Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Relationships and Standards: Matt Rhule’s Coaching Staff Powered by Relentless Work Ethic

February 04, 2023

Everyone made it seem like a big deal. Nebraska’s special teams coordinator traveled all over Nebraska, hitting several high schools in a day. Foley alone stopped at 75 in just a few weeks. Husker fans lauded those travels. Husker media entities tracked Foley’s movements and immediately asked him about his travels at the earliest opportunity. Even athletic director Trev Alberts beamed that Rhule’s staff far outpaced his expections, in terms of work ethic.

Simply, Foley said, it’s his job. It helps that he enjoys his job and it gives him enthusiasm for each stop. His boss, Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule, said the same thing two days later. That’s the standard.

“It’s not easy to work here,” Rhule said. “The standards are high.”

The head coach explained his belief that great teams are built upon two things: relationships and standards. Rhule is a relationship-based head coach. It’s why over a dozen former players occupy different positions within his staff now. It’s also why so many high school coaches, former college players and NFL players shared their belief in him. Traveling to different high schools across Nebraska, to say nothing about the country in general, is meant to build relationships.

The standard is hard work, Rhule said. He admitted to taking an old-school approach, not flying in directly to different high schools but stopping at three or four in a given day. He wants to see nine high schools on a given recruiting trip because he wants to affect high schools. It’s through those recruiting efforts Nebraska landed its final signing of the 2023 recruiting class.

“To me, the reason why you go out and see as many schools as you do is because when someone does have a transfer or someone does have an under the radar guy,” Rhule said, “they pick up the phone and call the University of Nebraska because they know they have relationships with the coaches.”

Rhule pointed to Foley’s travels in Nebraska. That’s nothing out of the ordinary. That’s something they’ve always done and Rhule said was just a byproduct of being hard working.

“Like going to eight schools around the state of Nebraska is the bare minimum,” Rhule said. “We’re not doing something special, it’s not like, ‘Oh look how hard they work,’ we’re just doing our jobs. We’re showing up and doing our jobs.”

Foley told local media in the first face-to-face with him on Monday that it’s how they’ve always recruited. Hypothetically, they have four unidentified players. Go visit them, build a connection and let them know they’re priorities. The rest of the day can be spent in building connections. Foley said he wants to meet as many people as he can in certain timeframes. He said part of his association with food comes from getting the local flavor of each place he’s recruiting. Not only to take a bite from the culture but build a potential talking point of familiarity wherever he is. It’s something to talk about with coaches beyond a recruit’s physical and football attributes.

The special teams coordinator said he’d like to stop at every high school in Nebraska but it’s unlikely to happen anytime in the next year. When Nebraska secured a high-level kicker and a long snapper immediately, his recruiting scheduled opened. That allowed him to hit the recruiting trail and not specifically look for late recruiting class additions.

“I’m saying let’s get in the car and see what we can do, see what’s around here,” Foley said. “Get the local kid, get some background on kids that are coming in ’24, ’25.

“So it really didn’t come out to be ‘Oh, let’s hit every school in the state.’ We just came out to do what we do, I’m the local guy for now but I think between the whole staff going out, we need to get just about every school in the state but it might be a bunch of us doing that. And I can certainly see in the spring, more positionally targeted recruiting in the state of Nebraska.”

Connections and relationships brought three players from Georgia, one from Georgia Tech and one from Baylor through the transfer portal. It also brought multiple high school recruits to Nebraska as Rhule filled his coaching staff with relationship-based coaches. Football minds who consider people first. Rhule filled the administrative staff and personnel positions a similar way, including hires like Dr. Susan Elza as chief of staff. It’s also why he welcomed back former Husker standout Zavier Betts and transfer portal entry Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda. He got to know both of them and decided to give them each a chance.

Of course, time will tell if either of them want to stay at Nebraska into its new era. Corey Campbell’s strength and conditioning workouts are pushing players already, leading Rhule to comment they already look different in just two weeks. Right now Nebraska is over its scholarship limit by 18. In order to meet that limit, the Huskers need some to enter the transfer portal in May or step away from the program entirely. That’s where the standard comes in. Nebraska hasn’t made a bowl game in 2016, the longest drought among Power 5 programs. The turnaround artist is tasked with not only ending that drought but returning perennial glory to Lincoln. It starts with the relationships and the standard.

“People are going to see the standards and how we do things and they’ll either decide that they want to do it or not,” Rhule said on Wednesday.

  • Never miss the latest news from Hail Varsity!

    Join our free email list by signing up below.