Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Assistants Believe in Matt Rhule, the Person and Coach, so They Followed Him to Nebraska

December 30, 2022

There’s a sort of fierce loyalty to Matt Rhule. He was a high-energy, driven football player who became an equally motivated coach. He’s crossed paths with hundreds of coaches and players throughout his two decades of coaching. Rhule coached at UCLA (defensive line) and at the New York Giants (assistant offensive line).

Rhule’s staff at Nebraska isn’t complete yet. There are still some holes left to fill that he said will likely be announced about a week into the new year. But, in total, eight former players will work with him in Lincoln.

“There’s a reason players keep reaching out to him and getting advice from him, whether it’s from the Carolina Panthers or the Baylor Bears, Temple Owls, or wherever it may be,” offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield told Jessica Coody for an Early National Signing Day interview. “That’s what makes him unique and special, the relationships he builds with the players and coaches as well.”

Satterfield and Rhule go back to 2005 when Nebraska’s new offensive coordinator was the wide receivers coach at Western Carolina. Rhule was the linebackers coach, as well as special teams coach, associate head coach and run game coordinator that season. Rhule hired Satterfield as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach when he got the Temple head coaching job. Satterfield joined his staff at Baylor and the Carolina Panthers before the last two years as offensive coordinator at South Carolina. Then came Rhule’s latest job and Satterfield’s subsequent move.

The original plan involved Satterfield coaching tight ends with his offensive coordinator duties. Those changed and he’ll instead coach quarterbacks, which Satterfield preferred.

“I thought he did a good job last year with Spencer (Rattler), and he has done it for me before so that is very natural for us,” Rhule said during his Early National Signing Day press conference.

Special teams coordinator Ed Foley goes back with Rhule to their assistant coaching days at Temple. Foley didn’t initially go to Baylor, joking with Greg Sharpe earlier this week he just wanted the Sugar Bowl glory. Foley, who was released by the Panthers in the same coaching shift, rested and watched football with his family for a few weeks. He didn’t concentrate on the next move. He stayed in contact with Rhule, who said he was looking at a couple of jobs. Foley hoped he picked Nebraska.

Defensive coordinator Tony White has been a rising star among assistant coaches. He was an attractive candidate for a Power 5 job during his days at San Diego State, drawing positional coaching jobs at Arizona State. Then came the call up to coordinator at Syracuse, where he inspired a resurgence in the Orange defense. He played linebacker at UCLA when Rhule was the assistant defensive line coach there. They stayed in touch through various coaching changes. Rhule brought him in for an interview. They’d known each other since 2000. Maybe they’d see if they could make it work.

White knew it was a possibility. He’d already told his family that if that possibility became a choice, what would they think? His wife, Angela, started looking at houses.

“You talk about Nebraska and a lot of times it’s about your experiences,” White told Sharpe. “When I was growing up, in middle school and high school, Nebraska was college football. So that’s always been etched in my head.”

Evan Cooper played defensive back at Temple when Rhule was a defensive line coach. Cooper’s best friend, new defensive line coach Terrance Knighton, played on the Temple defensive line. They spent more time around each other than cornerbacks and defensive line coaches do. He’s known the head coach since he was 18 and bought into the person and the vision. Cooper went to Baylor and Carolina with Rhule. When Rhule mulled the Nebraska job, Cooper told him to take the job and call Jaylen Lloyd. He’d already done his homework on the potential recruiting class.

“Evan Cooper is the absolute best I’ve ever been around,” Rhule said during his Early National Signing Day press conference. “If we ever offer a guy that no one’s heard of, it’s Evan. Because he stays up at night and texts me at 3:00 in the morning, watching this guy, watching that guy.

“I think what you’ll start to see is that we’ll offer guys no one has heard of, then they’ll start getting 10, 11, 12 offers and their stars will bump up. That’s not disrespectful to anybody, it’s just that people will know that he goes and finds guys.”

Rhule accepted the Nebraska head coaching job and quickly offered Cooper a spot on the staff. It didn’t take him long to say yes.

“I told coach I’d follow him anywhere,” Cooper said. “I was happy it was Nebraska, though.”

Knighton enjoyed his time at Temple playing directly under Rhule for a year before Rhule moved to the offensive line. But it wasn’t until Temple’s Pro Day that Knighton’s allegiance cemented. Knighton locked into this stance and took off on his 40-yard sprint with the starting whistle. He clocked a 5.22 and looked up to see a Kobe Bryant-esque fist pump from Rhule, who no longer coached his position.

“I’ll never forget that guy and I’ve always trusted him since then,” Knighton told Sharpe earlier this week.

The man who became “Pot Roast” in the NFL, was selected in the third round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He joked that he feels his 8-year NFL career every day but the energy he’s given by coaching and impacting college players helps the healing. Rhule helped Knighton get involved in coaching. This being the new defensive line coach’s first job in Power 5 coaching, he stressed how he wanted to make the most of the opportunity.

Mike Wallace was a high school coach in Philadelphia when Rhule was at Temple. Rhule stood out as a person. Their friendship developed, eventually with Wallace coming back to Temple to get his degree when Rhule was head coach. Wallace, Nebraska’s new director of scouting, said Rhule’s the only person he’d come back to college football for. Rhule once told Mike DiMichele that he’d coach for Rhule one day. DiMichele doubted it. Then he became a graduate assistant at Temple and stuck around there, staying in touch even after Rhule left. It was a “no brainer” for DiMichele to join Rhule at Nebraska as an offensive analyst.

Jarrett Wishon, assistant to the head coach, held the same position at Carolina. Phil Simpson, defensive quality control coach at Nebraska, played on Temple’s defensive line. Sean Padden, Nebraska’s new general manager, held that same position for Rhule in nine of Rhule’s 11 seasons as head coach.

Rhule actually recruited Omar Hales out of junior college. Hales joked that Rhule was quirkier back then. A phone call came a decade later asking if he’d come to Nebraska to work for Rhule again. He didn’t know he’d be director of player personnel for high schools or what his position would be.

“I just came and went to work,” Hales said. “I never questioned Coach Rhule or what my job was or how much money I was making, I just came.”

Jessica Coody asked Hales during a special Early National Signing Day interview series why so many follow Rhule. He said it’s because he’s an easy person to be around. He’s made him a better person and a better father.

“I think just the type of person he is,” Hales said. “It makes it very easy to believe in him. I think that’s what’s happening if you see our recruiting right now. I think it’s really going to take off and I can only see it getting better.”

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