Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Matt Rhule’s Nebraska Coaching Staff Taking Form Following His Introduction

December 07, 2022

**This story will be updated as news develops regarding personnel changes.**

Matt Rhule’s coaching staff at Nebraska is starting to come together. Nebraska’s new head coach did not confirm any new hires during his introductory press conference but multiple staff members have confirmed their positions on social media. Rhule said he’d like to have a staff in place by December 2, when coaches can hit the road to recruit, but wasn’t sure how many would be on staff at that point. He wanted to meet with 2022 assistant coaches to determine holdovers into 2023.

On Thursday, December 1, Nebraska confirmed six hires on Rhule’s staff. EJ Barthel is Nebraska’s new running backs coach, Evan Cooper will coach secondary, Ed Foley is the new special teams coordinator, Terrance Knighton will coach defensive line, Corey Campbell is the new strength and conditioning coach and Marcus Satterfield is officially Nebraska’s new offensive coordinator.

“This group of coaches will be great representatives of the University of Nebraska and are ready to play a key role in building our program,” Rhule said in a statement. “These are high-energy men with great passion for coaching and teaching, who have a history of developing outstanding college players and preparing them for the next level. This is a group that will relate well to prospective student-athletes from all parts of the country and sell Nebraska Football.”

Just over a week later, on December 9, Nebraska confirmed two hires. One was the retention of offensive line coach Donovan Raiola in the same position he held in 2022. The other announced Syracuse defensive coordinator Tony White as the Huskers’ new defensive coordinator.

“We are pleased to add Tony White and Donovan Raiola to our coaching staff,” Rhule said in a release. “They each bring a high level of energy and competitiveness to our staff. Both Tony and Donovan were outstanding players at the highest level of college football, and also have professional playing experience. Their success has carried into their respective coaching careers. I look forward to them developing the players in our program and helping bring the nation’s top talent to Nebraska.”

Cooper’s arrival stands out immediately. Rhule promoted Cooper through personnel positions at Temple before Cooper became the cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at Baylor. He helped secure three consecutive top 35 recruiting classes during his time at Baylor. Cooper, a Miami native and former Temple Owl, joined Rhule as a graduate assistant out of college and has worked with Rhule ever since. They arrived together at Baylor when the Bears had just one remaining commit following the scandal that forced Art Briles to resign. Cooper and Rhule hit the ground and solidified 27 total enrollees for the No. 39 recruiting class.

Cooper and Rhule aligned in their recruiting approach of finding inherent standout skills like speed and athleticism, and developing the rest.

“We’re a big, big believer in development,” Cooper told Chris Hummer of 247Sports in 2019. “Sometimes you get kids who are maxed out whose ceiling might not be as high. We take the approach of what they’ll look like in five years. If he has the requisite size, speed and strength we feel like we can turn them into good football players. In recruiting you miss. You’re going to miss. So, we figure: If you’re going to miss, miss fast.”

Knighton was the assistant defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers for two years under Rhule following a 7-year NFL career. He played at Temple during Rhule’s time as an assistant coach for the Owls. In that time he was Temple’s first All-MAC selection and started three seasons while majoring in criminal justice. He coached at Wagner briefly between his NFL career and joining Rhule’s staff, where he developed Cam Gill, a two-time Northeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year and All-American.

Campbell was an assistant strength and conditioning coach in Carolina. He also arrived in Carolina via Baylor, where he was most recently assistant director of player performance. Campbell is a former Georgia fullback with a master’s degree in kinesiology.

Zach Duval, the 2017 National Strength Coach of the Year, finished his fifth season as head strength and conditioning coach at Nebraska in 2022. Duval and assistant strength and conditioning coach Andrew Stop are no longer at Nebraska.

Barthel spent last season as the running backs coach at UConn, after a two-year stint on the Panthers coaching staff. Barthel was the director of player personnel for Rhule at Temple in 2015 before spending a year as recruiting coordinator at Penn State. Under Barthel’s leadership, UConn running backs increased yardage per carry from 3.18 to 4.80 in one season. Bryan Applewhite arrived at Nebraska earlier this year from TCU. He will not be retained as part of Rhule’s staff.

Longtime Rhule special teams assistant Ed Foley joined the Nebraska coaching staff as special teams coordinator. Foley preceded Rhule’s time as head coach at Temple and stayed a decade in Philadelphia before joining Baylor as an analyst. He went with Rhule to the Carolina Panthers and was dismissed shortly after Rhule’s firing in October. Bill Busch will not return to the Nebraska coaching staff in 2023. The Pender native started the 2022 season as special teams coordinator before being elevated to interim defensive coordinator by Mickey Joseph.

Offensive line coach Donovan Raiola will be retained by Rhule’s staff. Last season in Lincoln was his first as a positional assistant college coach. He spent four years before with the Chicago Bears, fitting Rhule’s vision for NFL experience among the coaching staff. Raiola was also an intern and graduate assistant at Hawaii and Notre Dame before his stint in the NFL.

There’s a few potential pieces that have not become official yet. Jake Peetz, the Los Angeles Rams offensive assistant, is expected to join Rhule’s staff as quarterbacks coach. ESPN’s Pete Thamel was the first to report. Peetz—who is a native of O’Neill, Nebraska, and coached with Rhule at the Carolina Panthers from 2019-20—will also serve in some capacity on special teams. On Saturday, December 10, Thamel reported Peetz ultimately had a change of heart and will stay with the Rams.

On December 3, Adam DiMichele tweeted a graphic indicating he’s joining Rhule’s staff. DiMichele was a team captain quarterback at Temple after two years of college baseball in Florida. He’s spent the last decade in Temple in various positions—graduate assistant, wide receivers, director of player development and general assistant. That same day, Omar Hales tweeted a photoshopped picture of him in Nebraska coaching gear. He was a coaching fellow under Rhule at the Carolina Panthers before serving as Eastern University’s special teams coordinator this season. He’s been prominently featured in recruiting posts.

Former Temple defensive lineman Philip Simpson is in line to join Rhule’s staff as an assistant defensive line coach. Simpson had been head football coach at Homestead High School in Homestead, Florida, since July 2019. On December 16, Nebraska offered a sophomore receiver from Homestead.

On December 30, it was reported that legendary Texas high school head coach Bob Wager is leaving Arlington Martin to become tight ends coach and assistant special teams coordinator at Nebraska. Wager won 210 games, never missed a playoff and coached future No. 1 overall draft pick Myles Garrett. He also coached in the 2022 Under Armour All-American Game.

Multiple national reports came out on January 2, indicating the coaching staff is complete. Current Carolina Panthers coaching personnel Rob Dvoracek and Garret McGuire are set to join Rhule’s staff at Nebraska as linebackers coach and receivers coach, respectively. Both previously played for and coached for Rhule and are reported to join the staff following Carolina’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

Internal staff movements continued into January. A national report indicated Gordon Thomas will take a senior operations role at Nebraska. Thomas was most recently assistant director of operations at LSU. He was a walk-on offensive lineman at Temple under Rhule 2014-17. He’s also a Philadelphia native and graduate of Imhotep Institute Charter High School, alma mater of 2023 safety signing Rahmir Stewart and Husker staffer Omar Hales.

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