In speaking with Baylor fans in recent days and weeks, I was shocked to learn that there is a faction of fans who are actually upset with new head coach Matt Rhule. My jaw nearly dropped to the floor when I heard this news. I thought to myself, “how could anyone be so delusional?”
My feelings reemerged on Tuesday when Matt Rhule announced that senior offensive lineman Ish Wilson and junior defensive back Jourdan Blake had been dismissed from the program.
Rhule noted that neither dismissal was related to anything criminal, but had a fantastic line, adding, “This isn’t Matt Rhule’s standard of behavior, this is Baylor’s standard of behavior.”
It’s those kind of comments from Rhule that should instill faith in Baylor football getting back to being, not just a good football program, but a football team comprised of decent young men. Power 5 college football teams are never going to be littered with choir boys. No one living in the real world expects that. But Rhule is setting a standard off the field that raises the bar from the previous regime.
Regardless of what you believe regarding the extent of allegations and criminality under the Art Briles regime, clearly there were things going on that alumni and fans should be embarrassed by.
We all know college football is driven by wins and losses, which in turn, drives more money into the universities for not just athletics, but also academics, research, infrastructure improvements and much more. College football is big business. Art Briles took Baylor to places the football team had never been before, winning at least ten games in four of his last five seasons, and nearly making the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014.
When ESPN’s College GameDay began in 1993, it took 20 years for the show to feature a Baylor game, when the Bears played at Oklahoma State in 2013. One year later, the show was in Waco for Kansas State at Baylor. And then the following year, 2015, College GameDay was once again in Waco for Oklahoma at Baylor. Michigan State and South Carolina were the only other schools to receive visits from GameDay in both 2014 and 2015.
So, as the Bears sit at 0-5 to start the 2017 season, some fans may get nostalgic to just a couple of years ago when Baylor football was nationally relevant. However, the big picture is so much more important.
Also remember, Baylor’s program, especially the 2016 recruiting class, was decimated by the Briles fall out last year. Rhule pulled off a minor miracle landing a top-35 recruiting class just weeks after getting the job, largely thanks to a staff that has great Texas high school football ties and his willingness to face the issues within the program head on. Also, Rivals currently has the Bears listed as the 23rd best recruiting class for 2018. Think about how much negative recruiting other coaches are doing against Baylor as we speak, and realize how impressive that is for Rhule and company. Even during Art Briles’ peak, he was not recruiting Top-25 recruiting classes with regularity.
At Big 12 Media Days, Rhule reiterated his theory, adding, “We’re not running from the past, we’re learning from it. We’re committed to getting the wrongs of the past corrected.”
Since arriving on campus, Rhule has done everything he can do to engrain himself into the community, while showing support for other sports and events at the University.
— Matt Rhule (@CoachMattRhule) June 17, 2017
Rhule arrived in Waco from Temple after several other opportunities crossed his desk in Philadelphia. He’s a man of faith as well, something the community desperately needs. Remember his famous line from his press conference in December: “I know people are saying why Matt Rhule and people are saying to me why Baylor. I had some other opportunities. We sat there, my wife and I, in a restaurant in New York City, one phone in one hand, one phone in the other, saying, ‘Where do we go, what do we do? Where are we being called? Where does God want us to be?’ And we looked at each other over a plate of pomzu shrimp and I figured out right then that we’d been called to Baylor.”
Matt Rhule isn’t here to get this team back to steady bowl contention and then skip to his next job. I don’t believe that at all. He’s bought in 100% and his here for the long haul. Rhule’s preference is a smashmouth, run-heavy offensive style and a sturdy defensive line. Unfortunately, this team as is currently put together lacks what it needs to play Matt Rhule football.
When Rhule was hired, I reached out to contacts in Philadelphia where I attended college and worked briefly. Everyone had positive things to say. Then I did the same for those I knew in New York with ties to the Giants. Rave reviews. I came away with the same impression when I interviewed Rhule in December.
The Bears are going through growing pains on and off the field. But anyone who doesn’t appreciate or respect what this program has with Matt Rhule leading the way is living in a fantasy world.
Whether the Bears were 5-0 or 0-5 at the moment, it doesn’t change this: Baylor is lucky to have Matt Rhule. Don’t kid yourself.