WACO, Texas (AP) – Matt Rhule has been in perpetual motion since becoming Baylor’s coach more than three months ago.
Now, Rhule finally gets to coach football when the Bears open spring practice Saturday.
“I’m unbelievably excited,” Rhule said this week in his office as workers prepared the practice field outside the window. “I’m anxious to see what some of these guys can do. … I haven’t seen a quarterback throw a ball yet. We haven’t done any technique stuff.”
Rhule took over a program reeling from the sexual assault scandal that cost two-time Big 12 champion coach Art Briles his job last May.
The world’s largest Baptist university is facing several federal lawsuits from women who say the school for years ignored or mishandled reports of sexual and physical assault, some against football players. Baylor officials have said an internal investigation found at least 17 women who reported being sexually assaulted by 19 football players in recent years, although one lawsuit puts the number of women much higher.
“You have to move forward while acknowledging the past, and acknowledging what’s happened. And the best way to acknowledge it is to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Rhule said. “While you’d love for just kind of a new chapter to begin, that’s not the reality.”
Knowing that what happened in the past will continue to be talked about, Rhule still tries to put his head down and be concerned about today — the way he approaches football and life. He said the program’s reaction to anything that happens in the future “is going to be honest and full of integrity, and it’s going to be done the right way.”
Returning senior starting nickelback Travon Blanchard is suspended indefinitely from all team-related activities after the school was notified that a court granted a woman’s request for a protective order against him. According to court records, the woman with whom he had a relationship accused him of multiple acts of violence and threats against her.
Two operation staff members brought to Baylor by Rhule have already been dismissed.
An assistant strength and conditioning coach was fired after being arrested in a prostitution sting last month. An associate director of football operations lost his job this week for sending inappropriate text messages to a teenager, though the person was considered an adult under Texas statute.
“There’s a standard we’ve set and if you don’t meet that standard, action will be taken,” Rhule said. “I recognize the scrutiny our program is under. I knew that when I came in. That scrutiny doesn’t guide our decisions. We will hold our students and our staff to the highest standards of conduct.”
When Rhule took the job Dec. 6, he had to immediately start recruiting. Baylor had only one firm commitment then, but on Feb. 1 had a solid and balanced 27-player signing class that ranked among the upper half of the Big 12.
Rhule also put together a coaching staff. He didn’t keep any of the assistants from Briles’ staff that had been retained last season to work with interim coach Jim Grobe.
Six of Baylor’s new assistants were with Rhule at Temple, which was the AAC champion with its second consecutive 10-win season. Two others came from NFL staffs.
Baylor goes into the spring with a full allotment of 85 scholarship players on a roster nearing 100 players. They were all split into smaller groups this week for a series of team-bonding challenges, like others throughout the offseason.
“I said when I got the job, I believed that this is where I was supposed to be. … I didn’t say that I believed that it was going to be easy,” Rhule said. “I have enjoyed every moment being here, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know these players, and I really believe that there’s going to be really a lot of success ahead.”