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Is Matt Rhule the right coach to get Nebraska out of this big red mess?

The Cornhuskers are off to a poor start in Rhule’s first season.

Nebraska v Colorado
Head coach Matt Rhule of the Nebraska Cornhuskers looks on in the second half against the the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on September 9, 2023 in Boulder, Colorado.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

I took a class on change management in college, which largely focused on how businesses attempt to get out of ruts by making switches at various operational levels. Clearly I didn’t take much from that class but one statistic stuck with me; only about 33% of change management efforts actually work. And perhaps the greatest sign of that being true is in the college sports coaching world.

Finding a head coach who can sustain success for more than a few seasons is extremely difficult for multiple reasons. The first is the nature of college football, where coaches rely heavily on a steady flow of top recruits coming to their program and developing correctly. The second is the relative immobility of coaches who are good. It’s easy to identify the best coaches in the sport, but it’s a lot harder to actually get them to join your school. All this is to say the situation at Nebraska isn’t going to magically change overnight.

However, there should be questions about whether Matt Rhule is the right man for the job. Even two games into his tenure, Nebraska hasn’t shown any signs of life. In a 36-14 loss to Colorado, led by another first-year head coach in Deion Sanders, the Cornhuskers held their own for about a half before everything came apart. The Buffaloes are undefeated and ranked after two games, while the Huskers are 0-2. Colorado is seemingly the talk of the sport, while Nebraska is an afterthought.

Rhule has a history of making things work at Temple and Baylor, but this is a different animal. In the era of NIL deals, major TV money, transfer portal mania and conference realignment, those old records go out the window. Sanders is showing that even with limited resources, one offseason is enough to breathe energy into a program. And things aren’t going to get any easier.

USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington enter the Big Ten next season and while that may open up some recruiting options in California, the Huskers are going to have a hard time topping UCLA or Washington in any battles. The Texas pipeline which once was a strong point for Nebraska is now SEC territory. Maybe Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago could be a new frontier for Rhule to explore.

The eight-year, $74 million deal Rhule signed won’t look like a major financial commitment once Nebraska starts receiving money from the Big Ten’s media deal. The Cornhuskers have two relatively soft non-conference games before a showdown with Michigan on September 30. Rhule doesn’t necessarily have to win that game, but he certainly has to show he’s got something going on the field. Otherwise, it’ll be time for Nebraska to make another change effort.