LINCOLN — Almost on cue, the search for the Nebraska football coach hit another chaotic day, this time just before Thanksgiving, as smoke swirls around the potential of Matt Rhule taking the Husker job.
It comes after Kansas head coach Lance Leipold got a contract extension and the announcement that Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer — who is from the Midwest but has a passing style that may not suit NU — also got a contract extension.
When other coaches start getting paid to stay in their current jobs, one pays attention.
It pointed to Wednesday, when Nebraska obviously had no intention of announcing anything, so of course the volume was turned up for the third time on Rhule, the 47-year-old former Temple-and-Baylor head coach who was fired at the started this year by the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
Rhule made a few media appearances this week, specifically speaking about his desire to return to coaching next year rather than spend a season raising money from the Panthers, who owe him more than $40 million.
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“I just want to impact people,” Rhule said on NFL Network Wednesday. “Every time it comes, I don’t know when it will be, but I have my son pushing me – let’s go here, let’s go there. It could be Monday, it could be in two years. But when it comes, I’ll be ready.
Rumors about Rhule have been circulating on message boards, Twitter and elsewhere for weeks. Rhule is absolutely in that top group of candidates, according to one source, clearly ahead of Leipold, who was also in the top group. Rhule can recruit, enchant press and boosters, and generally seems approachable, chatty, straightforward. East coast guys tend to be.
Rhule is also the only guy in that top group who doesn’t have a game to coach. He won’t even have a game to coach next week. The extent of his interest and coaching wish list is known.
What other jobs can he take? Auburn? The Tigers seem to be in love with Lane Kiffin. State of Arizona? Kids growing up in Arizona don’t want to play in the state, and anyone who doubts that can look through Arizona’s prospect recruiting services listings. Colorado? Come on, come on. Other jobs that haven’t opened yet? Sure, but those jobs haven’t opened yet. There is nothing to compare Nebraska to.
Maybe NU has it locked down, done, and ready to announce late on Friday or Saturday, with a Sunday or Monday press conference.
Some university employees were told last week, according to a separate source, that they were ready on 24-hour notice to host high-profile boosters and administrative leaders at a post-press function if needed.
If it’s Rhule, then he must have won some concessions in the last few weeks, right? The details of the contract are worth looking into, especially what a guy like Rhule owes to Nebraska if he leaves after four or five years.
He’s done it twice, at Temple and Baylor. It’s also worth examining whether Rhule’s impressive process to rehabilitate bad college teams, which he’s done twice, works as a five-, 10-, 20-year plan.
Rhule would waste little time redoing any program he oversees. He is motivated and has ideas.
Nebraska is able to overpay for what it wants in a coach. Money, Alberts said earlier, is not an issue. Does Rhule have top-level offensive coaches in mind? He will need it; the Big Ten is a coaching league.
If Rhule is N, then it is N, but if Nebraska chooses to kick any other rubber, the list starts with Kansas State’s Chris Klieman and Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell.
Why would Klieman, playing for a spot in the Big 12 league, leave a job with a lower cap but higher rate of return in Manhattan for Nebraska?
First, NU can pay generational money. Secondly, Klieman likes to win championships. He has won four FCS National titles in the state of North Dakota. He has so far averaged seven hits a year at K-State. Obviously Nebraska should be modest in its initial goals for any new head coach. But you know NU’s intention. Does the state of Kansas have the same intent?
Fickell was in the College Football Playoff. He dipped his toe in the water with Michigan State before pulling it out a few years ago, when it would be fair to say the Spartans’ athletic department was in a bad mood over the Larry Nassar scandal. Why Nebraska?
It would be the Big Ten, for example. He’d have all the bells and whistles for recruiting for two. The Bearcats are ranked third in their hometown, behind the Bengals and Reds, and bottom of the list in their home state. Cincinnati is not and never will be Ohio State, Fickell’s alma mater. And the work of the OSU is not open.
Fickell isn’t likely to strike up any conversation until after Friday’s game against Tulane, and maybe not until after Cincy is done with a title game in the American Athletic Conference, which the Bearcats will soon fold.
It’s tricky timing with both guys. Either way, Nebraska can’t sell the recent hit any better. He has to sell the expected success to the right coach who can leverage all the benefits in a winning formula.
If Nebraska would consider coaches still committed to their current teams, is the fan base willing to wait? Are they university boosters and executives? The whole “transfer portal and signing day frame!” the narrative may be a bit overblown — Nebraska is expected to keep its class of 2023 small and proceed wisely with transfers — but the search began in September with the express purpose of being ready to make this rental after the second Black Friday ends.
Imagine the scene in a week, without a coach. Again, I wouldn’t see that as a big deal. Not when you’re making a decade-long decision. But others might.
Is a Rhule in hand worth many other candidates still in the bush?
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