December 7th. It’s been exactly one year to the day that Matt Rhule was introduced as the next head coach of the Baylor Bears.
I went back and watched the near hour-long press conference from last year. The Ferrell Center was rocking, the band was playing, and the smiles seemed to never end. There was the ovation for Jim Grobe, a gentleman and class act who handled a nearly impossible situation with as much grace (and admittedly a few flubs) as possible. From interim president David Garland to Athletic Director Mack Rhoades, the excitement in the air was palpable.
“We talked about that goal, that next vision of winning a national championship… that should be our goal as we look forward and we move this program forward, winning a national championship absolutely should be our goal. But we also talked about the kind of person, the man that we were looking for in terms of leading our program,” Rhoades said. “Somebody that was gonna love ’em, love ’em as a football player, but love ’em as a person. Somebody that is extremely demanding that is going to push our student athletes, our young men, to be the best that they can be in everything they do.”
As Rhule took the stage, he was a mixture of excitement and nerves, yet humble and grateful. He was part friend, part caretaker, and part preacher as well. From his delivery and cadence, you could hear it in his delivery. It was impressive.
“If you come to Baylor and if you come to play for me, you’re going to get loved, and you’re going to get developed each and every day… that’s all that we did at Temple, that’s all that we’re going to do at Baylor, because that’s our purpose,” Rhule crowd.
What Rhule added next was probably something that he will look back on and not even realize the magnitude of what he was saying, as it referred to his first year in Waco.
“We’re just going to build. In uncertain times when there is transition, I think you just take your two hands and you start to build… you know it’s going to be hard, you know it’s not going to be easy, you know it takes time, you know it takes energy, you know there is going to be adversity along the way, but you just keep trying to build.”
That’s what Year 1 was all about in Waco. Building. And each and every week, following loss after loss, coach Rhule took his two hands and went to work and built. Sure it didn’t translate to the win column, as Baylor started off 0-8 and finished 1-11. But this team did build every week, players improved, and most importantly, players never gave up, all the way through the TCU game when they were down just two points at halftime to a top ten team.
In Rhule’s press conference, he talked about building a team three ways: building great men, developing their character and as students, and yes, developing them as players.
Now let’s not kid ourselves, football coaches are judged 99% of the time off wins and losses. In the end, that’s their job. But too often, the other part of the job, developing young men, is sacrificed in exchange for wins. We can argue for days whether or not that was the case at Baylor under the previous regime. While I do believe that the allegations spun out of control, and some were not necessarily accurate, the reality is that good judgement and character were sacrificed for wins. To what level, can be debated. But it’s an inexcusable fact.
Under coach Rhule, those days are over. While it didn’t lead to the kind of season Baylor coaches, players or fans wanted, the future remains bright: 32 different freshmen or sophomores started a game for Baylor throughout the season. In the Texas Tech game, freshmen and sophomores accounted for 98.7 percent of the Bears’ total offense (516 of 523), with freshman QB Charlie Brewer leading the way. There are transfers who sat out this year like Jalen Hurd and James Lockhart ready to take the field next fall.
Wins are coming to Waco, but most importantly, the foundation built on character and good men is already there. That’s just as important as Baylor continues its rebuild.
And for any doubters, I’ll remind you of this line from Rhule’s introductory press conference, when Mack Rhoades said, “This was a text I received today from a high school football coach: ‘Good morning. As a football coach in the state of Texas for 40 years and from one that loves Baylor and Waco, along with our great state, GREAT job on bringing on a favorite study of mine to be the head football coach at Baylor University. He’s a class act. The Bears did well.’ He builds teams, he brings toughness, and he will prepare champions for life.”
Remember, start with champions for life, and the champions on the field will come.