By Peter Gleason
As ESPN has reported, there was a near consensus about Baylor’s hiring of Matt Rhule from administrators, coaches and agents gathered for the annual National Football Foundation Hall of Fame dinner.
Born in New York, Rhule went to high school and college in State College, Pennsylvania, and spent the majority of his career in the Northeast, including the past four seasons as Temple’s coach. There’s nothing about his personality or his playing style that screams Texas, which makes Baylor an interesting job for him.
It underscores the question facing successful Group of 5 coaches like Rhule, Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck and South Florida’s Willie Taggart: When Power 5 opportunities present themselves, should they always jump at them?
There are obvious moves for Group of 5 coaches, like Houston’s Tom Herman going to Texas, or Taggart going to Oregon. Baylor has appealing qualities, especially top-notch facilities and strong financial resources, but there are unique challenges after the sexual assault scandal and the rocky transition from former coach Art Briles. Rhule has to build a recruiting class literally from scratch in a new state where high school coaches are still kingmakers. It could easily be a three- or four-year rebuild for him.
This year is an abnormally quiet coaching cycle, so Rhule either could have taken Baylor or waited until 2017, when more Power 5 jobs are expected to open. He still would have been the guy who guided Temple to consecutive 10-win seasons and an AAC title.
“The Power 5 is such a different environment with money and resources,” a Group of 5 athletic director said. “You can never fault those coaches for making the move.”
Even industry sources concerned about whether Rhule will succeed at Baylor acknowledged he likely had to take the job. One coaching agent said this always was the year Rhule needed to move, regardless of the number of Power 5 opportunities.
And as a Big 12 assistant noted, “There’s no perfect fit at Baylor right now.” So why can’t a guy like Rhule, with proven success, get Baylor back on track?