In college football, a coach is only as good as the players on his roster. Recruiting (and subsequent development and retention) is the lifeblood of college football.
During his introductory press conference, Coach Matt Rhule shared his vision for the Nebraska football program moving forward. Forget the spread; Rhule said fans can expect to see more of an “old school type of team.”
“We’re going to be a physical team,” Rhule said. “We’ll be balanced and we’ll always try to do what the players do well, but at the end of the day, I don’t believe you can win if you can’t win the line of scrimmage. We want to have fast players, explosive players. We want to have speed, we want to have great quarterback play. But at the end of the day, through the weight room and recruiting, we want to have a physical team that can control the line of scrimmage and control the game.
“I believe that’s the type of team that can win in the elements. That’s they type of team that can win on the road. That’s the type of team that can have a lead and keep a lead. That’s the type of team that Nebraskans want to see.”
As Rhule delivered his speech, the volume continued to rise as he approached the end of the quote above, betraying his background as a preacher’s son and adding emphasis to what he values in a program. Wanting something is only part of the process, however; Rhule understands it will take a lot of work to get there and understands how the landscape has shifted in just the two seasons he’s been out of the college game.
“I think it’s important for all of us to understand that football has changed, college football has changed even in the last two years since I left. NIL, portal, transfer, all these different things. I think for all of us, we can look at what we’ve done. We can celebrate the past, we can learn from the past, but we have to have an eye to the future. The game is changing around us and we have to change with it.”
Rhule shared some of his own recruiting background and the ties he and his expected staff have throughout the country, specifically mentioning Texas, New Jersey and Florida. He also said he’s excited about the in-state talent and landing the best talent in the 500-mile radius will be a priority. To make that happen, he wants an energetic staff that is willing to grind to make connections locally and beyond.
“I want to have the best summer camps,” Rhule said. “I want to have to 2000 kids a year coming to our camps, not just prospect camps. I want kids when they’re 8, 9, 10 — everyone should have a chance to be a Husker for a day. That’s how you find the players that will often go to an FCS school. I don’t understand why I’m in the draft last year looking at first-round guys at FCS schools; I want them here. I want to find those guys.”
Rhule isn’t just focused on what players can do on the field. He’s putting a premium recruiting players who want to be “Nebraska men” and embrace everything that entails.
“We have to recruit people who want to wear the N,” Rhule said. “We have to recruit people who want to pay the price for this team. While I know that there’s some salary stuff now — this guy can get this, this guy can get that, and we’ll be involved in all of that because we want to bring the best players here — but at the end of the day, I want players who want to come here who want to not just graduate, they want to be educated. They want to take advantage of this opportunity to change their lives in the classroom, to change their lives through education.
“I want to bring players here and I want to have a program that impacts the community, that when you see a Nebraska football player, you know that wherever you are is better for them having been there, that they will always leave a place better than they found it. I want to bring players here who make the campus community better … We want to be a part of this community and I want players who want to do the same thing. Get educated, graduate, impact the community, impact the campus and then play great football.”
Rhule said he received a call from a college program the day after he got fired from the Carolina job in early October, so the college game has been on his mind. He received multiple offers at the collegiate level before choosing Nebraska. He isn’t diving back into the college game totally blind.
“I had all that time to really dive into this, study some things, NIL-wise, study some things — obviously the transfer portal,” Rhule said. “So I think this week’s important. We’ve gotten going right away. We have a certain profile that we like to recruit to. We like big, fast guys, even if they’re a little bit developmental. So we want to get as much speed as we can get any time we can get it. So we’ve already gotten started with that. We just need to sit down with the guys that are here and see who else they were recruiting besides the the guys who are committed.”
New offers began going out soon after Rhule accepted the job. The early signing period for college football opens on Dec. 21, giving Rhule and whoever he adds to his staff less than four full weeks to evaluate where the roster currently stands, identify needs and hone in on targets to fill the gaps.
A college football coach is only as good as the players on his roster, and Rhule has a clear vision of what he wants those players to look like.
The work to make that vision a reality and turn the program around has already begun.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.