At Texas, a QB competition emerges between Thompson and Card

Austin American Statesman
2 Comments

AUSTIN, Texas — When Casey Thompson and the Texas Longhorns whipped Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, there was little talk of a coming quarterback competition, let alone any whiff of a potential controversy at the position.

Thompson looked very much like the future of the program after an 8-of-10 passing performance with four touchdowns in the second half in relief of injured Sam Ehlinger. Texas dominated, and so did Thompson.

But a January coaching change from Tom Herman to Steve Sarkisian and the ripe talent of backup Hudson Card has made Saturday’s spring scrimmage, and the months leading into the 2021 season, all about one position and who will be the Longhorns starter against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 4.

If Thompson is annoyed at having to prove himself again after waiting his turn for three years, he doesn’t show it.

“I sat for three years. It pushed me to become a better player every day. I said this right after the bowl game, (that) I’m hungry and I want to get better,” Thompson said this week when he and Card met with reporters for the first time this spring. “I’m embracing the competition.”

He didn’t always feel that way. After the 2018 season, Thompson briefly entered the transfer portal along with fellow freshman Cam Rising. Back then, everyone was stuck behind Ehlinger, who still had two seasons to play and had just led Texas to a 10-win season

Rising left for Utah. Thompson stayed. He also had to stay patient for two more years. He now says he’s glad he stuck it out at Texas, even with nothing yet guaranteed. He said “in life you get rewarded if you go through adversity.”

“I’m glad that I waited my turn and I’m glad that I didn’t play right away,” he said. “Obviously, the competitor in me wanted to play right away as a freshman or a sophomore. But now looking back, I think my maturity is really what helped me stay here. And I think I’ve embraced a new chapter in my life and a new role.”

The new challenge is fending off Card, who played at nearby Lake Travis High School, a factory of major-college quarterbacks. Card barely played last season, but his practice throws are already legendary.

Even Ehlinger was awed by what he saw, calling Card a “special player.”

“There’s really no other way to put it,” Ehlinger said. “He came out of the womb spinning the football.”

Card seems to relish the chance to jump the line and grab the job.

“He (Thompson) has had experience, but at the end of the day you grow and learn with new opportunities like this,” Card said. “I’m excited for what the future holds.”

None of this might have happened without the coaching change that upended what looked like a natural progression for Thompson. Sarkisian’s arrival meant new coaches to impress and a new playbook to learn.

“I was shocked,” Thompson said of the Herman firing. “I didn’t see it coming.”

Sarkisian liked what he saw from Thompson in the Alamo Bowl but that was just 10 passes. And he’s not giving any hints leaning toward either player, noting after the last scrimmage that “at that position, we have too many negative plays, and that’s not acceptable.”

Eligibility changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic would have allowed Ehlinger to return next season. He instead chose instead to pursue an NFL career. He ranks among the school’s career passing leaders in just about every major category.

Thompson plans to wear Ehlinger’s jersey No. 11, something he’s wanted since he got to campus.

“I actually wore No. 11 mostly my whole life until I got to college,” Thompson said.

The key is who will be No. 1 come September.

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

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

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
1 Comment

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.