Imagine signing a seven-year contract, then bailing after the first year.
It doesn’t really work like that in the real world, but college football is a different beast entirely, where coaches are free to go wherever they please while the players that committed to them are forced to sit out an entire season for the same exact thing.
Wednesday, ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg reported that ex-Temple head coach Matt Rhule interviewed for the Indianapolis Colts job, formerly held by Chuck Pagano, who was fired at the end of the season.
This shouldn’t surprise anybody. Rhule spent the 2012 season in the NFL, coaching the New York Giants’ offensive line under Tom Coughlin. He spent the six prior years as a Temple assistant, but came back to helm the Owls in 2013 after just one NFL season.
He’s always been an opportunist, and no one should blame him for that. If the New York Times came calling, you’d probably leave your post at the Reading Eagle.
But bailing on the downtrodden Baylor Bears after a 1-11 debut season feels… dirty to me, even by the lowly standards of college football. Rhule knew what he was getting himself into in Waco, taking over a program that was shattered by a sexual assault scandal that further blanketed the entire university. The recruiting cupboard was bare and the national image of the school remained unfavorable, at least from my observations as a Big 12 fan living on the east coast.
There really are two ways of looking at it. Rhule could have used Bill O’Brien as the blue print, seeing a low-risk opportunity to coach a legitimate program without much pressure to actually win games. The objectives could be auxiliary, such as cleaning up the Baylor image and putting together a strong recruiting class or two. Then, when the NFL comes calling, snag that gig and feel satisfied with your role in rebuilding a shamed program.
The other way to look at it begins the same way as the first, but you’re taking the low-risk approach to job security. Rhule got a seven-year deal because Baylor brass knew the gig was going to be long-term and rough. So Rhule gets one or two mulligan years before he starts to actually be scrutinized for wins and losses, whereas his butt would probably be canned after three 7-5 years at a school like Nebraska, Texas A&M, or Arkansas.
It seems clear that Rhule is walking the O’Brien path, then, with one-foot perpetually out the door ever since his arrival. O’Brien famously had his problems with “Paterno people,” but gave the Lions two decent seasons before leaving James Franklin with something to work with. You may recall that O’Brien also interviewed for NFL gigs after his first PSU season (the Browns and Eagles), but ultimately decided to stay, explaining that he “made a commitment to these players at Penn State and that’s what I am going to do. I’m not gonna cut and run after one year, that’s for sure.”
He wound up with a raise out of that whole thing, so you’ll have to decide for yourself whether he worked the Lions or was being genuine with that quote.
I don’t know what the scene is like in Waco. Are there “Art Briles” people? Probably, but they seem to be a minority.
Some comments from a quick perusal of Baylor forums:
Haven’t loved the past year but respected the recruiting and hoped it would all be put together.
That said, if he truly interviewed then he would have lost my respect. Don’t sell that religious bull**** of being called to a place by God, and then move on in a year. Dick move.
Well what have we learned here friends? We’ve learned that our job is like the Houston job or the UCF job. If we manage to land a good coach who wins for a couple of years then he is always looking and then one day they’re gone to a better job. If we hire a lousy coach then they get fired and we battle KU for last place. Accept and enjoy the process.
This guy was called to Baylor…and perhaps he answered the phone and God said Indy?
Really pathetic. Can’t spin this one. He’s not doing it for a raise from Baylor obviously.
Honest question. Why does Rhule want to leave at this point? He was given a zillion dollars with a long contract and has landed some good recruiting classes. There will never be less pressure in a big time job than what he has now. And if he does well here he will have a mountain of opportunities in a few years. It smells like he’s panicking for a way out.
I mean, those last two comments are reasonable. Rhule made a million dollars last season, according to Forbes.
A lot of times coaches just do these interviews to leverage a raise or whatever from an athletic director, ala Bill O’Brien, but I can’t imagine Matt Rhule is leveraging a 1-11 debut season into anything tangible. The record looks horrendous, but Baylor was actually competitive in a bunch of games last year, taking Oklahoma to the fourth quarter and almost coming back to beat my WV Mountaineers, who, of course, couldn’t fucking close out an easy win.
I never liked the pass-happy Big 12 as a stylistic fit for an eastern guy who liked to run the football and play defense. He’s recruiting against the likes of Texas, TCU, and other power programs in a territory he doesn’t know. It always seemed like an incredibly difficult climb, but we’re talking about a guy who made Temple football relevant, so who knows.
From an outside perspective, Rhule seemed to show emotion and interest in his 2017 dialogue with the media, like this:
— John Elizondo (@johndelizondo) September 19, 2017
Doesn’t mean much now, does it?
Listen, I know the world of college football coaching doesn’t exactly bleed class or integrity, so none of this, if true, would surprise me. If Matt Rhule has a shot at an NFL gig, he should probably take it.
But it’s always going to be super shitty when you bail on 18-year-old kids after sitting in their living room and convincing them to play for you. It’s even worse when they agree to wear the Baylor scarlet letter in an effort to, hopefully, do their part in cleaning up a troubled program.