With Baylor coach Matt Rhule’s contract extended to 2028, athletic director Mack Rhoades believes the football program has an opportunity to become one of the nation’s elite.

Of course, the Bears have a long road before they reach that standard.

But progress has been evident with the Bears rising from 1-11 in Rhule’s 2017 debut season to 7-6 and a Texas Bowl win in 2018 to a 4-0 start this season. Following last weekend’s 23-21 win over Iowa State at McLane Stadium in the Big 12 opener, Baylor will face Kansas State on Saturday in Manhattan, Kan.

Rhoades cited the ascension of Clemson’s program to a two-time College Football Playoff national champion as a model for success in building a football program the right way.

“I believe we can build this program to where when you think of the national programs, the top five national programs, Baylor can be listed amongst those five,” said Rhoades during Monday’s press conference. “It was seven years, I believe, before they (Clemson) went to a CFP. It takes some time, it takes some consistency, it takes some stability, it takes resources. But I really believe that is where this program is going, and that’s the vision for the program, and I certainly believe Coach Rhule is the one to help us get there.”

Rhoades knows other universities and NFL teams will continue to show interest in hiring Rhule as the Bears become more successful. He said the contract extension shows the university’s commitment to Rhule, who originally signed a seven-year contract in December 2016.

The Indianapolis Colts interviewed Rhule following the 2017 season before the New York Jets interviewed him for their head coaching vacancy following the 2018 season.

“Bottom line, we know Matt Rhule is an elite coach and other people know that,” Rhoades said. “We’ve got past experience, right? People are going to continue to knock on our door or on his door. So trying to do this in a proactive way also made great sense.”

Rhoades said Rhule’s contract includes an “aggressive” buyout clause, though he didn’t specify the amount.

“If somebody has decided that for them and their family it’s best to move on to another opportunity, to hold them hostage to stay at your place for a buyout, I don’t think that makes sense for anybody,” Rhoades said. “Now with that said, a buyout is important. It’s important for, if that person decides that ‘hey, you know what, my family and I feel like it’s best to move on or go somewhere else,’ that we’re protected financially in terms of transition, in terms of attracting the next person, all of those things.”

Rhule said Monday that he’ll probably have other coaching options, but he believes a long-term contract tells recruits that he’s committed to Baylor.

“I hope it tells recruits that yeah, you know what, I’ll probably have other options, I’ve had other options, our coaching staff has had other options, we’re not forced to be here,” Rhule said. “We love to be here because this is a great place and I want recruits to know that. They all have other options, but if they come to Baylor it’ll be one of the best decisions of their life. I’ve now made that decision twice, you know I made it the first time (in 2016) and I’ve made it now, and so I hope that is the message in recruiting.”

Taking over a program that had been depleted by a sexual assault scandal, Rhule hasn’t just built Baylor’s program on the field, but has cleaned it up off the field.

Rhule has stressed the importance of players participating in community service projects. He has had 41 academic All-Big 12 selections in his first two seasons at Baylor, the most in program history. The Bears ranked second among all 2018 bowl teams with 24 graduates and feature 14 graduates on the 2019 roster.

“This idea of preparing Champions for Life and our four pillars, Matt and his program really embody that and embrace that,” Rhoades said. “He’s got great people with him. I’ve been doing this for now 20 years, and there’s something to be said for coming to work each and every day, and enjoying the people that you’re in the trenches with, and I do. I enjoy being in the trench with Coach Rhule.”

Rhoades began having discussions about an extension during the past summer, which led to Rhule signing the contract last week before Saturday’s game against Iowa State. Baylor made the announcement Sunday night.

“I felt like right now our program has a lot of momentum,” Rhoades said. “Certainly having an inside look and working with Coach Rhule and his staff for the last 2½ years, I just really believe in the process and where the program is headed and the trajectory. So I just felt like this is the right time. I think for it to be the right time, both parties have to have willing hearts, and I really felt that was the case.”

Rhule said he and his family have come to embrace the Waco community and he has particularly enjoyed the players he’s coached. He also credited Baylor President Linda Livingstone for the administration’s support and Rhoades for his vision for the athletic program.

“People have welcomed us and done nothing but help us get the program moving in the right direction,” Rhule said. “So we’re grateful for that and then excited about the opportunity for many, many more years. I always look at life not in terms of places, but in terms of people and partnerships and the football program. The athletic department would not be where it is without Mack Rhoades and he has tremendous vision, but he also grinds it out.”

BEAR FACTS – Baylor senior linebacker Clay Johnston was named Big 12 defensive player of the week while redshirt freshman kicker John Mayers was named co-special teams player of the week.

Johnston recorded 13 tackles in Baylor’s win over Iowa State with one sack and two pass breakups. Mayers hit the game-winning 38-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining. It was the first field goal of his college career.

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