Baylor coach Matt Rhule is turning around the program, but will he stay to finish the job or leave for the NFL one day?
Rhule has brought Baylor back from a program rocked by scandal and NFL teams have noticed
In its own convoluted way, the logic makes sense: Interest from the pros means there is success in his current job.
"The players were great about it," the Bears' coach said of his latest dalliance with the NFL, this time with. "They were like, 'Coach, whatever you do we support it 100 percent. We all want to get to the next level.' "
Rhule was hired 25 months ago because Baylor couldn't afford to stay at a certain level. That was its increasing irrelevancy following the sexual assault scandal that still continues to impact the program.
Rhule has delivered quickly, building on his reputation as one of the best turnaround artists in college football. Baylor's improvement from 7-6 in 2018 from 1-11 in 2017 tied for the third best in the country.
Now we have a peek inside the program as to why Rhule is so valued by the NFL -- and for that matter why Baylor is desperate to keep him.
It came in the form of a letter to Rhule from a recently departed Baylor player. In that letter, obtained by CBS Sports, the player states before Rhule was hired in December 2016, "the lockerroom was completely segregated both racially and in regards to talent."
In the handwritten note, the player goes on to describe previous to Rhule's arrival, starters didn't mingle with those who didn't play and upperclassmen didn't interact with younger players.
"Now," he wrote, "we have a lockerroom where a black superstar senior bound for the NFL can put his arm around a white, freshman walk-on and call him his brother. ...You've taken a program full of boys and demanded that we become men."
The player did not want to be identified. He did communicate that his words should not reflect on any previous coaching staff. Previous to Rhule, Jim Grobe was the acting coach for 2016 after Art Briles was fired that season amid the well-publicized sexual assault scandal that rocked the university.
"Most spectators only see the external change you've brought to this program …," the player wrote to Rhule. "What they can't see are all the little interactions that coaches and players have with each other … These people are unable to see the true transformation that you've brought on this team."
Yes, but how long will that continue?
Rhule will be entering his third season at Baylor in 2019. After each of his first two seasons at the school, he interviewed for NFL head coaching jobs – the Indianapolis Colts' after the 2017 season and the Jets' recently after the 2018 season.
"I had more than one person calling me this year," Rhule said.
The coach reportedly took his name out the running in New York after the Jets wanted him to choose his assistants from a list they assembled.
"I'm never going to be in an arranged marriage," Rhule told a Waco radio station earlier this month.
Rhule's NFL value remains high even though he has exactly one year of pro experience as an assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants under his mentor Tom Coughlin in 2012.
"Over the course of the next, probably, year to three years we'll figure out and find out if that's [NFL] indeed where he wants to be," Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades said. "As our program continues to move forward, we're going to make more (of) a commitment to him."
In 2018, the Bears lost a one-possession game at Texas, became bowl eligible on the last day of the regular season vs. Texas Tech, then beat Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl. That made Rhule the second Baylor coach in the last 50 years to take his team to a bowl in their second season.
Forty-six freshmen or redshirt freshmen have played in the last two seasons. Rhule seems to have found his quarterback in rising junior Charlie Brewer.
Rhule didn't speak specifically about the letter but told CBS Sports, "It's hard to win the locker room when you're in the process of going 1-11. My dad told me once, 'You'll rebuild Baylor football one relationship at a time.' "
"Monday nights even when were 0-5, we'd hang out with the fellas watch 'Monday Night Football' with them," Rhule said. "Coach 'em hard on the field, be around them off the field. We never panicked."
Rhoades added: "You can tell him I said this – The thing that you wrestle with is there's some commonality in terms of college and the NFL. But then there's some really big differences. I think one of Matt's gifts is developing young people, leading young people. He was blessed with that God-given ability. I don't think you get to do that in the NFL."
Is Rhule a short-timer at Baylor?
"There will always be people who try to use that against us," the coach said. "I'm trying to use it as a positive. I'm like, 'If you want to go to the NFL, you should go [play for] someone the NFL wants.' "
"I'm trying to use it as a positive. I'm like, 'If you want to go to the NFL, you should go [play for] someone the NFL wants.' " Baylor coach Matt Rhule
It's not quite that easy. There is also the issue of the current NCAA investigation, not something Rhule or Baylor officials counted on when he was hired.
The school received ain October. For now, it is considered a major infractions case. Baylor is being investigated for lack of institutional control and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance under Briles.
"I'm not concerned," Rhule said. "I'm not involved in it but it seems like it's been an ongoing conversation."
The school would probably consider any penalty short of a bowl ban a net win. A postseason ban would directly affect recruiting and impede Rhule's rebuild.
He developed a turnaround reputation during his time as coach at Temple (2013-2016). In Year One, Rhule told the Owls that in four years they would win an AAC title. He delivered as Temple won the league in 2016.
It was curious to some that he'd make his leap to the Power Five at troubled Baylor..
Now, the NFL can't stop calling.
"I knew he was really well regarded in the football world and certainly the NFL," Rhoades said. "Maybe I'm not sure I had a complete understanding just how well thought of he is in that space."
"With all due respect to everybody," Rhule said. "It has to be the right thing [to leave]."
Based on that letter, improvement has been identified beyond the field. The anonymous player said he had dreams of becoming a starter and winning the Big 12 title. Neither happened.
He did embrace the program's mantra, "Outwork Everybody."
"You have taught me that hard work isn't all that it's cracked up to be," the player wrote. "It's not glamorous or fun and the reward doesn't come quickly.
"It's waking up at 5 a.m. when your body is sore and you've eight straight games and doing the same thing you spent 16 hours doing the day before.
"But like you said, we may swing the hammer at the rock 1,000 times without making a dent but on the 1,001st hit, it could crack wide open."
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