Matt Rhule in Nebraska: How will the coach deal with young staff, roster building and NIL?

LINCOLN, Neb. — Matt Rhule’s decision to fill the last vacancies on his Nebraska coaching staff with staff from Texas and Pennsylvania comes as no surprise.

Rhule built his initial recruiting plan around the talent-rich states where he worked as a college head coach before arriving at Lincoln in November. (And, of course, he’s prioritized high schools in Nebraska that produced 13 Power 5 signers in the Class of 2023 and could approach that peak again in 2024.)

The Huskers in December added the first two high school prospects from Pennsylvania to sign with the school since 1999 — and four from Texas.

Though Nebraska has yet to announce the moves, 52-year-old Bob Wager, formerly of Martin High School in Arlington, Texas, will be among Rhule’s staffers to coach tight ends and support special teams, and, as reported Monday by the athleteCarolina Panthers coaching assistants Rob Dvoracek, 28, to coach linebackers, and Garret McGuire, 23, to coach wide receivers.

Dvoracek is from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He played for Rhule at Temple and trained as a student assistant at the Philadelphia School after a career-ending injury. He followed Rhule to Baylor and landed his first full-time coaching assignment at Lehigh, an FCS school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, near the New Jersey border, in 2019.

He’s something of a coaching prodigy, though not on the same level as McGuire, who is believed to become the youngest assistant coach in FBS – a distinction previously bestowed on the 25-year-old Michigan tight -Ends coach Grant Newsome belonged to .

McGuire played for his father, Joey McGuire, a Texas Tech freshman coach, at Cedar Hill (Texas) High School and for Rhule at Baylor when the elder McGuire joined the Bears in 2017.

Garret “fell in love” with coaching around 2007 around the age of 7 or 8.

Last week I researched everything we learned about Rhule in his first month on the job.

Here’s what else we need to know, starting with these young coaches:

How does Rhule plan to deal with the inexperience of its employees?

Seven of Rhule’s ten assistant coaches are under the age of 45. Six have not yet held a field position in a Power 5 program. Two others, secondary coach Evan Cooper (at Baylor in 2018 and 2019) and offensive line coach Donovan Raiola (at Nebraska in 2022), have limited experience.

Eight assistants’ NFL coaching experience is important. Wager, special teams coordinator Ed Foley and offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield have experience as head coaches, and defensive coordinator Tony White has experience from working in the Pac-12 and ACC.

Undoubtedly, Rhule relies on his connections. The entire workforce fits into his #OOU category, his hashtag for “one of us.”

Defensive coach Terrance Knighton got his first taste of off-campus recruiting with the Huskers last month.

Wager and McGuire will soon be on the road as recruiters for the first time. Expect both to hit the ground running in Texas. Your deep bond with the state will open doors.

The Big Ten is no place to get your feet wet coaching. Rhule likely has a plan, however, and it appears to involve a heavy involvement from the head coach in shaping the style of his young assistants, particularly the line of scrimmage with Knighton and Raiola.

Wager, who was highly regarded as a high school head coach during his 17 years, and Foley, 55, will also serve as mentors to the two in their 20s and three in their 30s on this first Rhule team.

What is Rhule’s approach to roster management?

The Huskers added two signings from participants in the Under Armor All-America Game on Tuesday. Former Nebraska conscript Cameron Lenhardt, a four-star edge rusher from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., jumped back into the class.

Three-star cornerback Ethan Nation of Roswell, Georgia also announced for Nebraska.

They bring the group to 23 members in 2023. Nebraska remains committed to adding transfers to the seven it has signed.

Last year, the Huskers added 15 Division I transfers as a sign of urgency. Six made a big impression in their first few seasons, a decidedly low hitting rate for players whose time to contribute is limited compared to non-high school recruits.

“It’s just about taking the right people off the transfer portal,” Rhule said last month. “What I don’t want in the future is a bunch of kids fighting in my program for four years, and then I just bring in a one-year-old every year.”

However, when problems with deep or portal exits necessitate a year-old player, Rhule said his experience in the NFL has enhanced his ability to influence a player in a small window of time.

“I’m coming back to college football from the NFL and I’m much more focused on understanding what needs to be done for these guys from a football perspective,” he said.

The importance of portal moves has exploded since Rhule left Baylor in early 2020. Those first few weeks in Nebraska, trying to build a large class of newcomers in a short amount of time, almost require an aggressive approach with the portal.

But as he builds his squad for 2024 and beyond, it remains to be seen whether Rhule plans to remain aggressive in the transfer market or bide his time on the best prospects available.

Will he bow to NIL?

Speaking about his first Name, Image and Likeness brushes last month, Rhule sounded dismayed at what he had observed.

“You can see it’s being abused and mishandled in a lot of places,” Rhule said.

Specifically, Rhule said, schools “everywhere” are manipulating players who are not on the portal — a violation of NCAA rules.

“It saddens me as a college football guy,” he said, “to see what happened.”

Rhule vowed that as an institution, Nebraska would approach NIL “in the right way for our boys” and not recruit players who just want to sign for the best NIL deal.

“I have to recruit people who want to be here and want to be coached,” Rhule said.

But the Nile landscape has a vast gray area. Much remains beyond the control of coaches as third party collectives, influenced by donors, negotiate contracts for players, recruits and potential transfers.

“I don’t want division in the dressing room,” Rhule said.

If Rhule cannot control NIL, how does he plan to deal with a situation that could jeopardize his standards? That’s a question every head coach faces at this time. But this is all new to Rhule.

“I only coach college football because I love that age group,” he said, “and I want to feel like I’m doing something in their lives — and our employees are doing something in their lives.” So I can’t start this relationship with lies.”

It sounds good. Straight out of the playbook, in fact, from athletic director Trev Alberts aiming for Nebraska to stay on the right side of a fine line with NIL.

Hard decisions await in the wilderness.

(Photo: Steven Branscombe / USA Today) Matt Rhule in Nebraska: How will the coach deal with young staff, roster building and NIL?

Russell Falcon

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