When the United States elects a president, the new commander in chief is given 100 days to make a first impression and set the tone for their four-year term.
Here at Baylor, we have our own impression to evaluate. On Dec. 6, 2016, Baylor hired Matt Rhule to be its new head football coach and rebuild a program torn apart by a sexual assault scandal. Rhule had success in his four years as head coach at Temple University, but some wondered if that would translate to Baylor. After his first 47 days here, I am already comfortable saying that Rhule has passed his test with flying colors. In fact, he could not be doing a better job.
Baylor hired Rhule just after the Bears wrapped up a 6-6 regular season. Rhule’s Temple Owls were on the heels of their second consecutive 10-win season and an American Conference championship run. Baylor hired one of the nation’s most promising young coaches, and Rhule moved to a school he felt called to and where he thought he could win championships.
However, opposing fan bases and even experts in the media doubted that Baylor and Rhule would find success. At the time, Baylor had exactly one player in the 2017 recruiting class committed to the school. Most other schools had 15 or 20 by then. There was also skepticism about Rhule having never coached in Texas, thus lacking the “Texas ties” to high school programs around the state, a perceived necessity in recruiting.
Rhule’s answer was simple — he hired three Texas high school football coaches for his staff, including the president of the Texas High School Football Coaches Association. With the “Texas ties” issue taken care of, Rhule and his staff turned their attention to building a recruiting class.
Following a “dead period” which prohibits in-person contact between coaches and recruits, Rhule and his staff had roughly one month to put together a full class by the Feb. 1 national signing date. Pitching a family atmosphere and the promise of preparing players for the NFL, the charismatic Rhule has now stocked the 2017 class with 20 commitments. In a month. This past weekend’s official campus visits led to six commitments on Sunday alone. That number is unheard of for any program, let alone a school nursing a damaged reputation and recruiting on an extremely abbreviated schedule.
The commitments include state champions, unheralded diamonds in the rough and players who flipped their commitments from schools like Ole Miss, Colorado and USC. These recruits won’t just be rebuilding Baylor on the field though. Players such as offensive lineman Jason Moore, an aspiring doctor who chose Baylor over multiple Ivy League schools, will be tasked with reviving a positive image of Baylor football off the field.
In addition to setting a foundation for Baylor’s future, Rhule has also won over the Bears on the current roster. Players like junior linebacker Taylor Young have already publically endorsed their new coach. The upbeat and dedicated coaching staff has pumped new energy into the program. Players have already noticed an increased closeness among the team and are encouraged by the fresh start and opportunity to impress the new staff.
Matt Rhule hasn’t even coached a practice for Baylor yet, but he has already earned the admiration of Baylor nation and played a major role in the school’s road to recovery. Rhule’s contract with Baylor runs through the 2023 season. When that time comes, I believe that if it was up to them, all Baylor fans would vote that he receive at least four more years.