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Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer (from left), head coach Matt Rhule and athletic director Mack Rhoades celebrate their bowl win over Vanderbilt. All three will be back next year, after Rhule interview for the New York Jets head coaching job.

With the threat of jumping to the NFL behind him, Matt Rhule is focused on building his Baylor program to a higher level following the success of his 2018 squad.

Rhule was in the mix for the New York Jets’ head coaching position before former Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase was chosen for the job on Wednesday night. The Jets’ job opened when Todd Bowles was fired after compiling a 24-40 record in four seasons.

As he considered the move to the NFL, Rhule thought about all the people his decision would affect. He kept Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades and Baylor President Linda Livingstone informed as he went through the interview process with the Jets.

“It’s just that there are so many people you have to think about,” Rhule said. “It’s such a big decision, not just for yourself but for the university and your staff. You just try to handle things the right way, just handle things appropriately.”

Rhule wouldn’t comment on whether he was offered the Jets’ job, but it was appealing since he grew up in New York City and was a Jets’ fan as a kid. But Rhule said he and his family are happy living in Waco.

“This has been a wonderful place for my family and a place we’ve grown to call home,” Rhule said. “When you look at the place we’re in here in Waco, it’s hard to pull the trigger. We have a nice home in a great neighborhood, our kids are happy, mom and dad are here, and we’ve got our coaches here.”

The discussions with the Jets marked the second straight off-season that Rhule has been approached by an NFL team after talks with the Indianapolis Colts in January 2018.

When asked if Baylor fans should be concerned about his long-term commitment to the university, Rhule said, “I don’t. My job is to make sure I wake up every day and give it my all to be successful. I think I’ve grown to deeply care about these players and have a connection with them. We recruited them and they came to play here. All of that goes into it.”

Rhule believes it’s a selling point to recruits that NFL teams are interested in him and his staff. Not only did he coach in the NFL as an assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants in 2012, defensive coordinator Phil Snow and co-offensive coordinators Jeff Nixon and Glenn Thomas are among the Baylor coaches who have NFL coaching experience.

“I think if I’m a recruit, I would die to play for a coach and coaching staff that have ties to the NFL,” Rhule said. “And that NFL teams think enough of me that they want to come and evaluate me and my assistants at that level, and also look at our players at that level.”

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Baylor coach Matt Rhule has been approached by the Colts last year and the Jets this year about head coach vacancies.

Rhule is excited to get back to preparing Baylor for the 2019 season following a 7-6 finish in 2018 that was capped by a 45-38 win over Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl.

With their six-game improvement from Rhule’s 1-11 debut season in 2017, the Bears matched the biggest improvement among Power 5 teams across the country.

Since most of the players will be back and the Bears play a more favorable schedule, they have a shot to make another leap forward in the fall. But Rhule said improvement will depend on hard work by his players and maintaining the right focus.

“I feel good about our ability to do it, but it comes down to the work we put in and having the attitude we need to do it,” Rhule said. “I hope they feel we’ve made a big improvement, but at the same time continue to work hard and be humble. No one should be satisfied where we’re at. If we have the right mindset, I feel we can make another jump. How big I don’t know. We’ll have to see.”

After signing 19 players in the 2019 class during the early NCAA signing period in December, Rhule and his staff are still looking to add some players for the Feb. 6 national signing date. But they are also moving ahead to recruiting the 2020 class.

“As we look to finishing up the 2019 class, we have a spot or two left,” Rhule said. “We’re getting around the state and evaluating players for 2020. We’ll continue the process of building the team.”

Rhule also has to fill an assistant coaching position after cornerbacks coach Fran Brown took a job at Temple University. Rhule said he won’t likely fill the spot until recruiting is finished during the upcoming weeks.

As talks with the Jets unfolded and eventually ended, Rhule stayed in contact with his players. Now he’s looking ahead to achieving bigger things with them as he enters his third year at Baylor.

“I communicated with a lot of the guys, and even yesterday (Wednesday) I just explained where we were,” Rhule said. “The guys appreciate being told the truth. It’s not like I’m talking to other colleges. But I’m happy that it’s over and I’m back.”

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