For college football in the state of Texas, we knew that the coaching carousel following the 2016 season would prove pivotal for football in this state and for the Big XII as a conference. After all, this was the offseason in which Tom Herman would be anointed the new king of the University of Texas football program, having hightailed it out of the University of Houston almost as fast as he got here.
Little did we know that the actual pivotal, impactful hire for college football in Texas was taking place right up the road in Waco. You wouldn't have thought so at the time, what with Baylor's program decimated by transfers and fallout from the horrific sexual assault scandal on Art Briles' watch, but newly-hired Bears head coach Matt Rhule would prove to be the 2017 offseason hire that would complete a much more difficult rebuilding job, and take the place alongside Oklahoma as the conference's number two. In his third year, Herman would be an afterthought, going 7-5.
Rhule took the smoldering ashes of the Briles aftermath, and after going 1-11 in his first season, flipped the program upside down in three years, culminating with a Sugar Bowl berth a week ago. Yesterday, the Matt Rhule Era in Waco ended, with Rhule accepting the Carolina Panthers head coaching job:
Sources: Baylor coach Matt Rhule finalizing a deal to become next coach of the Carolina Panthers.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) January 7, 2020
The move to the NFL for Rhule was not surprising, but Carolina as the destination was a big swerve, since most people saw Rhule as the heavy favorite for the Giants' opening, with an obvious connection for Rhule to that organization, considering it's where he held his only previous NFL coaching job (offensive line assistant in 2012).
OK, let's rapid fire some thoughts on this move that will have some profound ripple effects at the college and NFL levels. Here we go....
Matt Rhule did an incredible job at Baylor
It cannot be overstated how incredible a job Rhule did in resurrecting the Bears' football program. Unlike his rebuilding job at Temple, his stop prior to Baylor, where he was merely rebuilding a program that was suffering from bad football (he took them to back-to-back 10 win seasons in 2015 and 2016), the Baylor program had been soaked in the stink of scandal following Briles' ouster. Rhule came in and made sure he won with the right kind of kids, and built an on-field product that was successful, but distinctly different than Briles' high flying aerial attack. The 11-win Bears in 2019 were built on defense and a pro-style offense. Most of all, Rhule left the Baylor program in a condition to where it should be pretty easy to find an eager, upwardly mobile successor.
Speaking of which, where does Baylor go from here?
These things we know about the Baylor program — Rhule leaves behind a talented team with multiple options at quarterback for 2020. Next, at Baylor, the Big XII is a winnable conference for the right head coach. Rhule came within overtime in the conference title game of doing just that. Finally, Baylor will pay BIG for a head coach. Rhule was working under a contract that made him one of the highest paid coaches in the country. Some names to keep an eye on — Joey McGuire (Baylor associate head coach), Josh Heupel (UCF head coach and former Oklahoma QB, ties to Baylor AD Mack Rhoades when both were on staff at Missouri), Joe Brady (LSU passing game coordinator, responsible for the rise of Joe Burrow), and Brian Harsin (Boise State head coach, former OC at Texas under Mack Brown).
Does Carolina fit Rhule's stated criteria?
Rhule was on Adam Schefter's podcast a few weeks back and laid out the criteria for NFL jobs in which he'd have an interest:
“I think A) you need to have a quarterback, and B) you need to have alignment.”
“I don’t think that I would ever want to see myself or any coach in a situation where you’re just subcontracted out for you X’s and O’s knowledge. The teams that have won in college football, the Nick Saban’s the Dabo Swinney’s – and the people that win in pro football in the Mike Tomlin’s and Bill Belichick’s, they run a complete and total program. And everybody, they have different responsibilities, but everybody’s aligned to the same vision.”
“I think what you see when you see coaches coming in and getting fired in college and in the pros after two years, or after a year, that just means that the coach was brought in for his X’s and O’s. He was brought in for his play calling, and that to me is not a recipe for success.”
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The first part, the part where he acknowledges needing a quarterback, is the interesting thing to me, because Carolina has one of the more jumbled situations right now. The incumbent, Cam Newton, has one year left on his deal and is coming off a myriad of injuries over the last few years. Carolina is ripe for a rebuild, and they have the seventh overall pick in the draft. I'm not sure that's a great QB situation, UNLESS you get a seven year deal which allows you to draft one and build. Fortunately, for Rhule, he got a SEVEN YEAR DEAL!
Rhule's staff may have a former Texan flavor to it
At every level of football, hiring is very important, and it appears as though Rhule is going to bring in a face that Texans fans are familiar with to run the offense. According to Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.com, Rhule plans to hire Lions quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan as his offensive coordinator. Texans fans will remember Ryan from his time as quarterbacks coach under Bill O'Brien in Deshaun Watson's first two seasons. He walked away after 2018 for a lateral move to the Lions, but it looks like he may finally get a bump up to a bigger seat, as Rhule's OC. The 47-year-old Ryan worked with Rhule during his one year with the Giants in 2012. Reports are that Rhule also plans to bring his defensive coordinator from Baylor, Phil Snow, with him to Carolina. The 64-year-old Snow served as Rhule’s defensive coordinator at both Temple and Baylor.