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Matt Rhule Looks to Rebuild Baylor Football On and Off of the Field

Matt Rhule, Baylor Bears Football

Matt Rhule, Baylor Bears Football

Matt Rhule was only too happy to talk on a cool Central Texas morning. It was better than the alternative: unloading the U-Haul that had pulled up to his new Waco home just a couple hours earlier. It’s not like he had any help, either. His wife, Julie, was driving south in an SUV from the Philadelphia area with the couple’s three kids and a pair of pets — a dog and a cat.

“She’s driving across the country because she wanted to,” Rhule said, making sure to add that he had told her it wasn’t necessary. “It’s like the Griswolds.”

Though Julie Rhule’s 1,500-mile sojourn could not have been easy — especially with one-year-old Leona and three-year-old Vivienne on board — it may look like a passing drill against air when compared to what her husband faces in his new job with the Bears.

The football aspect might well be the easiest part of Rhule’s new challenge. Heck, he took Temple from a 2–10 record his first year with the Owls to 10–3 and a conference title in his fourth. So, revitalizing Baylor’s program after last year’s crazy season that featured six straight wins, followed by six straight losses and then an improbable bowl blowout of Boise State, shouldn’t be overwhelming.

However, everything else will be quite challenging.

The last 18 months have been unlike any at Baylor or any other school, for that matter. The sexual assault scandal involving several members of the team, the resulting accusations of a cover-up by former coach Art Briles and other staff members, the accusations of institutional neglect and the eventual ousters of Briles, AD Ian McCaw and school president Ken Starr led to a considerable dimming of the Baylor star nationwide.

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Enter Rhule, a big-time optimist and man of high character committed to doing things the right way.

“We always have to be mindful of what happened,” he says. “We don’t want to diminish it. We can’t just say we’re moving forward; we need to learn from it. The [players] have been doing things right and want to do things right. If things happen in the future, we’ll deal with them with honesty and integrity.

“At the end of the day, we want to focus on who we are and not just get caught up in what happened.”

Next to all of the upheaval, shocking revelations and awful behavior, Baylor’s football issues seem almost inconsequential. The Bears must hope either Zach Smith or Arizona transfer Anu Solomon becomes a reliable starting QB, but at least the offensive line and ground game are solid. The defense must tighten up, not the easiest thing in the Big 12. Beyond that, the most important thing that can come from this season is good behavior by all involved. The dismissals of strength coach Brandon Washington (arrested in a prostitution sting) and associate AD of football operations DeMarkco Butler (sending text messages to a teenager) didn’t help Baylor move forward, but Rhule did act decisively. In part because of Rhule’s intolerance for misbehavior, AD Mack Rhoades believes he is the man to make things right again.

“He has complete command of all aspects of the program,” Rhoades says.

“When we looked inside the Temple program, there was a vision and a championship process. Everybody understands what Matt wants to do and is on the same page. There will be accountability in terms of the execution of the process, and Matt is in great command of all aspects.”

How well he maintains that authority — on and off the field — will determine whether Baylor can win games, as well as heal wounds.

Written by Michael Bradley (@JonSolomonAspen) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2017 Big 12 Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2017 season.