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Nebraska Football: Why the Cornhuskers Should Hire Matt Rhule

Former Panthers head coach Matt Rhule

The firing of an NFL head coach often doesn't register in college coaching searches. However, that wasn't the case on Monday after Carolina fired Matt Rhule after 38 games in charge of the Panthers. Rhule's desire to take another job as opposed to live the buyout life for a year or two remains uncertain. But while Colorado, Georgia Tech or Arizona State might have interest in Rhule, there's one program that makes the most sense for a return to the sidelines in college: Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers were the first team to pull the plug on their coach after Scott Frost was fired after a loss to Georgia Southern in Week 2, and new athletic director Trev Alberts needs to get this hire right to get Nebraska back into contention for the West Division crown (while divisions exist in the Big Ten at least) or at least in the mix for winning seasons.

The search to replace Frost is largely considered to be a wide open, but Kansas' Lance Leipold or Iowa State's Matt Campbell have generated the most buzz in early speculation. Although both would be a good fit and hire by Alberts, a case can be made for Rhule over both and here's why:

Nebraska Football: Why the Cornhuskers Should Hire Matt Rhule

Available Right Now
No, availability doesn't equal success or excellence. Nor should Rhule's recent firing or ability to work right now interfere with the overall fit or plan for success. However, in the new era of college football with roster management and navigating the transfer portal and early signing period, having a coach in place as soon as possible is a huge plus. In other words, if Nebraska wants to hire Rhule, it can do so well before the December signing period and let him begin to evaluate the roster and get a jump start on recruiting.

Track Record of Rebuilding Programs
Rhule is two-for-two in college at rebuilding programs. Steve Addazio went 4-7 in the year (2012) before leaving for Boston College, so Rhule wasn't necessarily inheriting a full deck. After a 2-10 mark in his debut with the Owls ('13), Temple went 6-6 in the following season and finished with back-to-back 10-win campaigns in the next two years. The '16 team finished 10-3 with Rhule on the sidelines, won the AAC title, and ranked No. 24 in the final Associated Press poll.

Rhule parlayed his success at Temple for a stint at Baylor, which was the catalyst for his jump to the NFL. The Bears went 1-11 in Rhule's first year, but the groundwork was set for improvement the following year - especially off the field after cleaning up a mess left behind by Art Briles.

Baylor showed marked improvement in Rhule's second year with a 7-6 finish and went 11-3 in '19. That team ended the year at No. 13 in the final rankings after a close loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game and a 26-14 defeat to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Nebraska isn't at rock bottom, but Rhule's experience in building a strong team culture and shaping the program vision, as well as rebuilding back to winning seasons, is certainly a plan that would work well in Lincoln. 

Recruiting and Player Development
Roster talent is far from Nebraska's biggest problem right now. According to the 247Sports rankings, the Cornhuskers averaged a 24.2 mark in national recruiting in the last five years, which is the best among teams in the Big Ten West. Yet, this program is just 15-32 in Big Ten games since '17. Nebraska hasn't posted a winning overall record since '16, which was also the last time the program earned a bowl trip. 

Baylor's three recruiting classes under Rhule ranked No. 29, No. 36 and No. 40. Included in those hauls were three-star recruits that emerged as key contributors like offensive lineman Xavier Newman-Johnson, running back Trestan Ebner, quarterback Charlie Brewer, running back Abram Smith, linebacker Terrel Bernard and safety Jalen Pitre. Standout offensive lineman Connor Galvin was a four-star recruit in the '18 haul, while the '19 class features a handful of players who are key contributors for the '22 squad.

Nebraska has some challenges in recruiting (namely not enough in-state talent and having to recruit out-of-state or get prospects to Lincoln). However, this is still a program that should be able to ink classes that rank among the top 15-25 in FBS, deploy NIL successfully, and mine the portal as needed. Rhule's track record of finding undervalued prospects or getting the most out of his roster would be a huge step forward for Nebraska.

Final Analysis

College football's coaching carousel is already in full swing with five jobs open and more likely to join the mix in the coming weeks. Of those currently open, Nebraska is arguably the most attractive on the market. There's pressure on Alberts to get this hire right in what could be a move that make-or-breaks his tenure as the athletic director at his alma mater. 

Rhule may opt to sit out this year and enjoy some time away from the sidelines. But if his track record in college holds, a knack for developing talent and recruiting successfully, knowing how to turn around programs or how to build a winner, would all be traits that would seemingly translate well to Nebraska. The deep pockets and willingness to win would allow Rhule to hire a robust off-field staff to help with game prep or extra assistants for recruiting. Also, Rhule's style of play - solid defense and an offense with the ability to be multiple - would mesh well in Lincoln. 

If Rhule is interested, Nebraska shouldn't wait long to get the contract signed and officially begin a new era of Cornhusker football.