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Nebraska eyes Matt Rhule as coach: Cornhuskers nearing agreement with ex-Carolina Panthers boss, per report

Nebraska appears to be in the final stages of hiring Matt Rhule as its next coach, according to ESPN. Rhule, who led turnarounds at Temple and 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.

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.

If Rhule gets the Nebraska job, he would 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 would follow 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 brunt. 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. The complications with salary vs. other coaching considerations could lengthen negotiations. 

Organizational capacity

Rhule has spent just one year of his lengthy career west of the Mississippi River — 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 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 if he does 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 ingratiate himself quickly. 

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