.
  4. Win the toxic battle (i.e. turnovers and explosive plays).
  5. Great at situational football.

These are all things Nebraska under Scott Frost and Mike Riley failed to achieve. Honestly, it was mind-boggling how these five things were the contributing factors to almost every single loss (close or not) during those eight years.

If this is Rhule’s DNA–and we have every reason to believe it is–he is the exact opposite of Scott Frost.

Matt Rhule Isn’t Luke Fickell

One day after the Rhule was announced, Wisconsin pulled off a stunner and announced they hired Luke Fickell away from Cincinnati.

And Nebraska fans were up in arms on twitter. So. So. Many.

Here’s the thing about Fickell. He’s a really good coach, but he’s never had a build a program in shambles. Like Temple. Like Baylor.

Like (gulp) Nebraska.

I’ve had Cincinnati fans this weekend try to tell me that Tommy Tuberville (2013-16) basically stopped coaching and recruiting and spent all day a the golf course. (Who’s golfing in Cincinnati in March or October?)

This, they claimed, really doomed the Bearcats.

The reality is that Cincinnati had a pretty decent football legacy.

Brian Kelly (heard of him?) and Butch Jones combined for five double-digit winning seasons between 2007-12. Tuberville then won 9, 9, and 7 games before being fired after a 4-win season in 2016. He even won a conference title in 2014!

In other words, when Fickell arrived, the cupboard wasn’t bare. It needed to be rearranged.

His second team–made up of seniors and redshirt juniors who had won 18 games in their first two years–went 11-2. The top passer, rusher, receiver, and tackler for Fickell in 2017? All Tuberville recruits.

Fickell got that team straight, make no mistake. All props to him.

But Cincinnati was less like a rebuild and more like a refresh. Simply, Fickell hasn’t had to rebuild anything.

And that fact may be the single most important reason why Matt Rhule, not Luke Fickell, is at Nebraska today.