Why NFL Teams Should Approach Rhule With Caution

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Current Baylor HC Matt Rhule is drawing a ton of interest from NFL teams. Keep reading below to see why I believe he may not be the homerun hire fans say he is!

The Culture Builder

Matt Rhule has been an excellent college coach. An owner of a 47-42 record, the NY-native has inherited two programs in awful spots (Temple in 2013 and Baylor in 2017) and turned both into 10-win programs after only two seasons at each place. That’s phenomenally impressive, especially when you consider that each university was in a situation where recruiting would be made difficult. Temple, namely because of its location (if you don’t know, I suggest you visit North Philly soon) and lack of football pedigree, then Baylor, who was coming off a terrible scandal that warded off many recruits and parents. Despite all that, Matt still excelled. That’s what you call a Culture Builder.

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Rhule speaks to media in 2015 while at Temple. Credit: NBC Sports

So, just how important is that in the NFL, and does it translate? It’s certainly meaningful, but not nearly as important as it is in college. Why? In college, recruiting is king. It literally controls how much talent your team has, and indirectly, how much talent your rivals don’t have. How do you recruit? You must go into a high school kid’s home, and convince his parents that you’re the right guy to “not only make your son a great football player but an even better man.” 

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. Because just about every college coach ever says some derivative of that same corny line to every recruit’s parents. And therein lies the problem. To successfully build a culture, a coach must get his players to buy what he’s selling. And corny one-liners like that may sell to 18-year-old kids who make no money and want to play ‘ball, but good luck trying to sell that to grown men, mainly when those grown men are millionaires who are not that much younger than you (Rhule is 44).

Does this mean Rhule won’t be able to get an NFL locker room to buy in? Absolutely not. But in order to do so, he’ll likely have to change his whole sales pitch.

Not A Play-Caller

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OU HC Lincoln Riley. Credit: The Spun

Matt Rhule does not call his own plays at Baylor.

In today’s NFL, offense rules, look at the Baltimore Ravens. Last year, the Ravens were the number one defense in the NFL and were a fringe playoff team. This year, after Greg Roman remade the offense to suit Lamar Jackson, they’re Super Bowl favorites. When the Rams hired offensive wiz-kid Sean McVay, they went from 4-12 to 11-5 in one offseason. Look at Matt Ryan’s numbers with and without Kyle Shanahan. The former Texas WR has also turned the 49ers into Super Bowl contenders with his offensive scheme. Andy Reid’s and Sean Payton’s teams are almost always locks to at least contend for the playoffs every season. None of this is by accident.

Matt Rhule is a former Penn State linebacker and does indeed have experience calling plays. He served as Temple’s OC from 2008-2011. In those years, the Owl’s offense steadily improved from 103rd in 2008, 94th in ’09, 86th in ’10, to 68th in 2011. So although there was an improvement, their offense was never anything special.

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Despite a porous OL, Kingsbury (pictured) still developed a Top 10 rushing offense with Arizona. Credit: AZ Sports

Due to this reason, the NFL has obviously shown a preference for “calling up” an offensive innovator like Kliff Kingsbury. Furthermore, I believe Lincoln Riley, the mastermind behind two straight Heisman Number 1 overall picks, is a much better HC prospect.

Rhule of Play: In Conclusion

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Elite Culture Builder Nick Saban roams the sidelines of Miami. Credit: PFT

Matt Rhule is an intriguing NFL head coaching prospect. The guy says all the right things but frequently comes off as corny. He’s labeled an elite Culture Builder. But so is Nick Saban, and although that’s made Nick a college football all-timer, it only got him a 15-17 record in the NFL. Despite the fact Rhule has called plays, no one’s ever tabbed him as an innovator.

Is all this to say Rhule won’t have success in the NFL? Certainly not. Pete Carroll proved you can have success coming from college, even if you don’t have an offense-based background. But to do so, I believe he’ll need to change his motivational tactics a bit, in addition to making sure he has a good NFL play-caller as OC.


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