Why Matt Rhule likely won’t return to college football — at least not yet

By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer

Matt Rhule ain’t coming back to coaching — not in 2022. And, if we’re placing bets, not in 2023 either.

In fact, I’m not sure Rhule should rejoin the coaching ranks at all. He’s getting paid $40 million to go home. He’s getting paid $834,000 a month for the next 48 months to not work.

When the Carolina Panthers informed him that he was being relieved of his duties, Rhule probably considered going full Ed Orgeron, who, when LSU paid him $17.5 million to not work, replied: “What time do you want me to leave, and what door do you want me out of, brother?'”

If it were you, and you were offered that kind of moolah to not get your head kicked in Tom Brady’s division tomorrow, you probably wouldn’t show up to work either. 

Will Matt Rhule return to college?

In his Week 7 mailbag, RJ Young answers fan questions, including whether Matt Rhule might return to college after being fired by the Carolina Panthers.

Sure, buyouts are a part of football life. It’s the price of being able to fire someone, and administrators have been handing out eight-figure checks like stimulus packages to guys just like Rhule over the last month — Paul Chryst at Wisconsin, Karl Dorrell at Colorado, Scott Frost at Nebraska.

Nebraska certainly has the funding and the fan base to support a rebuild. The state rallies around the Huskers, and the stadium continues to sell out even when the Huskers are bad.

They’re closing in on 400 consecutive sellouts in Lincoln in a sport that only plays six or seven home games a year. Trev Alberts knows better than most that Rhule could help the Huskers.

At Wisconsin, though, it feels like Jim Leonhard will have his interim tag removed at the end of the season if the Badgers finish anywhere close to respectable. He’s one of the best defensive coaches in the sport and a legend in Madison.

Georgia Tech and Colorado would be wise to check in with Rhule, but they’re tough sells for a man who has accomplished as much as he has.

Tech is fighting for players in the same regional pool as the SEC as well as the ACC, and, as much as college football aficionados like to claim winning recruitment at home is the formula for winning football, players come from everywhere. And Rhule would have to do that to win in a state where the defending national champs are just up the road in Athens. 

But the real rub for these programs is someone else is going to get fired by a Power 5 program. And if you’re convinced that Rhule is going to coach in 2023, why wouldn’t he want to wait and see what else opens up?

Is Baker Mayfield to blame for Matt Rhule’s firing?

The Carolina Panthers fired Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start. Baker Mayfield will now be playing for his sixth coach in five seasons.

Coaches aren’t the types to be content sitting on a hefty buyout while they cut lawns and finish honey-do lists. Gus Malzahn, for example, took $21 million of Auburn’s money and went straight to work at Central Florida

It happens. 

But Rhule? With $40 million in his pocket? Come on now. 

And yet there are still folks who believe he might be coaxed into rebuilding their broken programs, even with all the extra work that comes with the college game.

Recruiting is an everyday affair, even when the NCAA calendar says it ain’t. You’re either recruiting players to come or recruiting them to stay, and the best head coaches spend more time on the phone — talking or texting — than they do coaching ball.

But you still think Rhule wants to coach your team. I get it. Losing is awful. We hate losing more than we like winning.

Feeling as if the right man might show up, clean house and put your program back on the path to respectability, maybe even a championship, is what the game’s all about.

For presidents of universities, the stakes are even higher. The right head football coach can lead to an increase in enrollment, a higher average ACT among entering freshmen, an increase in alumni donations, and eventually a rise in the price of tuition.

For a university president, the head football coach might as well be the chief marketing officer. So I’m not the least bit upset that administrators with bad football programs will make a neat line outside Rhule’s door in Carolina.

He’s certainly shown himself to be the consummate program-builder.

The man took a job at Temple and flipped that program into a winner — 10-3 in 2016 while Rhule was in charge — with a quarterback that is best known for lighting up an alternative football league that didn’t even play football in 2022. If you don’t know who that quarterback is, you’re making my point.

When Rhule arrived at Baylor, both the university and the football program were in shambles. Following one of the worst sexual assault scandals in major sporting history, Baylor was forced to clean house, and Rhule was the man who accepted the task of returning Baylor’s winning pedigree.

And I’ll be dipped in chili and rolled in breadcrumbs if he didn’t go 1-11 in 2017, 7-6 in 2018 and 11-3 in 2019. And you must be thinking if he can do that at Baylor, why couldn’t he do that at Nebraska or even Georgia Tech? 

The truth is, he could. And, coaches being the type to continue to climb a greasy pole, he’ll probably get back into it at some level.

But for $40 million I’m willing to bet there’s going to be some time before he does.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.

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