It’s quite understandable that Baylor fans would feel upset and shaken when ESPN reported Wednesday that Matt Rhule has interviewed for the Indianapolis Colts’ head coaching job.
Baylor has arguably been the most unsettled college football program in the country after an ugly sexual assault scandal that has resulted in three head coaches in the last three years.
The last thing Baylor needs is another head coaching change.
While Rhule hasn’t commented on the report, Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades is confident that he’ll continue to be the university’s head football coach for the foreseeable future.
“Matt Rhule is our head coach,” said Rhoades in a statement to the Tribune-Herald on Thursday. “He loves Baylor and is committed to this team. We are excited and preparing for the upcoming season.”
If you sit back and think about it, the idea that Rhule would leave Baylor for an NFL job at this moment is highly unlikely.
Rhule proved he could build a program when he took Temple from a 2-10 record in his first season as head coach in 2013 to 6-6 the next year before a pair of 10-win seasons that led to his hiring at Baylor in December 2016.
But it’s all about timing, and the timing just isn’t right if you’re a coach coming off a 1-11 season like Rhule experienced in his first season at Baylor.
When NFL teams pluck a coach out of the college ranks, it’s usually after a highly successful season, like when the Philadelphia Eagles hired Chip Kelly from Oregon in 2013 following three straight 12-win seasons.
The Seattle Seahawks hired Pete Carroll in 2010 after he won 97 games in nine years at USC, including a pair of national championships. Carroll also had NFL head coaching experience with the New York Jets and New England Patriots before coaching USC.
Instead of pulling coaches from the college ranks, most NFL head coaching vacancies are filled by NFL offensive and defensive coordinators, or current and former NFL head coaches looking for a new job.
Rhule coached in the NFL for one season as the New York Giants assistant offensive line coach in 2012. The other coaches that have reportedly interviewed for the Colts’ vacancy have much more NFL experience.
Josh McDaniels has been the offensive coordinator for the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots the last six years and has previous NFL head coaching experience with the Denver Broncos.
Kris Richard served as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator for the last three seasons and was previously the team’s defensive backs coach for five years.
Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has been coaching in the NFL since 2005. Mike Vrabel was the Houston Texans defensive coordinator this year after serving the last three seasons as the team’s linebackers coach.
Don’t be shocked to hear more names surface as teams bow out of the NFL playoffs, and coaches become free to conduct interviews.
I’ve covered enough coaching searches to know some interviews are more formal than others. Sometimes teams call coaches just to gauge their interest. Sometimes agents for coaches call teams to set up an interview or to get their client’s name in circulation for a job.
Often you don’t hear the name of the coach that ends up with the job until he’s hired. Just think back to the Baylor coaching search in late 2016 when names like SMU’s Chad Morris and Cal’s Sonny Dykes were thought to be major candidates for the Bears’ job. Rhule’s name didn’t come up until he was hired.
While I don’t doubt that an NFL coaching job intrigues Rhule, I agree with Rhoades that he’s committed to building Baylor’s program. Though Rhule suffered through a one-win debut season, the Bears were competitive in many of the games before their youth and lack of depth prevented them from finishing off games.
He has already restored integrity to a tarnished Baylor football program by emphasizing the need for his players to have high character off the field.
Despite everything the program has been through, Rhule and his staff have put together two strong recruiting classes that have already begun paying dividends and will continue to do so in the future.
On Thursday afternoon, Rhule met with his Baylor players in a team meeting where he reportedly told them he was staying at Baylor. He later tweeted: “Great team meeting today – these guys are working and you can tell they trust the process.”
That doesn’t sound like a coach who’s planning on leaving anytime soon.