The Nebraska Cornhuskers have witnessed better days as a program, there is no doubt about that. The same could be said about Matt Rhule following his abysmal run with the Carolina Panthers. The pairing is perfect for two parties that desperately need each other.
Matt Rhule built up the Temple Owls from 2013-2016, serving as a first-time head coach and leading the program to back-to-back 10-win campaigns in 2015 and 2016. After a successful run in the AAC, bigger schools came knowing at Rhule’s door.
In late 2016, Matt Rhule was tabbed as the next head coach for the Baylor Bears. Baylor was fresh off the Art Briles fiasco, in which the head coach was found to be complacent in covering up — or ignoring — sexual assault allegations against members of the school. To say that Rhule entered his new job behind the 8 ball would be a vast understatement.
All that being said, the Bears unexpectedly struggled in year one of the Matt Rhule Era. Baylor went 1-11, with their lone victory coming against another 1-11 team, the Kansas Jayhawks. The inaugural season was a mess, but things quickly turned around the next season in Waco.
In Rhule’s second season at the helm, the Bears earned bowl eligibility, en route to a 7-6 record and a Texas Bowl victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores. Now that Rhule had his own pieces in place, a strong foundation had been established. The 2019 season is when Rhule became a true household name.
Only one season removed from being a 1-11 team, the Baylor Bears jumped out to a 9-0 start and vaulted up to No. 11 in the AP Poll. They dropped a late regular season game to Oklahoma, before losing in the Big 12 title game in again in a rematch vs. the Sooners. Their 11-2 record resulted in a berth in the Sugar Bowl, where the team ultimately fell to the Georgia Bulldogs.
Still, a mark had been made on the national landscape by both the Baylor Bears and Matt Rhule. As the NFL chatter gained steam, many expected Rhule to jump to the league following the success of his 2019 season. The speculation proved to be true when the Carolina Panthers offered a mind-boggling 7-year, $62 million contract to the up-and-coming head coach.
Rhule happily accept the deal and became the fifth head coach in franchise history for the Carolina Panthers. As you know by now, the experiment went up in flames. The investment proved to be an ill-advised one for the Panthers, as Rhule failed to establish his culture the same way he did in college. Carolina went 11-27 in Rhule’s time as head coach, before being fired earlier this season.
The two sides never quite meshed and it was wise for the Panthers to cut their losses. Rhule is still owed millions of dollars from the franchise (pending a buyout agreement with Nebraska), but they were going nowhere fast, so making the move now might have cost them money, but it saved years of rebuilding. Now, the Panthers are free to make a splashy hire this offseason and Matt Rhule is free to become a head coach elsewhere.
Turns out that elsewhere is in Lincoln, Nebraska. Although nothing is made official as of this writing, Matt Rhule is expected to become the new head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Similar to Rhule, Nebraska has seen better days. They both are in desperate need of a facelift in terms of their reputation and image around the football world.
Nebraska, once a juggernaut of the football world, averaged double-digit victories through the 80s, 90s, and much of the early 2000s. It has now been 10 seasons since the Cornhuskers’ last double-digit winning campaign. More than that, the prestigious program has not won more than five games since 2016.
The most obvious reason behind this is the choices made at the head coaching position. Mike Riley and Scott Frost were both favorable hires at the time, but neither guy could help return Nebraska to their former glory. One could argue that Scott Frost, specifically, set the program back years with how much of a mess he left things.
The other key argument is that recruiting is a tall task in Lincoln, Nebraska. While I subscribe to the first idea much more, it is fair to question how many kids from bigger areas want to relocate to the middle of the map. I still lean toward the “if you build it, they will come” approach, meaning that the right head coach could change everything.
It will be Matt Rhule’s job to do what others could not. Few believed he could succeed at the small campus of Temple. Even fewer believe he could succeed in the wake of the Art Briles disaster at Baylor. Rhule proved doubters wrong in both stops.
He must prove that the Panthers’ stint is merely an outlier and that he is the guy to lead Nebraska into a rebirth. Given Matt Rhule’s track record at the collegiate level, I would not be surprised to see the Cornhuskers rise from the ashes and restore their image as one of the bluebloods of college football.
The reason this match is so exciting is that both sides need each other just as badly as the other. It is what every great marriage is built on. Matt Rhule can help bring Nebraska back to prominence and the program, in turn, will give Rhule a chance to showcase his team-building ability. I can’t imagine a better choice for either party.