Mac Engel

Baylor wins with Rhule, but he needs assist from leadership

New Baylor football coach Matt Rhule arrives in Bear country

Former Temple coach Matt Rhule is introduced at Baylor University as the next football coach. (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).
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Former Temple coach Matt Rhule is introduced at Baylor University as the next football coach. (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).

Baylor surprised college football by enticing Matt Rhule to clean up its football program with a seven-year contract, but the greater feat will be to convince him to stick around.

Landing the former Temple football coach is a major get for Baylor, but this feels like a temporary hire.

Although he spent just one year as an NFL assistant with the New York Giants, he credits Tom Coughlin as having the most influence on his career. Rhule just has the look of an NFL guy who is climbing the ladder in college; Baylor best enjoy this charismatic man while it can.

Nonetheless, despite possessing zero Texas ties, he is the ideal candidate to repair the nation’s most bruised program, provided he has the full support of the administration, fans and alumni. Baylor could not have done better than Matt Rhule. Now it needs to be OK with the fact he’s not Art Briles.

If Rhule is going to work, all of those #CAB shirts and signs will only be useful at the bottom of the “Bear Habitat” where those live bears live on campus.

Before fans, the band, baton twirlers, cheerleaders, the football team and school administrators at the Ferrell Center on Wednesday afternoon, Baylor introduced Rhule, who said all of the right things and in just the right tone. It was the best day for this program in more than a year.

In 2015, Matt Rhule led Temple to its first Top 25 ranking in 36 seasons.

Just like every new coach, Rhule “won” the introductory press conference by saying he “wants to win” and “do it the right way” (just once I wish a new coach would say, “My plan is to break every rule there is in order to win a football game”).

I don’t know if Rhule will win a Big 12 title in Waco, but I do know that a coach who wins football games at Temple University should be hailed as a football genius.

Temple started its football team in 1930, and only three times have the Owls won 10 games — the last two coming under Rhule. It has been one of the most difficult jobs at the FBS level.

It’s not too dissimilar from Baylor’s horrendous history; the program started in 1903, and before 2011, the Bears had one 10-win season. Briles gave the Bears 10 wins in four of the next five years, one of the most impressive coaching feats in the modern era.

Speaking of Briles, Rhule was sure to mention the former head coach by thanking him for bringing the players to Baylor. It drew a nice applause from everyone in attendance.

And this is the hard part for Baylor: there exists a large number of Baylor supporters who remain irate with the school’s decision to fire Briles over the rape scandal that has caused a deep fissure in the school’s support system.

Briles has been gone since June but Baylor is still a mess.

If the people who sported #CAB shirts and hung signs remain vocal and visible, it’s going to make Rhule’s time in Waco all the more needlessly difficult.

In 2015, Matt Rhule led Temple to its first Top 25 ranking in 36 seasons.

It’s the same thing that happened to Bill O’Brien when he was hired away from the New England Patriots to replace Joe Paterno at Rhule’s alma mater, Penn State.

A lot of people at Penn State were upset with the school’s administration when it fired the iconic head football coach for his pitiful and deliberate inaction toward defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who had been molesting young boys for years in State College, Pa.

Rhule actually played for Sandusky as a linebacker from 1994 to ’97.

O’Brien was vocal in his anger toward the loud support for what he called “Paterno people,” and was so upset he left Penn State after just two years to become the head coach of the Houston Texans.

Briles Backers better not treat Rhule like the Paterno People treated O’Brien.

I asked Rhule and director of athletics Mack Rhoads how they can go about repairing the cracks and breaks that exist in the Baylor community.

“You build relationships with people. You invest in the community. You invest in the campus,” Rhule said. “All I can control is what we can control and that’s our effort as a football program.”

Said Rhoads: “We’re going to start building.”

Rhule said he does not know if the program will be hit by sanctions for potential infractions that are being investigated in a narrow probe by the NCAA, which will not impose related to the rape scandal.

“Whatever happens, happens,” Rhule said. “I trust our leadership.”

At Baylor, he is in the minority on this.

I’m too long winded — my dad is a preacher and my mom is Italian.

Baylor football coach Matt Rhule

As is the case at so many other schools, the real leadership at Baylor is now the 41-year-old Rhule. The school and community will heal faster provided he can do what he did at Temple, preferably without a scandal.

He has to hire a new staff.

He is well behind in recruiting — the 2016 class was crushed when Briles was fired and a freeze was in place, keeping the staff from doing much of anything for the class of 2017.

Then he must convince everyone at Baylor to move on.

And, if all goes well, then Baylor must convince him to stay.

Star Telegram sports columnist Mac Engel rips the state of football in Texas (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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