Tennessee State hires 1st-time coach Eddie George hoping for revival

George Walker IV / The Tennessean

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee State is banking on Eddie George’s name, connections and football knowledge as a former NFL running back to return the proud program with 13 Black national championships to national prominence.

TSU, a historically Black college or university, introduced George at a news conference Tuesday inside the Gentry Center with the Aristocrat of Bands on hand. Athletic director Mikki Allen said his priority when hired a year ago was to renew the standard of excellence. He believes he found his man in George, a proven winner on and off the field.

“He’s dynamic. He’s charismatic. He’s energetic and magnetic and has all the tools necessary to build a championship level program here at the Tennessee State University,” Allen said.

Tennessee State is taking a risk. George, a four-time Pro Bowl running back with the Tennessee Titans and the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner with Ohio State, has not coached before. He played nine seasons in the NFL and ran for 10,441 yards.

George said this is a new chapter for him. “The No. 1 goal is to win and bring prominence back to this university where it belongs,” he said.

George said he truly understands the history of Tennessee State football. The campus hosted the then-Tennessee Oilers’ first training camps in 1997 and 1998 after the franchise relocated from Houston.

He ticked off the names of TSU coaches past from Henry Kean and John A. Merritt to Joe Gilliam Sr. and players like Pro Football Hall of Famers Richard Dent and Claude Humphrey. George noted that TSU is the No. 1 HBCU for producing NFL players.

“Very aware, extremely aware of the rich history here, and I get it,” George said. “So taking this job on carries a lot. I have some big shoes to fill. But I feel like I’m the man to get the job done.”

At first, George told TSU no. His wife, actor and singer-songwriter Taj George, encouraged him to take the job. George said he consulted with his former Titans coach Jeff Fisher, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, current Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel and Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell about what a head coach does.

He called this opportunity a huge responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.

“I have to to be honest,” George said. “When I had some excitement about it, `Man, it’d be pretty cool to be a head coach.’ I’ve seen what Deion (Sanders) has down at Jackson State, the energy he’s created.”

George’s businesses include a wealth management company he had been focused on in recent months along with playing golf. Also an actor, George has appeared on Broadway and TV. He said all that prepared him for this moment.

The Tigers went 58-61 over the past 11 seasons, with only one FCS playoff appearance in 2013. Tennessee State announced Monday that coach Rod Reed’s contract was not being renewed. The Tigers have had three consecutive losing seasons, including 2-5 this spring.

George didn’t mention his initial coaching staff, which reportedly will include Fisher’s son, Brandon, who was a defensive assistant at Auburn this past season and defensive coordinator at Southern Utah in 2019.

Allen, who won a national championship playing for Tennessee in 1998, said he knew he had to sell George on this opportunity with everything he has going. But Allen said he told TSU President Glenda Glover that George would have a transformational impact.

Reed told reporters after his final game that the program had been dealing with budget cuts, with no players in summer school the past five years and no real recruiting budget either.

Allen said TSU will be announcing fundraising later Tuesday to pay for improvements to athletics and help pay for the coaching staff George is assembling. George said they’ve talked about the resources needed to take TSU to the top of the Ohio Valley Conference and then compete nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision.

“We’re chasing North Dakota State,” Allen said. “We want to win national titles. We don’t just want to win conference titles, so there’s a commitment financially that goes into that.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.