Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Inside Nebraska’s Quiet Coaching Search That Ended on Thanksgiving With Matt Rhule

November 28, 2022

When the deal initially fell through, Matt Rhule was disappointed. He let out a forceful “Damn,” as he realized the job he wanted got away from him through negotiations.

He turned down jobs since being fired from the Carolina Panthers. He could go into broadcasting. Frankly, he could spend time with his family and golf in Charlotte and not work for years. When contractual negotiations fell through between Nebraska, Rhule and eventually the Carolina Panthers, it seemed like he might take the year off.

“I was really disappointed,” Rhule said on Monday. “Then they called back and said let’s try something else. I knew then that this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Nebraska fired former head coach Scott Frost on September 11. Athletic director Trev Alberts then started a national search, enlisting the services of Collegiate Sports Associates for help. On Monday he admitted he contacted 13 coaches—not offered but interacted withfor the job. CSA submitted Alberts a list of finalists. Rhule stayed the priority through that process. Alberts called him “Candidate 1A.”

University President Ted Carter saw the “bulldog” come out in Alberts during the search and contractual process. His athletic director found a way to make this work.

“There was a period where it looked like it wasn’t going to happen,” Alberts said. “We decided to keep going and keep trying, and in the end there was a delta. You want to coach the University of Nebraska, the University of Nebraska wants you. We’re going to find a way to get this done.”

Carter remained in communication with Alberts, chancellor Ronnie Green and the board of regents throughout the process. Carter and Alberts both said it was a hard process. The two also shared concerns the deal wouldn’t get done.

“Negotiations had to go back and forth, the Carolina Panthers were part of that at the end and we had a couple last minute surprises there,” Carter said. “At the end of the day, it got done. There shouldn’t be anyone who questions the commitment to this university from the board of regents, its president, the chancellor, to the governor-elect had in getting the right man at the right time for the right job.”

Sources previously told Hail Varsity that Rhule was a top candidate for the job shortly after he was fired by the Carolina Panthers. His name dropped down the list of candidates for about 10 days, falling in line with when contract negotiations stalled. In the last week of the season, especially at the mid-part of last week, it was clear Rhule was Albert’s choice for the job. National reports indicated the two sides were close to a deal just before Nebraska’s Friday kickoff with Iowa. The following morning, about three months after the removal of former head coach Scott Frost, Nebraska confirmed Rhule as the new football coach.

Alberts said he was interested in Rhule while he still coached the Panthers. When Rhule got fired in mid-October, Alberts contacted him within days. Nebraska’s athletic director said there were people who told him Rhule wouldn’t come to Lincoln. The former standout linebacker took it as a challenge. According to Alberts, they agreed on a deal at 11 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. Rhule thought it might have been the day after. The Rhule family flew to Lincoln earlier this month and stayed at the Alberts’ home. They drove around Lincoln on a Husker game day, something Rhule is still shocked they got away with. Those visits cemented Rhule’s status as “the guy” for Alberts. Carter visited the Alberts’ home at that time and agreed they’d get the deal done.

Carter knew the price tag associated with Rhule was the cost of doing business in today’s college football landscape. And a quality coach costs extra. The recent Big Ten media rights deal and the university’s recent multimedia deal with Playfly allowed some monetary flexibility. Choosing Rhule, and the cost that comes with him, was also indicative to the administration’s desire to win, Carter said.

Carter complimented Alberts on how he handled the process. Administrators collectively bought into the same vision with analytics. When the process ended, those same administrators, including all eight publicly elected regents, all supported hiring Rhule.

“We paid attention to every level of detail in the contract, that’s why this was hard,” Carter said. “These types of contracts don’t happen overnight. It took a number of days.”

Broadly speaking, Rhule’s contract covers $74 million over 8 years with a 90% guarantee. Carter reassured fans that Nebraksa’s football coach, and Husker athletics in general, is not paid through taxpayer funds.

Hail Varsity obtained a copy of Rhule’s contract on Monday afternoon. With Monday being his starting date, he’ll be paid $5.5 million through today into the end of 2023. In calendar year 2024 he’ll make $6.5 million. His payouts progress annually from there — $7.5 million, $8.5 million, $10 million, $11.5 million, $12 million, $12.5 million over the duration of his 8-year deal. Should he leave Nebraska for other “football-related employment” between today and the end of 2023 he’ll owe the university $7 million. That amount drops annually thereafter, except for a stage later in the contract, to $6 million, $5 million, $4 million, $3.5 million, $3.5 million, $3.5 million and $2.5 million.

“It was a long and arduous process,” Alberts said. “It’s hard enough to negotiate between two parties, with agents and universities. I think the unique challenge here was we actually had a tri-party challenge. So finding a way to structure a business arrangement that everybody was willing to sign off on was a bit of a challenge.”

Should the university fire Rhule without cause it would owe 90% of the remaining term. So, for example, if Rhule were fired for lack of results and not cause after three years, he’d be owed $41 million. That number would drop to $32 million the following year.

Rhule’s contract also stipulates $7 million annually for 10 on-field assistant coaches. Those contracts can’t exceed two years, except for offensive and defensive coordinators, which can be offered three-year deals.

There are also bonuses factored into Rhule’s contract. He gets a $100,000 bonus if Nebraska ties for the Big Ten West title but doesn’t make the championship game. If Nebraska plays in the Big Ten Championship but loses, he makes $200,000 extra. A Big Ten Championship trophy nets Rhule a $300,000 bonus. A bowl game earns a $150,000 bonus, a deemed College Football Playoff bowl game earns $250,000, a CFP appearance gets him $300,000 and an appearance in the National Championship nets a $350,000 bonus. Should Nebraska win a national championship with Rhule, he’d earn a $650,000 bonus.

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