Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

‘One of Us’: Matt Rhule’s Nebraska Coaching Staff Bonded Through Journey and Football

February 28, 2023

Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule is a man with mottos. He’s previously quoted form The Greatest Salesman by Og Mandino and spoke highly of The Classroom by Clint Rutledge. Some of those mantras followed him on his trek through the coaching ranks.

In his third season at Temple, when the Owls earned a top-25 ranking for the first time in three decades, he repeatedly asked his players: “What’s next?” It’s a common refrain, especially among coaches. When Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts introduced Rhule on November 28, the newly minted coach used that phrase to describe himself.

“We want to win national championships, but guys I am a day-by-day guy,” he said. “I am a process guy. I am a what’s next kind of person.”

Another of his mantras served as a rallying cry at Baylor and a personal stamp of approval at the Carolina Panthers. A leaked document from his time at Carolina showed Rhule and his staff used the phrase “one of us” or simply “OOU.” Rhule and his staff used the acronym in evaluation and free agent scouting to identify possible players. According to reports following Rhule’s time in Carolina, some staff members who didn’t work with the head coach in the college ranks mocked the saying.

Rhule learned from his time at Carolina and moved beyond the sour circumstances. But he’s carried the “one of us” mentality with him, tweeting it out when former Baylor tight end Ben Sims caught a touchdown in the NFLPA Bowl last month. Rhule recruited Sims to Waco.

The mantra doesn’t simply apply to player evaluation. One of us is a verbal bond that, in some cases, make coaches feel like family more than longtime coworkers.

“It’s like working with family,” special teams coordinator Ed Foley said. “It’s like working with your brother. Now, it’s your brother who’s running the show now, it’s not my brother that I’m going to take out in the backyard or whatever, but this is a family for us. It’s not a cliché. It’s not some rah-rah, statement.”

Multiple coaches attended offensive analyst Adam DiMichele’s wedding. They’ve attended games of their coworkers’ children. They grieved together when former Temple linebacker Jarred Alwan died last month. Several attended Alwan’s funeral service on January 28.

The familial feel is partially why several former players joined Rhule at Nebraska. Secondary coach Evan Cooper said Rhule doesn’t choose his assistants because they’re friends. They’re specifically chosen because they know Rhule’s standard where hard work, grit and accountability are the expectation. They’re also expected to be more than just coaches.

“No.1, before everything else, they’ll have to care, genuinely care, about the players they’ll coach,” Cooper said. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way because I’m a relationship guy. I don’t separate anything, I am a person-to-person relationship kind of guy. I don’t care about how good you are, that doesn’t affect how I treat you as a person. That’s a part of coach’s belief and we all believe that.”

Strength and conditioning coach Corey Campbell, a former walk-on at Georgia, joined Rhule’s administrative staff at Baylor and followed to Carolina. He was one of Rhule’s initial hires to Nebraska. As soon as Rhule reached out, Campbell said his plan was “going to get on the first thing smoking out here.” The new strength and conditioning coach thought that bond went back to having the same strength coach. They were both former college walk-ons who knew what it took, in terms of work ethic, to compete.

That same kind of connection is why offensive line coach Donovan Raiola, the lone holdover from the previous coaching staff, remains at Nebraska. He comes from the same offensive line philosophy as Rhule. Raiola called Nebraska a special place that made it an easy decision to stay. Rhule got to know him more and spoke highly of his character. The head coach also asked former players, one of whom Rhule tried recruiting to Baylor. That former Nebraska offensive lineman went to bat for Raiola. As a head coach with several former players on his football staff, that spoke volumes to Rhule.

Garret McGuire is a second generation “one of us.” He grew up the son of a coach and absorbed as much as he could. Rhule became one of his coaching mentors. Rhule hired Joey McGuire to Baylor as tight ends coach and Garret joined the football team as a reserve quarterback. He spent more time with a headset and call sheet than throwing the ball. It basically became a hands-on college football mentorship. A two-year stint on Rhule’s staff in Carolina gave him experience working with professional football players. What does the one of us mentality mean to McGuire?

“It’s just a select group, right?” McGuire said. “You kind of lay down for the brand. We’ve got a lot of guys who have had opportunities to go elsewhere but this is where they want to be. They want to be around this family.”

McGuire smiled when he talked about defensive line coach Terrance Knighton’s son, who he called his favorite person in the building. He goes to Jamir’s basketball games when he can. McGuire said he enjoyed Rhule’s two daughters, Vivienne and Leona, running through the halls.

It’s a mentality adjacent to togetherness. Rhule wanted to keep the team together at Baylor. He entered that program at a time of upheaval. His response involved condensing dozens of players into one team. He’s showing the same philosophy at Nebraska, from the ping pong tables in the players’ lounges to attending basketball games at Pinnacle Bank Arena together. Those bonds are also built through current winter workouts and, when the time comes, grueling practices.

One of Rhule’s first proclamations to Nebraska was a vow: They will do it. In order to do it, they’ll have to work hard. Just another point of being the toughest, most hard working, competitive team in country—a mantra that’s followed Rhule to Nebraska. “The price of glory is paid in here at 6 a.m.,” he said. On February 17, the Huskers’ 6 a.m. practice pushing sleds across Tom Osborne Field in single-degree temperatures.

“That OOU shows up every morning,” McGuire said.

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