May 21, 2024

Big Ten Media Days 2023: Matt Rhule wants to restore Nebraska’s reputation as a ‘feared’ program

Nebraska coach Matt Rhule is no stranger to rebuilds. He revived both Temple and Baylor’s football programs before climbing all the way to the NFL ranks. But the Cornhuskers present an entirely new challenge. A program rich in tradition with five national championships, Nebraska has not had a winning season since 2016. Fans around Lincoln are pining for a coach to return Nebraska to the top of college footabll, a fact that Rhule is aware of as he embarks on his newest project. 

“We’re going to go out and try to win every game,” Rhule said at Big Ten Media Days. “I think there’s something bigger for us, though, at Nebraska. There was a time when Nebraska football was feared and we certainly want to get back to that. We want to be a team that you say, ‘You know what, that team’s feared.’ But we’re not at that point yet. We’re at a point right now where I believe that we have to take back the respect of what it means to play Nebraska and to be Nebraska… This season for me is all about us, not just earning, but taking back respect and bringing back respect to Nebraska football. Once you earn respect, you can talk about being feared.”

Rhule’s rebuilds have always been unorthodox. In 2013, he was tasked with guiding Temple as it transitioned from the Big East Conference to the American Athletic Conference. By Year 2, he had the Owls in bowl contention, and from 2015-16 he won 20 games. 

Off the back of his success at Temple, he was hired to restore a Baylor program rocked by a sexual assault scandal that resulted in the dismissal of coach Art Briles and the resignations of athletic director Ian McCraw and president Kenneth Starr. In his first year with the Bears, he won a single game. 

In 2018, Baylor beat Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl and by 2019, it was playing in the Sugar Bowl after capturing a Big 12 Championship. Given his track record, most might expect immediate success with the Huskers, but he was quick to balance expectations. 

“Not letting people get ahead of themselves, that’s the whole key,” Rhule said. “And I’ll say, like, what I love about Nebraska is it’s literally written on the side of the stadium: ‘Day by day.’ That’s the key. So we talk about 42 years — it wasn’t that we ran the ball or ran option or played this defense; it was this mindset from coach (Tom) Osborne, from coach (Bob) Devaney, from coach (Frank) Solich, every little detail matters every single day. 

“We have to earn the right to even talk about playing Minnesota. We have to go to training camp and we have to, every single day, be elite in every single area. That is the whole core of what we try to do, is to block out all the noise and block out all our thoughts and learn from the past, prepare for the future but live in the present.” 

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