Matt Rhule Is Right Coach To Stabilize Baylor Program

Baylor is bringing in Matt Rhule to improve the football program. The Temple head coach brings high-level leadership skills to Waco.

Baylor’s decision to bring in Temple’s Matt Rhule as its next head coach was one of the wisest the school could have made.

After multiple reports linked names such as Chad Morris, Jeff Brohm and Sonny Dykes to the Bears’ opening, AD Mack Rhoades landed the 41-year-old Owls architect to re-construct his program.

Rhule’s stock as a hot coaching commodity soared as he was able to lead his team to the AAC championship game, where it easily disposed of Navy, 34-10. The Owls notched their second consecutive 10-win season, and went 7-1 in conference play in back-to-back years. It will go down as the best two-year run in school history, with the program’s previous best win total for a two-year stretch being 17.

That stability is very much needed at Baylor, which has dealt with one of the roughest offseasons in recent memory, as a sexual assault scandal cost head coach Art Briles, the AD and university president their jobs before the 2016 campaign. The Bears then finished the season on a six-game losing streak after a 6-0 start.

What Rhule brings to the table is a winning pedigree and the ability to lead a team through adversity. The Owls had a poor effort in the season opener against Army and found themselves at 3-3 one year after losing three players to the NFL Draft. At Temple, next-level players don’t exactly grow on trees. So that leadership void needed to be filled, and versatile defender Haason Reddick and others stepped up. With their backs against the wall, the Owls reeled off seven straight wins to close out the regular season. Rhule navigated the in-season challenge very well.

However, in Waco, Rhule will face perhaps his biggest obstacles yet.

The roster needs to be rebuilt, as several players left the 2016 class due to the off-the-field issues and coaching turmoil. In terms of the 2017 class, the coaching staff essentially stopped recruiting months ago, so only one high school senior is currently committed. And a month-long recruiting dead period starts on Monday. Plus, even with Rhule’s impressive body of work and leadership ability, it wouldn’t be shocking to see even more players leave the program this offseason. So constructing a roster will be an uphill battle. The Bears have about 70 scholarship players, including a dozen seniors, on this year’s team.

Rhule should have no problem finding the right pieces for his personnel puzzle though. He has experience coaching on both sides of the football (as well as on special teams), so his defensive and offensive background will help him identify talented players to build back up the very thin Baylor roster.

There is also the challenge of being a head coach of a football team that has a lot of work to do in order to help heal a fractured community. A younger coach who relishes the challenge of restoring a program needed to be brought into Waco, and that was accomplished.

Rhule took over a program that went 4-7 the year prior to his arrival and has moved from two wins in his first season to 6-6 and onto back-to-back 10-win campaigns. The backbone of the Temple program has been a sound and physical defense, which doesn’t exactly scream Baylor football. But change is exactly what the Bears need right now, though bringing in an accomplished offensive coordinator would be smart because scoring points in bunches is critical for any Big 12 squad. The up-tempo spread attack that was run under Briles and this past season is a lot different than the more plodding Temple units the past few seasons.

It will be interesting to see if Rhule hires some assistants with strong Texas roots, as he himself has no ties to the state. As is the case at any school, strong recruiting will determine whether or not his tenure is a success. And recruiting will never be more difficult for Rhule and his staff in light of what has happened at Baylor. In addition, forging valuable relationships within the high school circuit will be vital.

Nonetheless, the values that Rhule instilled in his players during his time at Temple paid dividends both on and off of the field. The hope for the Baylor administration is that, over time, the same can be done at a school that badly needed a fresh perspective.

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