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New Nebraska coach Matt Rhule wants to win now, but he promises to take no shortcuts

Matt Ruhle
Posted at 5:59 PM, Aug 14, 2023

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Make no mistake, Matt Rhule wants to win and win often in his first season at Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers' new coach also understands where the team sits in 2023, and he's taken the program down to the studs with the hope of building it back into the respected national brand it was a generation ago.

"When I think about Nebraska, I just think about that helmet," Rhule said of the Huskers' classic white and red headgear. "It's iconic to me, and it is across college football."

Rhule said Nebraska — winners of five national championships but none since 1997 — should be in the national discussion year in and year out, and for the right reasons. Talk about Nebraska in recent years has centered on coach Scott Frost's spectacular failure over four-plus seasons. The Huskers are coming off six straight losing seasons with no bowl appearances. There's been no Top 25 ranking since 2019, 10 seasons without an appearance in a conference championship game and no league title since 1999.

Athletic director Trev Alberts began pursuing Rhule shortly after the Carolina Panthers fired him as coach last October.

Nebraska is banking on Rhule to orchestrate the kind of turnarounds he did at Temple and Baylor before he left for the NFL. His $74 million, eight-year contract makes him the third highest-paid coach in the Big Ten and among the top 10 nationally.

Rhule said his coaching philosophy is not for everybody. He demands discipline on and off the field, and he has suspended a number of players since spring for not adhering to his standards. The team spent the first two weeks of preseason practice living in cramped on-campus dormitories. Starting safety Myles Farmer decided to transfer and projected starting receiver Zavier Betts quit.

"I don't want to take shortcuts," Rhule said. "I don't want to build something (where) we show everybody a little bit of hope this year, but the next year we take a step back. I want to win, but right now I can't think about the games. I expect us to do everything right. I expect guys to show up and be on time. So it's just this mindset of everything matters, everything counts."

SIMS IS IN

Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims won the starting quarterback job in the spring, prompting incumbent Casey Thompson to transfer.

Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield's system will mix what's hoped to be a physical run game that includes a fullback with a passing game predicated on intermediate throws.

"It puts me in a lot of different situations and puts me in a greater situation to show off my arm and my ability to pass the ball," Sims said. "I'm willing to run whenever I need to. I'm going to do it, and I'm going to do it at a high level."

NEW-LOOK DEFENSE

Defensive coordinator Tony White brought the 3-3-5 base alignment with him from Syracuse, and the idea of using the system in the Big Ten raised eyebrows among fans.

Big Ten offenses, to be sure, have evolved from plodding to more wide open, and that should alleviate concerns about there not being enough heft up front. The four-man front isn't going away entirely. The 3-3-5 is adaptable, White said, and it allows for more blitzing options and coverage disguises.

"Chaos," is how linebackers coach Rob Dvoracek described it.

FEELING AT HOME

Though he's been on the job only nine months, Rhule said he's comfortable in an environment where Nebraska football is a year-round passion. He has spoken often about putting on the field a team the inspires pride in a fan base that has sold out every home game since 1962.

"You're not just serving a university. You're serving an entire state as well," he said. "That's a responsibility I take very seriously."

LOOKING AHEAD

The Huskers' schedule has them playing their first two games on the road, at Minnesota on Aug. 31 and at Colorado on Sept. 9.

Their toughest crossover game is at home, against No. 2 Michigan, on Sept. 30. Preseason West favorite No. 19 Wisconsin visits Nov. 18 and border rival No. 25 Iowa on Nov. 24.

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