LINCOLN, Neb. –Matt Rhule said he had plenty of options after being fired by the Carolina Panthers. He could have taken a year off from football or worked in television.
Or he could return to college training. A number of schools contacted him, he said, but only one appealed to him and his family.
Nebraska introduced Rhule as coach Monday, exactly seven weeks after the Panthers fired him five games into his third season. Awaits the daunting task of taking over a team coming off a sixth straight losing season and a program that is a shell of what was once one of the greatest hallmarks of the college game.
“I’m here because it’s the right time, it’s the right time,” Rhule said. “And if I have a message for you: We absolutely can do it. We absolutely can get University of Nebraska football right where it’s supposed to be. It’s going to be tough. It might take time, but It will be done.”
Rhule signed an eight-year, $74 million contract that makes him the third-highest-paid coach in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Michigan State’s Mel Tucker and among the 10 better nationally.
Sporting director Trev Alberts says the contract is 90% guaranteed and part of the compensation is deferred. Rhule will have a pool of $7 million to spend on assistant coaches.
When the Panthers fired Rhule, he 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 ready to sign was a bit of a challenge,” Alberts said, “and there were a few bumps and turns.”
Alberts said there was a period when it looked like the deal would fall apart, but the parties reached an agreement on Thanksgiving morning.
When asked if he thinks he’ll need to spend $9 million a year on a football coach, Alberts said the pay scale is going up in the Big Ten and the SEC due to the dramatic increase in revenue from record television rights deals.
“Let’s be honest, there’s a Power 2 now,” Alberts said. “Certainly not to denigrate any of the other conferences, but that’s kind of where we’re headed. … If we’re going to be serious about Nebraska football competing at the top level of the Big Ten Conference, it’s There will be the resources necessary to acquire this talent.”
Rhule, who was 11-27 in more than two seasons with the Panthers, was hired because of the success he had in his two college head coaching jobs.
It had Temple playing and winning the American Athletic Conference championship in his third and fourth seasons (2015-16). He played Baylor for the Big 12 Championship in his third season (2019) after taking over a Bears program emerging from the sexual assault investigation under Art Briles.
Rhule emphasized tenacity in practices and matches and said the only way to win games is to win the line of scrimmage. The Huskers especially struggled on the offensive and defensive lines.
Rhule, who grew up in New York as a Penn State fan, was a linebacker for the Nittany Lions. He said he watched 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 respected the physical brand of football the Huskers were playing at the time and wanted to bring it back.
About 750 boosters and former players came to 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 performed and fireworks erupted next to 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-plus seasons and never finished above fifth in the Big Ten West.
Rhule’s arrival came three days after the Huskers closed a 4-8 season under Mickey Joseph – named interim coach after Frost was fired on September 11 – and just months before the football facilities opened at $165 million from Nebraska.
“There’s not a game I expect to get into where we don’t expect to win,” Rhule said. “It’s not a burden but a responsibility for me as a coach to know that there will be people across the state who will take the money they’ve earned with their hands and with their work and their daily toil – and they spend it coming to watch 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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