The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce hosted one of its largest “Face The Chamber” events last Wednesday. Roughly 500 members of Lincoln’s business community flocked to the Embassy Suites downtown last Wednesday. They were all there to see the new football coach.
University President Ted Carter introduced head coach Matt Rhule to the chamber ahead of his roughly 38-minute speech. Rhule spoke about his fundamental building blocks of success and team work. He also told the room his love for Lincoln and how this is his final coaching stop. The charismatic son of a minister stepped off the stage and fielded a handful of questions from local reporters.
Nebraska’s spring enrollees are finishing classes. Finals week is this week and players are eligible to sign out and leave after completing their last test. They’re due to return May 30, factoring in a Memorial Day holiday, for summer workouts. Rhule told Greg Sharpe on last week’s episode of Sports Nightly the importance of players taking time away for small vacations to see friends and family. Coaches hold players to a high standard in workouts, practices, film studies and classes. Rhule admitted he demands a lot of players. He wants them all to take time away so they can return refreshed and full of enthusiasm.
Rhule recently made two decisions that could also benefit team morale. In front of the team, he announced John Bullock and Nate Boerkircher are now on scholarship. He felt it was important for members of the team to see there’s upward growth at Nebraska. Coaches value those within the team and will look inward rather than automatically go into the transfer portal for potential starters. Rhule said Boerkircher is a starting-caliber player, who played on the first-team offense during the Red-White Game. He also called Bullock an NFL-caliber player if things go his way.
“The look on MJ Sherman’s face was that guy deserves a scholarship,” Rhule said of Bullock, the junior from Creighton Prep. “He earned it.”
That decision brings more attention onto Nebraska’s scholarship situation going into the summer. Rhule isn’t stressed about it. So far no Husker has left the program that didn’t go into the transfer portal, he said. A few discussed the “head coach exception” but haven’t explored it beyond discussions with the staff.
Rhule knew they’d over-sign players in the recruiting period with the intention of building a competitive team. Competitive toughness is a cornerstone among Rhule’s programs and he wanted to sign players who fit that mold. Nebraska hasn’t signed anyone from the spring transfer window because none of them are the “right fit.” The Huskers reportedly reached out to a few portal entries, like former Georgia defensive lineman Bear Alexander who went to USC. Alexander never announced an offer from Nebraska before committing to USC.
In addition to finding the right fit, Rhule outlined an issue he’s encountered on the recruiting trail.
“One of the things showing up now, with parents of high school kids, which is where we win,” Rhule said. “They ask, how many portal guys are you taking? They don’t want their kid to come here for 3 years and then all of a sudden I bring someone in from the portal.”
Rhule explained his long-term plan for stability. His staff recruits players upon development and belief. He understands struggles in early college years aren’t uncommon and some coaches grow impatient with player development at that time. Rhule wants to convey stability and development to families.
Half of Nebraska’s scholarship quarterbacks entered the portal this spring. Richard Torres is returning to his hometown of San Antonio and transferring to Incarnate Word while Casey Thompson is reuniting with former Texas head coach Tom Herman. Logan Smothers has yet to announce a destination. Rhule said the door is open for Smothers’ return and he’d like another scholarship quarterback. The position is unique because there’s no rotation there. A quarterback rarely cycles out for an offensive snap. Those who entered the portal asked Rhule for his thoughts on other coaches and programs. And the head coach answered honestly because he understands they can keep their options open. Once a decision is made, they’ll go from there.
“The door is open on our end,” he said. “If you’re here I want you to be all in.”
Rhule also discussed first-season intentions. He said he never didn’t try to win in his first year at either school but if upperclassmen at those programs didn’t buy into the vision for the program then Rhule played underclassmen instead. Temple went 2-10 in Rhule’s first season. Baylor went 1-11 his first year there amid sanctions from the NCAA relating to the Art Briles scandal. The situation at Nebraska is much different. And he told the seniors as much.
“They’re such a good group of seniors that want to win that we should try to go win with them,” Rhule said. “These guys at Nebraska want to win so badly, they want to be the team that gets back to a bowl game after six years. We’re going to chase that along with those guys.”
As of Sunday, there are 109 days until Nebraska meets Minnesota in the season opener on August 31.