Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Should the Redskins look to the college ranks for their new head coach?
The 5 o’clock club is published several times per week during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
I’m not looking at this as a one-off article; I intend to write a series of fill-in-the-blank articles over the coming weeks: Who is ____________ and why should he be the next head coach of the Washington Redskins.
Today I’m looking at the head coach of the Baylor Bears, Matt Rhule.
Click here to see other articles in the Who is ____________ and why should he be the next head coach group of articles
I know, I know… don’t let Bruce Allen be involved in the search for a new head coach, blah, blah, blah.
The fact is, the Washington Redskins head coaching position is vacant and will need to be filled in the coming weeks. I’ve looked at three candidates already, two offensive coordinators, Eric Bieniemy and Greg Roman, and the defensive-minded former head coach of the Panthers, Ron Rivera.
Today’s profile focuses on Matt Rhule, who has spent most of his time coaching in college. Normally, I’m not a fan of hiring college coaches as head coaches in the NFL, but I don’t really mind so much if they have NFL coaching experience, which Rhule does, though that experience is limited to a single year as a position coach with the New York Giants.
As a head coach in college, he has twice taken over struggling programs and turned them around:
I’ve seen speculation from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated that, if Shurmer and Gettleman are both let go at the end of the season, then Rhule’s name would be at the top of the list for the Giants head coaching job.
Tom, if Pat Shurmur and Dave Gettleman are gone, I’d put Baylor’s Rhule at the very top of the list. But after what Rhule went through last year with the Jets, I’m told that Rhule is going to be very careful about where he goes in pursuing his goal of becoming an NFL head coach—which means the Giants’ job might take some convincing. Rhule worked for the Giants in 2012, so he knows what’s right and what’s wrong about that place.
I also believe it’d be hard for Rhule, as a native New Yorker, to say no to the Giants—similar to my thinking that it’d be hard for Lincoln Riley to say no to the Cowboys.
So, Breer likes Rhule to the Giants IF the franchise dumps both the current head coach and GM. Shurmer’s firing seems inevitable at this point, but reports are split over Gettleman’s future. One article this week reported that Gettleman was in danger of losing his job, citing questionable trades and free agency decisions, confusing roster construction, and bad decisions in hiring coaches. Just two days later, the same publication printed a story saying that, while Shurmer would probably be fired, Gettleman was probably safe.
I have also seen Rhule’s name linked to the opening that so many people expect to become available in Dallas. It seems that everyone is expecting Jerry Jones not to renew Jason Garrett’s contract at the end of the season. Furthermore, the expectation is that Jerry will look to the college ranks for Garrett’s replacement, with Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and ex-Ohio State coach Urban Meyer at the top of Jerry’s list. Rhule, however, could be a dark horse candidate.
So, Rhule’s name has already been linked to two potential NFC openings. Is he a good fit for the NFC East job that is actually vacant right now in Washington?
A better question might be: is the job a good fit for Matt Rhule?
The quote from SI’s Albert Breer above alludes to Rhule’s experience with the Jets a year ago. After dumping Todd Bowles, the Jets front office cast a wide net that reportedly included former Packers HC Mike McCarthy, Matt Rhule, former Dolphins coach Adam Gase, former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken, Cowboys defensive backs coach Kris Richard, and former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, who ended up getting hired by the Arizona Cardinals.
Though initial reports had Mike McCarthy as the front-runner for the job, on Jan 9 it was reported that the Jets had chosen Rhule as their new head coach.
Well, not so fast.
By 11 January, reports surfaced that Rhule had turned down the Jets.
SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano reported that Rhule withdrew his name from the running after the Jets wanted him to choose his coaching staff from a list of assistants they would provide.
Rhule, without naming the Jets specifically, appeared to confirm that — or at the very least, made his philosophy about accepting a head coaching job very clear.
”I don’t want to say anything about THAT job … at the end of the day, I’m never going to be in an arranged marriage,” he said on ESPN 1660 in Dallas. “I’m never going to sub-contract out jobs for offense and defense. I’m always going to hire people I believe in … and are going to do things our way.”
The Jets, of course, went on to hire Adam Gase in a bit of an awkward situation that hasn’t really gotten much better for them.
Given this experience, I wonder how Matt Rhule would feel about the Washington Redskins. After all, Jay Gruden, when he was hired, seemed to be saddled with Shanahan’s former Defensive Coordinator, Jim Haslett. I mean, I guess Jay might’ve wanted Haslett, but I’ve always assumed that Dan & Bruce pressured him to keep the DC, along with Jacob Burney and Raheem Morris rather than firing the entire defensive staff, in an effort to save a bit of cash
Is Rhule the kind of guy who would willingly leave the Baylor program to come to the Redskins, where he will likely be pressured to make it work with Dwayne Haskins, and where, if history offers any guidance, he could also be under pressure to keep OC Kevin O’Connell, and possibly some other coaches as well?
I have to imagine that Rhule, who was willing to walk away from the Jets in a highly public way last season, would either steer clear of a franchise with the Redskins’ history and reputation, or would be in a position to demand quite a lot if they wanted to hire him.
To my mind, while Rhule clearly has demonstrated his talent, and while he certainly has expressed interest in coaching in the NFL, the 44-year-old Rhule is likely to be one of the hottest head coaching candidates on the market come January, and, while he may not be everyone’s first choice, is likely to have options, including the option to simply remain coaching in the college ranks.
But, assuming that the Redskins and Rhule have mutual interest, what would make him an appealing candidate for the job?
Well, one Redskins player, at least, will be familiar with Rhule. Matt Ioannidis played at Temple from 2012-15, and would have played under Rhule for the D-lineman’s final three years of college. If Ioan-man is representative of the kind of players Matt Rhule’s coaching produces, then I’d be all for that.
