The #RhuleofLaw has officially ended in Waco.
The Matt Rhule hire was a home run for the Bears. Back when it was clear that they would probably have to move off Art Briles I wrote an article suggesting that they make a defensive hire and stick with the 3-down defense they were experimenting with toward the end with Phil Bennett. You’re welcome, Mack Rhoades.
But now, after getting the Bears to 11-2 in year three and playing in the Big 12 championship game, Rhule is moving on to the NFL.
Amidst the rumors and reporting that took place when NFL teams started chasing after Rhule we got confirmation of the extent of the contract that Baylor used to initially lure in Rhule and try to keep him. The man was making something like $6 mill per, which is competitive with the biggest programs in college football. A pal of mine that’s a Baylor grad and fan argued that this is one of the better jobs in college football because you get paid a ton, there aren’t super high expectations, and your money is going a REALLY long ways in Waco and Texas in general.
Obviously there’s some truth to that, you can also be pals with Chip and Joanna Gaines. The downside is that you don’t have nationally competitive resources (not yet at least) and Waco isn’t the hippest town in the country (though it’s decreasingly as bad as its reputation).
Here are the draws to the Baylor job these days:
The Bears can pay salary competitive with most any other program in the country. Art Briles and Matt Rhule were both making crazy money.
3rd/4th best recruiting situation in the Big 12
Here’s how the Bears have done since the RG3 Heisman season in 2011 that put the program on the map.
The third strongest recruiting program in the Big 12 behind Texas and Oklahoma is either Baylor or TCU. The Frogs have been a bit more consistently ahead but they also have had the same HC the entire time and didn’t have a massive scandal bring down almost every top level administrator at the school.
For talent in the Big 12 it’s hard to do better than proximity and access to Houston and DFW. Texas Tech has a lot of alumni there but then they have to convince kids to cross the ocean out to West Texas. Baylor ironically signed a bunch of West Texas kids in their last class along with a good share of DFW and central Texas kids.
Thanks to the new early signing day, while the current 2020 Baylor class isn’t rated super highly it’s about consistent in quality with what they’ve signed in previous years and is lower ranked simply because it has only 12 members. They don’t have tons of room to add several more, which is the main reason it’s as small as it is, but the new coach could make a few key additions as needed and do a lot of work through the portal.
Strong national pathway
If Baylor had won the Big 12 this last year they’re almost certainly in the playoffs. Of course they would have been swamped had they made the playoffs but the pathway is there. It’s hard to win the Big 12 conference but if you do so then you’re in great shape nationally and if they expand the playoffs to six or eight teams in a coming season then any Big 12 champion is essentially a lock (I wouldn’t bet on a non-OU/TX school getting in at-large though).
Recruiting Texas in particular
There’s some big advantages to recruiting in Texas, there’s a ton of talent across the state and also a lot of highly developed skill. Matt Rhule wisely stuck with the spread offense upon coming to Baylor and essentially adapted the sort of power run game that they ran at Temple to make greater utilization of spread sets and RPOs.
Rhule came to Waco and was able to snatch Charlie Brewer away from SMU immediately just by offering a scholarship. That’s the kind of QB skill that’s available around in those parts. I don’t know if he’s made the best choices since then, although Jacob Zeno is at least promising. The current class is missing a QB and has been after Malik Hornsby as a possible solution and that guy’s recruitment has led to several programs passing on him.
You’re always a savvy recruiting away from having a great field general though…or there’s the portal. Local hero Tanner Mordecai will probably be available in 2021. Both Art Briles (disastrously) and Matt Rhule made extensive usage of the portal to get more talent into Waco.
All that makes for a program that can be annually competitive in the Big 12 and maybe catch lightning in a bottle some day and get into the playoffs.
The next step?
By most accounts, one of Baylor’s possible moves if Rhule left would be to promote Joey McGuire to head coach. McGuire was the head coach for a while at Cedar Hill, one of the talent-rich South Dallas burbs.
He coached TEs the first two years at Baylor before moving to DE last season and helping James Lockhart and James Lynch put together breakthrough seasons in the inverted Tampa 2. I get the sense that his primary role at Baylor has been that of recruiter and his philosophy on offense would probably remain the spread system they’ve been running.
You imagine OL coach Shawn Bell would probably stay and not be a part of a Rhule NFL staff in New York. Promoting McGuire would be a move to emphasize cultural and staff continuity and recruiting. Baylor could also give him an interim tag for 2020 and use that season as a trial-run. The trick here is that if you ultimately want to sell the fanbase on promoting McGuire you may not want to make that contingent on success in a 2020 season that may be without Lynch and eight other defensive starters, Denzel Mims, and maybe even Charlie Brewer pending how he’s doing with concussions after the Georgia game.
Between that, a much tougher schedule, and the looks of the Oklahoma schools, Texas, and the rest of the B12 for next season, 2020 is probably a step back for Baylor. The 2019 Big 12 that Rhule pounced on while going 11-2 was one of the weaker seasons for the league this decade but 2020 will feature a ton of returning starters at QB and some great top line talent.
The other move would be to use the power of the purse to go snatch up the most promising HC candidate much like they did last time with Rhule. I’m guessing that Rhoades didn’t put all his eggs in the contract extension basket and has done some vetting and back-channeling on various options. It’s pretty late in the game now though.
My initial suggestion was to go defensive because I didn’t think Baylor could stand out amongst the Big 12 with offense anymore post-Briles. Everyone else was quickly catching up and the odds of getting another coach that innovative on offense was super low. Rhule ultimately worked out because he was able to install a physical culture and a process that helped fashion great defense and then he and his staff proved versatile enough to steal Iowa State’s defense when it proved to be the right answer for how to best scheme up Big 12 offenses.
I think there’s a lot to be said for trying to keep the program rolling with competency and strong recruiting over looking to hire a coach that push the next great tactical innovation. Baylor is positioning themselves these days to be in the conversation by recruiting and developing well and having staff that can adapt well to best practices rather than trying to get out ahead.
Art Briles put Baylor on the map, Matt Rhule proved that they had the resources to stay there, perhaps the next head coach should be a strong manager that can consolidate some of their gains over the last decade.
The problem for the Bears is that they are trying to raise their profile in time for the next round of realignment, should that occur when TV rights change in the next decade. Currently Baylor depends on being a part of the Big 12 and tied to Texas and Oklahoma to keep the TV money spigot flowing. The goal is to become the sort of brand and program that is a draw in TV deals without needing to come attached to the bigger schools to the North and South. With that in mind and money to spend, perhaps the Bears could instead try to take another big swing…
The rise of Baylor under Briles is a full chapter in my book, available on both Kindle and Paperback from Amazon: