Matt Rhule invited local media to the sixth floor of Memorial Stadium on Monday to share updates as the Huskers began the final week of winter conditioning. Nebraska’s head coach, who was told Monday marked his 101st day on the job, thanked players, the football program’s creative team and Nebraska’s winter sports teams.
He also thanked the fans. With a pause, having collected his thoughts from his travels throughout the state, he wanted to ensure they felt appreciated.
“They’ve been coming to Memorial Stadium and supporting this football team for a long time,” Rhule said. “I just want to make sure they know we’re grateful and thankful. We’re working hard to earn the right to enjoy next season, to compete next season.”
This is Rhule’s favorite time of the year. He enjoys teaching and shared his belief that practice is the most important thing for the program. He’s a detail-oriented coach who is focused on the daily improvements. And in those daily toils comes his vision for the larger picture.
“We’re just going to try to earn the right to enjoy next season,” Rhule said. “We’re going to try to earn the right going into a game week feeling like we have a chance to win.”
Rhule said he couldn’t promise the fans anything other than the Huskers will play hard in the fall. He’s also understanding of the urgency and impatience.
“We know how long they have waited for Nebraska football to play the way that it’s capable of playing,” he said. “We’re not there yet but we’ll try to honor their patience and loyalty with our work.”
Rhule outlined a detailed and physical spring. This coaching staff wanted to build camaraderie within the team through its winter competitions. That includes the current competition week. He hopes that carries over onto the field as the Huskers start spring practice March 20. The Huskers are already competitive and tough. Rhule wants to see if competitiveness and toughness can adapt with precision and detail.
In a brief overview of the team’s performance, Rhule said there’s not many players he’s not happy with. Coaches chose several captains for teams going into competition week and those captains drafted their players. That includes tight end Thomas Fidone and linebacker Chief Borders, who also spoke Monday.
Rhule said the staff wants to be careful and smart about Fidone this spring, as he comes off knee injuries. The only other specific individual mentioned in terms of injuries this spring was quarterback Casey Thompson. Rhule couldn’t pinpoint Thompson’s involvement exactly but it’ll likely be limited. Thompson could throw this spring as he comes off shoulder surgery. The head coach said last year’s starting quarterback has been diligent in recovery but avoiding re-injury is their biggest motivator.
This is still a first year for everyone, players and coaches alike. They’re all still getting to know each other and figuring out what the fall will look like. That includes the finer details of the defense. Rhule and defensive coordinator Tony White didn’t work on the same staff before this season. Rhule is drawn to White’s quiet confidence and humility. The head coach likes the defense’s flexibility. That allows players to best showcase their talents this spring, which then gives the coaching staff a better idea for who gives them the best chance of success.
Rhule wants physicality and purpose on defense as well. They’ll adhere to NCAA rules with scrimmages and what is allowed, but each full contact practice comes with purpose.
“We believe in playing with dominant contact,” Rhule said. “I just think it’s the quality of contact.
“Even when we’re thudding, we won’t be tagging guys off. We won’t hit them from the side or back, we won’t go to the ground even on days we’re thudding.”
He reiterated that it won’t be a bloodbath and the coaching staff won’t operate like cavemen. Rhule wants to keep the team healthy. That’s the best gift he can give them, he said. They have to be healthy in order to be the best football players they can be.