THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined by Coach Matt Rhule from Baylor University. Coach, welcome, and your thoughts about the upcoming season.
MATT RHULE: Thank you so much. Good morning. It’s an honor to be here with all of you today. It truly is an honor to be part of the Big 12 conference. My gratitude to Commissioner Bowlsby and to all my fellow coaches for their warm welcome of me to the conference.
I also want to personally acknowledge the impact of Bob Stoops on me as a young coach and on college football in this conference, and I know that he will certainly be missed.
When I arrived in Waco in December, I knew that there would be challenges, but I also saw a tremendous opportunity to coach the game that I love in a tremendous football conference and at a university that shared my personal values. What I did not know was just how many phenomenal people there are at Baylor University, and really, in part, in the entire community — men and women who are committed to education, to faith, to service, to leadership, and to helping the young people in the state of Texas and at our university become the best that they can be.
What I’ve learned in my time at Baylor and Waco is we’re not running from the past, but rather we’re learning from it. Whether it’s Dr. Livingstone or Mack Rhodes, we’re truly committed to getting the wrongs of the past corrected into a bright new future. Together we’re committed to our continued cooperation with external and internal reviews of past conduct, which obviously I cannot comment on, but I’m so very confident that they will make Baylor better and stronger.
In terms of the football program, we’re trying to build a program, not a team. We’re building a culture, not an attitude. Our young men of character, and the four young men that I brought here today — two of whom are college graduates, one young man, Brian Nance, who’s almost done — they’re tremendous representatives of our university. They’ve been working since January to make sure that we build a program that’s committed to the total person, to the character of the young people that we coach. We’ve instituted educational initiatives related of character, decision-making, respecting others and Title IX, and we have a staff that is fully committed to our mission.
From a football staff, our staff comes from all over the country, from the northeast, from Texas, from the NFL. We have over 40 years of NFL experience, and we bring different perspectives and passion to Baylor and to the young people that we coach. We’ll practice hard, we’ll play hard. It’s the only way that I know. But success at Baylor is winning football games, it’s winning championships, but it’s also graduating our young people and making sure that the men that come through our program know what it truly means to be a man when they leave.
I’m honored to be here. I’m honored to be a representative of Baylor University. I’m honored to be here with the kids I’m with today, and I’ll take questions.
Q. Hi, Coach. According to your depth chart, you guys have three true freshmen on your second team for offensive line. What have you guys seen from the first and second team and are you planning on playing around that depth or playing smash-mouth football like you did at Temple?
MATT RHULE: I think on our first team offensive line we have four young men that have played a ton. Pat Lawrence, Blake Blackmar, and Ish [Ishmael] Wilson are all returning starters. At left tackle we have Maurice Porter, who I think as a senior hasn’t started a game. He’s an NFL player to me. Josh Pelzel, who’s played for us the last couple of years, tore his ACL again, so he’s retired from football. And after that, it’s really just a question of depth. We moved a couple of tight ends to the offensive line, we have some true freshmen.
That’s one of the story lines this year. Really no one can get hurt on the offensive line. They’re just not allowed to. But we have young players. We recruited them for a reason. They saw an opportunity to come here, and they have to be ready to play.
I don’t know if we’ll be a smash-mouth team. I hope that myself and our staff is smart enough to kind of play to the talent that we have. We have a bunch of fast kids that were recruited to a system, so we’ll just make sure we take the best advantage of the talent that we have, and we’ll have to count on some young players on the offensive line.
Q. Coach, how do you see making up the production of losing Zamora, Cannon, and Seth? And along those lines, what’s your evaluation of the quarterback competition right now?
MATT RHULE: I’d throw Shock Linwood into that as well, all time leading rusher. I think it’s a little bit of a youth movement we’re going to see. We’re going to see some young players that have waited their turn at the receiver position. In the spring, that was one of the things I was most concerned about, losing a couple of great receivers to the NFL. But I think we have some young kids, Denzel Mims, Pooh [Jared] Atkinson, Chris Platt, who’s on the depth chart at both offense and defense. At Temple we played some kids both ways. We’re going to play Chris Platt, he’s — I don’t know if there’s another kid in college football, he’s a two-sport player, track and football, and he’s going to play both ways.
I think the receiving corps, we’re just going to count on some young kids. Terence Williams is a returning 1,000 life yard rusher. JaMycal Hasty is another great player, we think that has a terrific future.
The quarterback battle, I feel great about all three of them. Anu Solomon has been there. He’s been to the PAC-12 championship game. He’s got a certain something about him. Zach Smith, I think, has, all the talent in the world. He just needs to continue to play. And Charlie Brewer from Lake Travis, he should have been at the prom, should have been in math class, and he was out there with us and still completing about 70 percent of his passes in the spring. I think all three of them are great players, and I’m going to let them battle it out. I don’t think it’s fair to name a starter as a new coach until you absolutely, absolutely know.
