Nebraska coaching search: What I’m hearing about Matt Rhule


LINCOLN, Neb. — Let’s not do this again anytime soon.

I’m convinced there is nothing in the state of Nebraska today on which everyone can more readily agree than that these coaching searches need to stop. Or turn much less frequent in nature.

What must fans of Iowa, which has changed head coaches once in the past 42 years, think of our strange football existence in Nebraska?

Even if you’re not into the Huskers and you’ve just spent some recent time in the state — welcome, Thanksgiving visitors — you likely want it to end. The cycle of hiring and firing, followed by an echo chamber of noise about potential candidates and the strategies of a certain athletic director have grown tiresome.

In that spirit, here’s the latest of what I’m hearing about the search:

Matt Rhule is again top of mind. The 47-year-old former Carolina Panthers coach, who did good things while in charge at Temple and Baylor from 2013 to 2019, remains a serious candidate. Perhaps, as turkey and stuffing are served Thursday, Rhule will be more than a candidate. Maybe he’ll be the next coach. Movement in that direction occurred Tuesday and Wednesday.

If a deal is not in place with Rhule by the time the Huskers kick off Friday in Iowa City, what is the holdup?

I see it as one of three options:

Option No. 1: Nebraska encountered a financial snag along the way to locking up Rhule. His buyout with Carolina, part of a seven-year, $62 million contract signed in 2020, presents some issues. They ought to be manageable, though, as long as AD Trev Alberts isn’t looking to get a coach on the cheap, and Panthers owner David Tepper isn’t blatantly trying to get out of the agreement he struck with Rhule.

The former is unlikely. Even if it rates front and center in Alberts’ nature as administrator to serve as a “good steward” of the university, as he’s mentioned several times, he recognizes the immensity of this hire. University of Nebraska system president Ted Carter, other high-ranking officials and donors will support Alberts in a move to spend money.

Option No. 2: Rhule is just not interested. His buyout requires him to actively search for employment, so maybe that’s what he’s doing. It’s been a popular narrative nationally within the coaching industry since Rhule was fired on Oct. 11 that he was leaning toward taking a year off and maybe giving TV a shot.

In fact, he made multiple TV appearances this week, including a segment Wednesday on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football.” But in his time on the air, Rhule sounded like he was eager to get back into coaching.

He mentioned that his son Bryant, the eldest of Matt and Julie Rhule’s three children, will be a high school senior in 2023-24 and that Matt long wanted Bryant to avoid another move before he graduates.

Still, Bryant told Matt this week to take a job if it’s in his heart.

“He’s like, ‘Dad, that’s what you do,’” Matt Rhule said on the NFL Network program. “I just want to have an impact on people. … But I’ve got my son pushing me, ‘Let’s go here, let’s go there.’ So it could be Monday. It could be two years from now. But when it comes, I’ll be ready.”

Option No. 3: Nebraska has another coach or coaches who rank higher on Alberts’ wish list than Rhule. I’m skeptical, mainly because I question the attainability of Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and Kansas State’s Chris Klieman.

Fickell took the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff last year. Cincinnati is headed to the Big 12 next season. He’s passed on chances to jump at top jobs and would require a hefty raise to consider the Huskers. Facilities at Cincinnati and his contract, at $5 million per year through 2028, are competitive.

Nebraska can offer a heavy-hitting approach in name, image and likeness opportunities that Cincy can’t match. But is it enough to pull Fickell from his home state of Ohio?

As for Klieman, he’s happy at K-State. He works for an AD in Gene Taylor who provides security and support. Klieman, 55, can win in Manhattan, as we’re seeing this year.

Is there another big swing for Alberts to take, other than the names mentioned above? He’s out on Kansas coach Lance Leipold, who agreed Tuesday to a contract extension. What about Matt Campbell, the three-time Big 12 coach of the year who’s found a bad time to endure a 4-7 season at Iowa State? NC State coach Dave Doeren, Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and Army’s Jeff Monken likely don’t rate above Rhule.

The Class A state championship Monday night at Memorial Stadium, won by Omaha Westside, 43-41, against Gretna, featured Power 5 prospects on both sides. But the lack of a Nebraska scholarship commit in attendance shed light on the damage created by uncertainty amid the coaching search.

Gretna senior lineman Mason Goldman received a Nebraska offer in October. His timeline for a decision has been slowed by the wait for Nebraska to make a hire.

Gretna senior quarterback Zane Flores, committed to Oklahoma State, threw for 414 yards in defeat. He never got a Nebraska offer after the Huskers switched offensive coordinators a year ago and decided to ignore the best pure passer to play high school football in the state of Nebraska.

Flores is a baller, too, evidenced by his work to bring Gretna back from a 31-14 deficit. He led a 75-yard march in the final three minutes to give Gretna its only lead of the night at 41-40.

 Tristan Alvano helped ruin Flores’ wizardry. The senior kicker nailed a 45-yard field goal as time expired to win the game for Westside. Alvano kicked five field goals, including a 50-yarder. He received a Nebraska offer from interim coach Mickey Joseph on Tuesday morning.

But like junior defensive back and wide receiver Caleb Benning and sophomore defensive lineman Christian Jones of Westside, Alvano is interested to know the identity of the next Nebraska coach. Benning, back from a lengthy absence because of injury, intercepted two passes Monday and snagged 14 receptions. Jones was a disruptive force for the Warriors.

Benning and Jones are the sons of former Huskers. And both remain uncommitted, despite receiving offers a year ago. They’re stuck in some kind of a perpetual holding pattern, much like their fathers’ old program.

Enough already with the waiting. It’s almost time for Alberts to step in and make it stop.

(Photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)


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