Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

The Day Nebraska Head Coach Matt Rhule Won Over the Texas High School Coaches Association

December 15, 2022

It’s not that the highest-ranking members of the Texas High School Coaches Association didn’t want Matt Rhule. He just wasn’t their guy.

Baylor dismissed former head coach Art Briles amid an investigation into the school’s handling of several sexual assault allegations in 2015. By doing so, the school also fired an institution of Texas high school football. Briles is from rural Texas, played at Houston, coached high school ball in Texas for 20 years before 15 seasons in the college game. All in Texas.

Baylor replaced him with a guy from Pennsylvania.

Joe Martin was an assistant executive director at the THSCA at the time. That heavy-swinging body of football politics in the land of Friday Night Lights was not pleased by that move. Briles was one of their own. Guys like him, and legendary Texas head coach Mack Brown, had an open door policy between their office and Texas high school coaches.

“We’re proud of what we are and who we are,” Martin, now executive director, said. “We were pretty upset.”

Martin and other high-ranking officials at the THSCA headed to Waco, a place they’d all been multiple times, but the new head coach there knew nothing about. Rhule took the Baylor job in December 2016. He’d only been there 10 days, spending most of that time putting together his coaching staff. He assembled his staff in time to host a meeting the day before inviting Martin and his colleagues. Rhule jumped into a place where he knew the sport but not the environment. So he immediately reached out to build connections. The other end of those connections wasn’t pleased he occupied the head coach’s office. Their meeting lasted 6 hours, well beyond the lunch they ordered in. Martin remembered that meeting as “unbelievable” and walked away pinching himself.

Rhule said he needed Texas guys on his staff at Baylor. He asked for a list of three names. The decision makers across the table came up with three: Joey McGuire, Shawn Bell and David Wetzel. Rhule hired McGuire as tight ends coach, Bell as an analyst and Wetzel as the associate athletic director for football relations.

“Matt Rhule is the most genuine, transparent person I’ve ever met,” Martin said. “Everything he said he did. He flipped the state. It was amazing to us that someone outside of Texas did it.”

Bell is a former Baylor quarterback who had a decade of high school coaching experience in Texas before joining Rhule’s staff as an analyst. He worked his way up to offensive line coach under Rhule. When Nebraska’s new head football coach left for the Carolina Panthers, Bell moved positions and now coaches quarterbacks at his alma mater. Wetzel, a former wide receiver at Baylor with 25 years of Texas high school experience, still occupies the position Rhule influenced him towards. McGuire, who coached high school ball in Texas for a decade, became associate head coach at Baylor while also coaching defensive ends and linebackers. Texas Tech hired McGuire as its new head football coach ahead of the 2022 season. This fall, Texas Tech beat both Texas and Oklahoma for the first time in the same season.

“Matt Rhule made Joey McGuire better,” Martin said.

It wasn’t just the football coach that impressed Martin—it was the man. Martin is an 18-year head coach in Texas with a cumulative 150-54-4 record. He’s won nine district titles, made 13 playoff appearances, qualified for two state semifinals and won the state championship as head coach of Garland High in 1999. He is the member of four different Halls of Fame. When he visits other head coaches, their offices are largely decorated with those accolades. It’s front-facing proof of the coach’s quality. Martin expected as much opening the door to Rhule’s office. Instead, Martin saw a 3-by-5 photo of the Rhule family. That continues to resonate with him.

Rhule and THSCA maintained a healthy relationship even after Rhule made the jump into the NFL. Nebraska’s new head coach was already in the league without need to win anyone in Texas over when he returned to The Lone Star State. Martin, who became the executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association by then, invited Rhule to return for their annual convention. It’s a huge celebration with multiple speakers. Rhule was invited to be the keynote speaker.

In 15 minutes, Rhule delivered a stirring speech about leadership and toughness. About connecting with students and the effort for improvement.

“He brought the house down,” Martin said. “He was completely drenched after that 15-minute speech. I went to shake his and and he hugged me and said he was so nervous.”

Martin said there’s still a lot of people in Texas who are pulling for Rhule. He called the former Baylor coach “the perfect hire” for one of Texas’ old rivals. “I think he’s exactly what Nebraska needs.”

Rhule’s already returned to Texas during his recent recruiting trips. He’s visited current commit Dylan Rogers at Cy Woods High School and recently visited 4-star edge rusher Princewill Umanmielen at Manor. Rhule’s coaching staff also returned to his old stomping grounds in Pennsylvania while assistants hit New York and New Jersey. He also visited coaches across Nebraska. One of Rhule’s first stops on the first day allowable by the NCAA was Lincoln High. By doing so, he became the first Nebraska head coach during Mark Macke’s tenure as Links coach to visit the Capitol Parkway campus.

Rhule arrived in Lincoln just under a month ago to reconstruct the football program. Recruits decommitted and a new group of commitments followed. His incomplete coaching staff has already spanned the country on recruiting trips, trying to sell Nebraska football to those not ready to buy. He’s used to that. One of his toughest sells came during that 6 hour lunch in Waco.

“He did everything he said he was going to do,” Martin said. “We’re all pulling for him and have no doubt he’ll get that thing turned around.”

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