WACO, Texas (AP) — New Baylor coach Matt Rhule is focused on trying to build a program, not a team. Building a culture, not an attitude.
And Rhule says that approach isn’t dictated by the Bears having to deal with the aftermath of a sexual assault scandal that includes ongoing lawsuits, investigations and possible NCAA sanctions.
“That’s what I would have done at Temple,” said Rhule, who is coming off consecutive 10-win seasons with the Owls. “All it is, is we try to build a culture of excellence where everything counts. What you do off the field, what you do in the classroom, how you treat other people is just as important as how you run a curl, how you run a post. … We’re trying to make sure our kids know what it means to be a man.”
Since taking the Baylor job last December, when he also had an offer from another Power Five school, Rhule has confronted head-on the situation that he inherited — and worked to make sure the same mistakes don’t happen again at the world’s largest Baptist university.
“There’s been a lot of sadness, but hopefully there’s hope, and hope that we can have a great new future,” said Rhule, the son of a minister and former coach.
The Bears were 7-6 last season under acting head coach Jim Grobe, and the assistants from the staff of former two-time Big 12 champion head coach Art Briles. Three weeks after Rhule was named coach with Grobe still in charge on the field, the Bears beat Boise State in the Cactus Bowl to snap a six-game losing skid.
Baylor goes into this season with new assistant coaches, new schemes on both sides of the ball and the hopes for a fresh start.
“All we can do is push forward, push forward and be those upstanding guys that we know we are, regardless of what people say,” said defensive end K.J. Smith, a third-year starter. “Just be who we know we are and just try to change the narrative.”
A few other things to know as the Bears get ready to take the field under Rhule:
NOT SO FAST
The Bears were high tempo under Briles, spreading things out to have the nation’s biggest-gaining and highest-scoring offense. Things started to change last season even when Kendal Briles, the former head coach’s son, was still calling plays as offensive coordinator. Baylor fans got their first indication of how different a pro-style offense looks when quarterbacks lined up under center with a fullback in the backfield some during the spring game. Rhule said Baylor will mix its tempo.
TAKING THE SNAPS
When Seth Russell sustained a season-ending ankle injury last year, true freshman Zach Smith was the starting quarterback for the final four games. But Smith is sharing first-team snaps in fall camp with Anu Solomon, a graduate transfer from Arizona, and true freshman Charlie Brewer. Glenn Thomas, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said each has a different skill set, and believes the extended competition for the starting spot is “extremely positive.”
Rhule is allowing a peek of the Bears practicing, meeting and interacting off the field in “Baylor Football Unscripted,” a video series that started with a five-minute episode. Rhule wants people to get to know his assistant coaches and the players.
“This is a way for us to maybe pull back the veil and let people see inside and what we’re talking about on a day-in, day-out basis,” Rhule said.
STARTING THE SEASON
The Bears play their first two games at home along the banks of the Brazos River. Their opener is Sept. 2 against Liberty, a game that was on the schedule before former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw took the same role at that private Virginia school. McCaw resigned in May 2016, less than a week after Briles was fired and the AD was put on probation as part of the school’s reaction to a scathing report about its failure to properly respond to allegations of sexual assaults.
After a non-conference game at Duke on Sept. 16, the Bears will face the toughest stretch of their schedule with consecutive games against Big 12 favorites Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, with the latter two games coming on the road.