LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Matt Rhule said he has many options after being fired by the Carolina Panthers. He could have taken a year off from football or worked in television.
Or he could go back to college coaching. Several schools have approached him, he said, but only one has appealed to him and his family.
Nebraska introduced Rhule as its coach on Monday, exactly seven weeks after the Panthers fired him five games into his third season. Awaiting him is the daunting task of buying out a team coming off a sixth straight losing season and a program that is a shell of what was once one of the biggest brands in the college game.
“I’m here because this is the right solution, the right time is right,” Rhule said. ”And if I have a message for you: We absolutely can do it. We can absolutely get University of Nebraska football exactly where it should be. Will be difficult. It may take some time, but it will be done.”
Rhule signed an eight-year, $74 million deal making him the third highest paid head coach in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Michigan State’s Mel Tucker and in the top 10 nationally.
Athletic director Trev Alberts said the contract is 90% guaranteed and part of the compensation is deferred. Rhule will have a $7 million pool to spend on assistant coaches.
When the Panthers fired Rhule, he was still owed $34 million on his seven-year contract. Alberts said the Panthers were involved in Rhule’s negotiations with Nebraska.
“Structuring a trade deal that everyone was willing to sign was a bit of a challenge,” Alberts said, “and there were a few snags.”
Alberts said there was a time when it looked like the deal would fall through, but the parties reached a settlement on Thanksgiving morning.
Rhule’s starting salary is $5.5 million and is increasing by at least $1 million each year, reaching $12.5 million if he is still a manager in 2030. When asked if he thought he should spend an average of $9 million per year for a football coach, Alberts said the salary scale is rising in the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference due to the dramatic increase in revenues related to record-breaking broadcast rights deals.
“Let’s be honest, there is now a Power Two,” Alberts said. ”Certainly not to disparage any of the other conferences, but that’s more or less where we’re heading. … If we are serious about having Nebraska football compete at the top level of the Big Ten Conference, there will be resources needed to acquire that talent.”
Rhule, who was 11-27 over two seasons with the Panthers, was hired due to the success he had in his two college head coaching jobs.
He had Temple play and won the American Athletic Conference championship in his third and fourth seasons (2015-16). He had Baylor play for the Big 12 championship in his third season (2019) after taking over a Bears program that emerged from the sexual assault scandal under Art Briles.
Rhule emphasized toughness in practices and games and said the only way to win games is to win the line of scrimmage. The Huskers have particularly struggled on the offensive and defensive lines.
Rhule, who grew up in New York City as a Penn State fan, was a linebacker for the Nittany Lions. Lui said he witnessed the Huskers’ 44-6 Kickoff Classic victory over Penn State in 1983 and was heartbroken when Nebraska beat the undefeated Nittany Lions for the 1994 national title.
Rhule said he respects the physical brand of football the Huskers played back then and that he wants to bring it back.
Approximately 750 boosters and former players showed up at the Hawks Championship Center for a welcome event and press conference. Among them were Governor-elect Jim Pillen, a Republican who played defensive back for the Huskers in the 1970s, and 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers. The band played and fireworks went off beside the podium as Rhule and Alberts entered the building.
Rhule, 47, is the sixth coach to lead the program since College Football Hall of Famer Tom Osborne won or shared three national championships in four years before retiring after the 1997 season.
The Huskers’ most recent conference championship came in 1999 under Osborne’s successor, Frank Solich. Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini and Mike Riley followed before the program bottomed out under Scott Frost, who was 16-31 in four more seasons and never finished higher than fifth in the Big Ten West.
Rhule’s arrival came three days after the Huskers finished a 4-8 season under Mickey Joseph – named interim head coach following Frost’s Sept. 11 firing – and just months before the opening of the $165 million Nebraska football.
“There’s not a game I expect to go into that we don’t expect to win,” Rhule said. ”It is not a burden but a responsibility for me as a coach to know that there will be people from all over the state who will take the money that they have made with their hands and with their work and their daily toil – and they will spend it to come to see our team play. You can’t win every game every year, but you can definitely be a team that people are proud to watch.”
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