WACO, Texas (AP) — Matt Rhule views his new job at Baylor as a calling, and with the passion of a pastor delivered a message of moving forward with the Bears.
The son of a minister and football coach, Rhule was formally introduced Wednesday as coach at the world’s largest Baptist university, and a Big 12 Conference program that has dealt with the fallout of a scandal.
“When the call came to come here, we came,” Rhule said, talking for more than 15 minutes after being introduced to a crowd about 2,000 Baylor supporters. “And we came because we have one purpose … to develop and work with these young people. I’m here to coach football, and I’m here to be the best partner that I can for Baylor.”
The 41-year-old Rhule got a seven-year contract from Baylor after back-to-back 10-win seasons at Temple, where he spent 10 of the past 11 seasons. On the same day he was introduced in Waco, Rhule ran a full-page ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer thanking Temple University, Owls fans and the city of Philadelphia.
His immediate task at Baylor is to start recruiting since the Bears, already with a depleted roster, have only one player verbally committed for signing day in February. There are only days before a quiet period in recruiting starts Monday.
“Kids are reaching out left and right, they want to come to Baylor,” Rhule said after the formal introduction. “They just needed some answers first.”
After a search with many rumored candidates, athletic director Mack Rhoades said Rhule, who the AD knew from his days at Houston and in the same conference with Temple, was the “only person we offered the job to.”
Rhoades, who became Baylor’s AD in August, said he texted Rhule after Temple beat Navy last weekend to congratulate him on winning the American Athletic Conference title. They later met, and Rhoades said it took only about 30 minutes before he knew in his gut, his heart and his mind that he had found the new Bears coach.
“This is a strong leader,” Rhoades said. “This is somebody with great vision who’s going to demand excellence, demand accountability. I love the toughness. So it was all of those things wrapped up.”
Acting head coach Jim Grobe got a standing ovation when he was introduced.
Grobe and his staff, assistants retained from former coach Art Briles’ staff, will coach the Bears (6-6) when they take on Boise State in the Cactus Bowl on Dec. 27, the same day Temple plays Wake Forest in the Military Bowl.
Rhule becomes the full-time replacement for two-time Big 12 champion coach Briles, who was dismissed after a scathing report over the university’s handling of sexual assault complaints, including some against football players.
An investigation by the Pepper Hamilton law firm determined that the school mishandled assault claims for years. The firm’s report in May led to the immediate suspension of Briles, who had eight years left on his contract and reached an undisclosed settlement with the school a month later.
A former Penn State linebacker (1994-97) under Joe Paterno, Rhule said the possibility of NCAA sanctions for Baylor weren’t even an issue for him.
“Just having lived through that at my alma mater, you never know what has to happen, what’s going to happen,” Rhule said. “I think I just trust our leadership and say, whatever happens, these kids need a good coach. I think I can be that coach for them.”
Rhule, a professed Christian, was wearing a newly purchased green tie for the introduction that Baylor called a campus celebration, inside the school’s basketball arena and including the school band and cheerleaders.
The football team sat in section near the raised podium where Rhule spoke. The new coach said those players are “the first and most important piece” and he planned to meet with each of them individually.
As for putting together a coaching staff, he said he had about 480 text messages within two hours after his hiring had been announced Tuesday. He said he hadn’t had a chance to meet yet with the current Baylor assistants, and didn’t rule out the possibility of some being retained.
Some other things Rhule addressed:
On having a defensive background and coming to a school known for big-play, high-scoring offenses: “We’re going to play great defense, and we’re going to have a dynamic offense. … I learned very quickly from coach (Tom) Coughlin that you take your great players and you let them be great.”
On leaving Temple: “It was one of the hardest things I did … to say goodbye, but I knew that our job was done there, our time was over. Those kids went from 2-10 to 6-6 to the winningest two-year stretch at Temple.”
On what he learned from his dad: “He’s a man who spent his life serving others on the football field, in the church, in the youth center that he ran in Times Square in one of the tough neighborhoods in New York City. And he showed me at an early age that we serve God in whatever way we’re called to do it.”