Faux Pelini: Congrats, Matt Rhule — I’m sure you’ll do better than the last five guys

The Athletic

Congratulations, Matt Rhule! You’re the next contestant on Nebraska’s favorite game show, “He’s Not Tom Osborne But He’ll Do for Now.”

I kid! Husker fans are excited to have you — your resume is perfect for Nebraska’s head coach job. Your achievements are applicable and your failures are explainable. You’ve turned around a couple of programs and won on the big stage; sure, you bombed out of the NFL a couple months ago, but your authentic style is not suited for the overpaid crybabies you had to deal with, right?

You are clearly the right next guy in the post-Osborne succession parade. I’m sure you’ll do better than the last five guys did.

Still, Tom Osborne still casts a long shadow in Lincoln and you’ll need to get used to that. Don’t believe me? The games are played in Memorial Stadium on “Tom Osborne Field.” Not only will you have to walk by his statue every day, you’ll be coaching on turf that has Osborne’s name printed on it, like you’re borrowing his underwear at sleepaway camp.

I heard that you’ve called Osborne on the phone already. Well done — very savvy. I don’t care what you guys talked about. Nobody does. What matters is that you called him and told everyone about it. It was exactly the right signal to the rabid red fan base. Did you hear Rhule called Osborne? This guy gets it.

Casual fans think that a college football coach’s job is simple: win a bunch of games, don’t get busted for doing bad things and beat your rival once in a while. And it’s true: A coach does need to do those things, but they are secondary to the unspoken main thing he was hired to do. That thing is the coach’s Real Job.

Every college football coach has a Real Job that is specific to his school. The Real Job at Michigan is to give the alumni something to be proud of. At Kansas, the Real Job is to provide a fun sports distraction until basketball season rolls around. Notre Dame’s Real Job is to win visibly enough to preserve an atmosphere of arrogant dignity.

At Nebraska, your Real Job is to provide hope. Hope that next year will be better than the last, that the ceiling on success can keep getting raised, that maybe, just maybe, the good times will roll again.

To help you succeed at your Real Job at Nebraska, remember these four simple things:

• This is nothing like Baylor. You took over a Baylor program in 2017 that had burned to the ground. You led the Bears out of the darkness, and you should be proud of that. But none of that is going to translate to your gig at Nebraska. Huskers fans have endured plenty of turnovers and transfers and blown leads, but you won’t be starting from scratch in Lincoln like you did in Waco. You’ll be expected to make good things happen soon. No pressure.

• This is exactly like Baylor. When you landed at Baylor you found yourself in a place where the people had lost faith. They questioned whether their football program would ever be something they were proud of again, whether the good old days were gone forever. And that’s exactly what you’re facing in Lincoln. After Osborne retired, the fans earnestly hitched their hope-wagons to each new coach — first Frank Solich, then Bill Callahan, then Bo Pelini, then Mike Riley, then Scott Frost. Husker Nation went all-in on every new hire, and each guy let the fans down in his own way. So the bad news is that until you prove otherwise, you’ll just be Post-Osborne Guy No. 6. But the good news is that the last guy ran Wan’Dale Robinson between the tackles 20 times a game, so the bar isn’t exactly high.

• Embrace the History. Have you walked by Nebraska’s football trophy case? It’s shiny. There are five national championship trophies, three Heismans and countless All-America plaques in there. The Huskers also have an absurd 60-year sellout streak that’s still alive. I’m not joking! Fans have filled up Memorial Stadium since November 1962, the same month Demi Moore was born. And like Ms. Moore’s career, there have been a bunch of great showings, a few duds and some artificial enhancement along the way (thanks to Trev Alberts strong-arming donors into buying leftover tickets). There’s a deep foundation there, lots for you to brag about and sell to recruits. High school kids may not have experienced the Huskers’ 60-3 run in the 1990’s, but their parents did. Whatever you do, don’t forget the history.

• Forget the History. If there’s one thing that’s warped the expectations in Lincoln, it’s the steady diet of 10-win seasons that Osborne conditioned the fans to count on. Believe it or not, one of your (extremely handsome) predecessors won nine games for seven straight seasons and got fired for his trouble. That’s right, winning regularly and making it to seven straight legit bowl games (ones that weren’t named after tasty snacks or lawn implements) wasn’t enough, because the fans had been spoiled by past success. Lucky for you, Huskers fans in 2022 are more patient than they were a decade ago — any bowl game will do these days. You’ll have a longer leash than most of them had, so go out there and build your own legacy.

We want you to succeed at your Real Job in Lincoln, Coach. Hope is a powerful drug and we’re ready for it. Just give us a reason to believe again like you did at Baylor and you’ll have your own statue someday.

(Photo: Steven Branscombe / USA Today)

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