By Charles Jay
Finally, a coach who admits that there are outside “distractions” affecting his team’s game preparation. In fact, two of them.
Matt Rhule is getting an awful lot of attention these days. That’s because the media in the largest city in America seems to be obsessed with whether he will follow the call of the almighty dollar and seek his fortune in the NFL.
Right now Rhule is one of the hottest properties out there. After all, the former Penn State linebacker has taken a Baylor program that was in ruins and taken it from a 1-11 disaster to a 7-6 season, punctuated by a Texas Bowl victory over Vanderbilt, to this year’s 11-2 success (9-4 against the spread) that had the Bears on the brink of qualifying for the four-team college football playoff. That’s heady stuff.
It was unfortunate that his team blew a huge lead to Oklahoma in the first meeting, then lost in overtime to the Sooners the second time around. But people noticed. The NFL noticed.
And now, if you believe all the rumors, he is headed to either the Carolina Panthers or the New York Giants, although he says that no NFL clubs have contacted him.
“It’s certainly a distraction in that our guys are answering that instead of talking about the game, which I hate,” said Rhule. Of course, the game he’s talking about is the Sugar Bowl, slated for an 8:45 PM ET start on Wednesday at the Superdome in New Orleans.
In that game, Baylor plays the Georgia Bulldogs, who are a four-point favorite with a total of 41, according to the good folks at BetAnySports.
When last heard from on this subject, Rhule was insisting that he would be at Baylor next season, and indeed his contract, with an extension that was signed this season, would have him in Waco through 2028. But in the coaching profession, contracts are made to be broken.
Rhule has been in the NFL before, as an assistant offensive line coach with the Giants in 2012. And off his success as the head coach at Temple, he got an interview for the Indianapolis Colts’ job two years ago. Her actually couldn’t get an interview with the Giants, who hired Pat Shurmur instead, only to fire him this past week. And then he got pretty far in talks with the Jets, only to see those talks fizzle because they did not want to give him complete freedom in hiring his coaching staff.
I would say he’s in a more leveraged position at the moment.
There is pressure on Giants’ GM Dave Gettleman to make the right choice, because although his job has been spared for the time being, one would think he could not withstand another blunder.
Long-time New York Post columnist Steve Serby, who covers the team, thinks that he might help preserve Gettleman’s job a little longer because “he would better motivate Gettleman’s army of young draftees better than Shurmur did.”
NJ.com recently ranked Rhule second (to Josh McDaniels) among perceived candidates for the head coaching position.
Yes, it can be a real distraction.
And it would be a shame if it worked that way, because Baylor has a real chance to beat an SEC and national powerhouse in Georgia, which also comes in with an 11-2 record but was blown out 37-10 by LSU in the SEC championship game.
BetAnySports patrons can only assume that Rhule has been able to summon some focus and intensity from his team as a response to this immense opportunity, which has not come along often for the Bears. Meanwhile, Georgia may actually look at this is something below what they were hoping for, and which they would have gotten if they could have beaten LSU – a spot among the “Final Four.”
And you can sense the indifference in the atmosphere. The Bulldogs will be missing three starters from the offensive line. Right tackle Isaiah Wilson and left tackle Andrew Thomas (an All-American) are skipping this bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft, for which they have declared. Right guard Ben Cleveland has been ruled ineligible because of academics.
Safety JR Reed is shelved with a foot injury. Defensive lineman Tyler Clark is likely out, and the same can be said for backup running back Brian Herrien. Wide receivers Lawrence Cager and Dominick Blaylock are unavailable.
And the most curious case is that of De’Andre Swift. The junior running back, who gained 1261 yards on 6.2 yards a carry, has declared for the NFL Draft AND is dealing with a shoulder injury. He is inclined not to take too much of a risk, and head coach Kirby Smart is apparently cooperating. He has stated that Swift wouldn’t play unless he is 100% and he doesn’t seem to be there now, so it looks like a game-time decision.
By the way, Swift’s next-in-line backup (#3 on the chart) is James Cook, who recently got pulled over in his car, where cops found liquor and a gun. He was detained, but he’ll play. He’ll have to; how many guys are left?
His antics may give you an indication as to how seriously these guys are taking the game.
And Smart has made mention of the fact that he is sick and tired of answering questions about the players who aren’t there.
In other words, he can’t even get an edge over Rhule in the battle of the “distractions.”
Maybe it’s gotten to the point where the wrong team is favored.
But we’re okay with that. You see, Rhule is a 69% proposition getting points since he became a head coach. And his Bears have covered their last eight games as an underdog.
So he exceeds expectations. And that’s one of the reasons the aforementioned Serby, in addressing Giants’ management in print, says of Rhule, “Get him, and you won’t be humiliated two years from now.”
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