Matt Rhule hopes you have questions about Baylor.
In fact, it’s best that you do, the Bears’ new football coach told reporters Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days, taking his turn at the podium at the Ford Center.
“I think any person that’s considering coming to Baylor and coming to be a part of the football program should ask, you know, tell me about what’s happened and tell me about the progress that you guys have made,” Rhule said. “Those are frank and open discussions because, to be honest with you, I’m proud of what we’re doing.”
Baylor is trying to rebuild a reputation harmed by a sexual assault scandal under former coach Art Briles, former athletic director Ian McCaw and former president Kenneth Star. Last week the university settled the first lawsuit in the wake of a report critical of how the Waco school handled a series of rapes blamed on football players.
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“I have honest conversations about every aspect of what’s happened, and I think we have tremendous recruiters because they’re real and they know how to relate to people,” Rhule said.
The 42-year-old coach from New York City, last at Temple and hired by Baylor at season’s end last year, made his debut in front of Big 12 reporters with that message. He used notes in an opening statement that included phrases he wanted to be associated with a new image of Baylor.
“We’re not running from the past, but rather we’re learning from it,” he said. “We’re truly committed to getting the wrongs of the past corrected into a bright new future. We’re committed to our continued cooperation with external and internal reviews of past conduct, which obviously I can’t comment on, but I’m so very confident they will make Baylor better and stronger.”
On the field, Rhule said: “We’re trying to build a program, not a team. We’re building a culture, not an attitude.”
Rhule said he felt called to help Baylor restore its image and become a leader in developing programs to prevent sexual assault.
“If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t learn from it, then what was the point of it?” Rhule said. “I want to move forward, but I want to move forward always acknowledging the past. And you know what, this issue of sexual assault and gender violence, this isn’t a Baylor issue, and this isn’t a college football issue — it’s a higher education issue. ... I confronted the issue day in and day out at Temple. So it’s not because I’m at Baylor. It’s because this is the issue that’s in front of all of us.”
That is one aspect of the challenge Rhule will face in his first year at Baylor. The other is on the field, where his first Bears squad is missing key players from a year ago at quarterback, running back, receiver, cornerback and offensive line.
Additionally, Rhule does not come from an Air Raid background. He faces a transition year not only in players but in scheme.
“I don’t know if we’ll be a smash-mouth team,” he said. “I hope that myself and our staff are smart enough to kind of play to the talent that we have. We have a bunch of fast kids that were recruited to a system, so we’ll make sure we take the best advantage of the talent we have.”
Rhule was 28-23 in four seasons at Temple, including 10-win seasons in 2016 and 2015, and was 0-1 in bowl games. Under Briles, Baylor had two 10-win seasons and two 11-win seasons and was 4-3 in bowl games.
The two parts of his job were not lost on Rhule.
“Success at Baylor is winning football games,” he said. “It’s winning championships. But it’s also graduating our young people and making sure that the men that come through our program know what it truly means to be a man when they leave.”