But it is the ability to take on a situation that is in disarray and fix it that appeals most to me.
The Owls went 2-10 in his first season at Temple, but he finished his time there with two straight Bowl trips and two 10-win seasons. Baylor, meanwhile, went from 1-11 in his first season to 7-6 and a berth in the Texas Bowl a year later. This year’s verson of the Baylor team is 11-2 and currently ranked 7th in the nation, and Matt Rhule has been named the Big-12 coach of the year for the second consecutive year.
“What Matt Rhule has done at Baylor is truly extraordinary,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “He is a special guy with special values for the job that needed to be done there. I’m really happy for him because (Baylor athletic director) Mack Rhoades has invested in him and the university community has invested in him.”
It’s important to understand where Baylor was when Rhule was hired.
From 2012 to 2016, Baylor was rocked by a sexual assault scandal which resulted in the dismissal of head coach Art Briles, as well as the resignations of Athletic Director Ian McCaw, the University President Kenneth Starr, and the Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford. As of 2017, at least 31 victims are suing the university claiming 52 allegations of rape which happened by football players.
The Big 12 Conference conditionally withheld $6 million from Baylor’s yearly payout until Baylor could certify changes were implemented. In a 2017 lawsuit, alleged victims suing the university alleged that from 2011 to 2014 at least 31 football players committed at least 52 rapes.
The situation was ugly, and the university, after parting ways with Briles in 2015, turned to longtime college head coach, Jim Groh, who got the football team through a difficult 2016 season, but Groh was not the long-term answer for Baylor, and so Rhule was lured away from Temple to take over the ailing Baylor program in 2017.
Months after their highest ranking in school history (Baylor would go on to finish 10-3[in 2015]) the university was rocked with a sexual assault scandal that directly involved the football program.
Coach Art Briles was fired as allegations claiming that the football team acted above the rules were released. A season later, the rest of his staff cleared out – many carrying the stigma they picked up for their alleged involvement in the scandal to other schools.
Briles was shunned from college football while more and more layers of the story unraveled and has finally landed at a high school about 200 miles northeast of Baylor, where he’s already facing more controversy as the head coach at Mount Vernon.
Briles, his staff and the scandal that lingered over the university for years finally seem like distant memories as third-year head coach Matt Rhule and his Baylor Bears are in the national spotlight for the right reasons.
Rhule took over the Baylor program in 2016 with the enormous task of rebuilding after the scandal.
The football team was shrouded in controversy as more and more lawsuits emerged.
He had players jumping ship and transferring, recruits who were weary of joining a team that could potentially face NCAA sanctions and school with a reputation that was hard to shake.
It was a tough time, but Baylor was working intently on turning things around.
From revamping its Title IX office to replacing university leaders in a lot of areas – the university president and athletic director among them – Baylor appears to be committed to making things better overall, which is the right way to move forward after such a horrible stretch.
Hiring Rhule was one of the changes the school made.
And it’s turned out to be a smart one.
The former Temple coach was far removed from Baylor.
He brought in a new staff and a new look.
Rhule started his tenure with transparency, lofty goals and big challenges.
Rhule has done a phenomenal job at Baylor, and has earned the right to move on to the next big challenge.
In the NFL, challenges don’t come much bigger than the current Washington Redskins franchise.
- Washington has no head coach, no GM, an apparently lame-duck President and probably the worst owner in the league.
- On the field, the Redskins have limped to a 3-10 season and have lost seven straight NFC East divisional games, dating back to last year. The team’s first round draft pick, Dwayne Haskins, is a project, who, statistically, at least, has been among the worst signal callers on the field in the league this season.
- The offensive line has huge issues. The Trent Williams situation was mishandled throughout the past several months, Morgan Moses has regressed horribly, and neither Scherff nor Flowers are under contract beyond the end of this season.
- A look at the largest cap hits on the team shows Alex Smith, who may never play football again, Josh Norman, who has been benched for his terrible play this season, Ryan Kerrigan, who is 31-years-old, injured, and losing productivity, Jordan Reed, who never saw the field this season, and whose career may be over in any event, Paul Richardson, who has been an injury-prone JAG receiver since signing a 5-year, $40m deal a season ago, Morgan Moses, who has been a penalty machine, and who seems to have forgotten how to block, and Vernon Davis, whose Hall-of-Fame career appears to have already come to a quiet end in Washington with his concussion earlier this season.
Is Matt Rhule the man to step up and help put it all right?
Well, I like a lot of the things I hear about him. “lofty goals”, “big challenges”, and “transparency” all sound appealing to my ears.
His age, to me, is a big plus. At 44, Rhule has enough years to give him a history of accomplishment in more than one situation and an air of authority that is needed by a head coach. At the same time, 44 is young-ish for an NFL head coach, and indicates that he may have the kind of energy needed to take on a job as big as NFL head coach, especially in light of what he was able to accomplish so quickly at Baylor.
He also seems to be more of a head coach than someone who is identifiably oriented towards either offense or defense, as his history as a position coach has seen him on both sides of the ball, though he was the offensive coordinator at Temple before being rehired to the head coaching position.
His entire experience with the Jets last year also impresses me. He stuck to his guns and said ‘no’ to the NFL job that was offered when he didn’t think the situation was right, and then went back to Baylor and accomplished even more than he had in 2018.
All in all, Matt Rhule looks like a smart, dedicated, principled, disciplined, high energy coach who is capable of succeeding in difficult situations.
Despite my usual aversion to college coaches, I wouldn’t be unhappy to see him hired as the next coach of the Washington Redskins.