Q. Matt, Baylor is probably starting practice earlier than it ever has because there are no longer two-a-days. Anyway, how will it help your team, especially you coming in as a first-year head coach?
MATT RHULE: I think it helps us immensely. I would have started July 1st, if I could have, just because, I think, when you have a new staff and — we have a kind of a complicated defense, I would say. I think Coach Snow asked the kids to make a lot of checks and make a lot of communication. Sometimes it takes time.
So I think every single day we have a chance to be around the kids and to practice, and all those practices don’t mean we have to run into each other. But every single day that we can be together on defense and on offense, I think it’s a benefit. I think it’s probably about 10 or 12 days that we’re in practice that we’re still in summer school, so we’ll have to work around it. Our kids are going to have to be mature and balance the schedule, but I want to welcome any opportunity I have to coach those kids.
Q. You guys finished 2017 with a really nice recruiting class. You’re off to a good start this year. What kind of sort of image things are you still kind of battling through, working on the recruiting front, and can you just talk a little bit about the significance of guys like Coach McGuire, Coach Fran, as far as recruiting efforts.
MATT RHULE: To your first question, I think any person that’s considering coming to Baylor and coming to be a part of the football program should ask, you know, tell me about what’s happened and tell me about the progress that you guys have made. Those are frank and open discussions because, to be quite honest with you, I’m proud of what we’re doing.
Not just the education that we’re doing, because that’s so important, but just the culture that I think we’ve established to have kids that are doing the right thing in the classroom, to have kids that are doing the right thing off the field. So all I do, as we get into recruiting, I tell people, you know what, just come visit us. Come meet the kids. Come meet the guys on our team. You decide if you want your son to be a part of this culture that we have.
I think, when they get around our players, when they get around the four young men that we have here today, when they get around our coaches, they recognize that we’re real and we’re honest. We’re a Christian university. We believe in faith, service, and leadership, and we don’t stray away from that. We don’t hide. We talk very honestly about this is what our university is about. You can come to Baylor and get an elite academic experience, an elite athletic experience, and you’re coming to a place that cares about not just what you can do, but also who you are.
But I have honest conversations about every aspect of what’s happened, and I think we have tremendous recruiters because they’re real and they know how to relate to people. Joey McGuire is one of the great coaches, one of the great people I’ve ever been around. People say me coming here from the northeast, and I hired three great Texas high school coaches, what I will say is this: If I was coaching at Michigan next year, if I was coaching at the Berlin — whatever that old world league team was — I’d hire Joey McGuire and I’d hire David Wetzel and Sean Bell. They’re not just great because they’re not just great high school coaches, they’re great coaches. David could coach anywhere, Joey could coach anywhere. Coach Fran, I think, is one of the great young coaches in college football. I think he’ll be a head coach some day because he can connect with kids and that’s why he’s such a great recruiter and great coach.
Q. Coach, you use that word “culture” a lot. What exactly do you do to help build culture in your program and how do you prioritize off-the-field culture compared to on the field culture?
MATT RHULE: That’s such a great question. I’m glad you asked that. I think for me — I played for Joe Paterno. I’ve been around Tom Coughlin. I read Pete Carroll. To me, what we’re trying to do day in and day out is build a culture of excellence. That’s not because I’m at Baylor. That’s what I would have done at Temple. That’s what I’m doing here. I coached my son’s little league baseball team last year, and even though we were 3-15, that’s what I tried to do there too.
All it is is we try to build a culture of excellence where everything counts. Where every single day whatever you’re asked to do, you have to do it to the best of your ability. What you do off the field, what you do in the classroom, how you treat other people is just as important as how you run a curl, how you run a post. We’re trying to do that one man at a time. We’re trying to make sure our kids know what it means to be a man, that they see that in the way we interact with our wives, with our kids, the way we do what we say we’re going to do. It’s not easy. It’s hard.
If you have a team that’s really smart and good in school, if you have a team that’s a bunch of grown men and do what they’re supposed to do, the football is usually a lot more fun, and the football is a lot easier. I don’t think one thing is more important than the other. Everything counts, and everything’s important. That’s how we try to run our program. That’s how we try to live our lives, knowing that we’re not perfect, knowing I’m a mess half the time and trying to get better and better and better as a coach and better as a father. Just like our kids. They’re trying to get better, but every day we’re trying to build that culture.
Q. Coach, you mentioned Brian Nance in your opening. Can you talk about just his journey and maybe what your expectations are for him this year.
MATT RHULE: When I took the job, I had a young man named Dion Dawkins, who was drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Bills. After I told my team that I was leaving, went in my office, and he came and talked to me for a while. He said, you know, I have a friend that I went to prep school with, Brian Nance. So it was one of the first names that I kind of heard. He said, you know, he was kicked out of school last year at Baylor, was suspended for academic reasons. So I sit there saying to myself, I can’t wait to meet this kid and figure out what’s going on.
He came to the office when we first got the job, and he wasn’t even on the team, and he just introduced himself and talked to us and getting to know him. This is a young man that’s raising his family, that’s playing Division I college football. He’s a committed father. He’s a committed partner. He wakes up every day in Temple and drives 35 minutes to be at workouts at 6:00 a.m. and is never late. And then I got e-mail after e-mail from professors in the spring and even into the summer saying what a joy he is to have in class.
So to me, if there’s an example of the great things that are happening at Baylor, it’s Brian Nance and the commitment he makes day in and day out to be a great father, to be a college graduate, and to be hopefully a tremendous defensive end, which I know he will be.
Q. Matt, you’ve been around the state since you got here, talking to different Baylor fan groups. Like I think last night as well, right? What’s just been the reaction that you’ve gotten from those Baylor fans, obviously, who have been through a lot with this program? Just what are the kinds of things that they’re sharing with you?
MATT RHULE: I think for a lot of them it’s been emotional. You hope that you can share a message that good days are ahead. This is a university that’s been here since 1845, and before the state of Texas was even formed. So I try to make sure that I let them know this wasn’t my only option. I came to Baylor because I knew this was the right place for me and I believed in it.
I cherish being their coach just like they cherish their university. I think that there’s a lot of pride. I think that there’s a lot of — there’s been a lot of sadness, but hopefully there’s hope, and hope that we can have a great new future and respond to the things that have happened.
Q. Matt, it seems like you came out here today, you were very forward about confronting what happened in the past. Why is that so important to you? Why are you so adamant about taking that head on?
MATT RHULE: Because that which we don’t acknowledge, we’re doomed to repeat. So at the end of the day, I don’t know everything that happened, but I just know something happened that was wrong. I know that you first get in there, and you’re kind of like a first responder. Mack was the first one that made the decision to come here and say, I want to go be — I’m going to leave the SEC and go be the athletic director at Baylor. I feel like I’m called to be here and to be here in this moment and to kind of fix this.
If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t learn from it, then what was the point of it? I want to move forward, but I want to move forward always acknowledging the past. And you know what, this issue of sexual assault and gender violence, this isn’t a Baylor issue and this isn’t a college football issue, it’s an every one — it’s a higher education issue. So if we can not just come here and hopefully not just respond to the issue, but hopefully be leaders.
We’re in conversations right now — I know Mack is and Dr. Livingstone and Kristan Tucker, our esteemed Title IX coordinator with Alison Kiss at the Cleary Center, a renowned organization, and with Neil Irvin at Men Can Stop Rape, and we’re trying to develop this, nationally leading a curriculum nor sexual assault in athletic and really in university settings in general to train us.
Not for us, but for us and then hopefully that we can be a leader in this. So I confronted the issue day in and day out at Temple, of sexual assault and gender violence. So it’s not because I’m at Baylor. It’s because this is the issue that’s in front of all of us, and when we send our kids off to college, male and female, this is the issue that’s in front of them. So if we can in any way be a part of the solution, then we should try to be part of the solution.
I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re here. We want to win a ton of football games. We want to graduate people, but we also want to make sure we’re part of the conversation about, hey, let’s not make these mistakes again. Here’s what we’re trying to do to fix it and move forward.
Q. I know you’re going on a charm offensive, meeting fans and getting your message out there. How important is it for to you get to know the coaches and other players in this league since you were at Temple and probably didn’t have a lot of — before you came here, a lot of interaction with them?
MATT RHULE: I’m going to text my wife afterwards. That charm offensive, I love that. That’s great. I think that’s one of the things that I love. I hope — I’m the product — my dad is a coach. I actually just hired my dad at Baylor. They just moved to Waco. All those years of mowing the lawn and all the things he made me do, I’m going to wear him out.
But my dad was a coach. My uncle is in the Pennsylvania high school coaching. I revere and respect coaches. So last year I was in Scottsdale at an event, and my wife sat down next to a lovely lady, and she’s talking to her. She said, you should meet her husband. I looked over, and it was Bill Snyder, it was Coach Snyder. I was frozen with fear. That’s Bill Snyder. That’s a man I’ve been reading about. So to have a chance to be in the league and learn from guys like Coach Snyder and Matt Gundy, I’m so — I’ve had history with Lincoln Riley and history with Tom Herman, but all the great coaches and all the great players. So I’m excited to get around them and get to know them.
Coaches should protect coaching, and there shouldn’t be anything controversial. I’m not going to have a Twitter battle with another coach or say something disrespectful to another coach. I believe in coaching. We’re educators. We’re teachers. We’re there to mold young people. If we want to mentor young people, we have to act like adults ourselves. That’s why I love these coaches. Tom Herman and I have been friends for a long time. We text. We talk. There’s great coaches in this league and great players. I’m anxious to be a part of them and to be part of that brotherhood.