Washington QB competition open as spring practice nears end

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE — If finally getting a month of spring practices was supposed to clarify Washington’s quarterback situation, it didn’t quite work.

The incumbent, Dylan Morris, looked perfectly capable during a limited four-game season last fall. But Washington added Colorado State transfer Patrick O'Brien during the offseason and incoming freshman Sam Huard is one of the highest-rated recruits in the country and his family has a long connection to the Huskies program.

All three will get to make their final spring impressions when Washington plays its spring game before an expected 9,000 fans at Husky Stadium.

Washington isn’t in a rush to make a decision. The Huskies have plenty of time and options ahead of the September opener against Montana and their highly anticipated Week 2 trip to Michigan. But the decision on which QB – or how many QBs – is under center when the season begins is far from straightforward.

“We’re gonna do whatever’s best for our football team to win football games. There’s no laid out, or we’re gonna do this and this and this,” coach Jimmy Lake said. “The whole goal is to prepare our team to win football games. And whoever opponent we’re playing, we’re gonna put the best 11 out there on offense and the best 11 out there on defense that ensures us that we’re going to get the victory.”

Lake is a big fan of all the quarterback options at the Huskies’ disposal.

Morris wasn’t flashy but he also didn’t make many obvious mistakes last season in his four-game stint. He was solid in wins over Oregon State and Arizona and led Washington back from a 21-0 deficit to beat Utah 24-21.

His 61% completion percentage and just one game with an interception were positives, but the Huskies struggled to push the ball downfield.

O’Brien has far more experience after starting each of the past two seasons at Colorado State. His best game last season came in a win over Wyoming, where O’Brien threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another.

“I’m impressed with the way Patrick’s been able to learn his stuff. I’m impressed with his vision. I’m impressed with his demeanor; he can take the heat. I already knew (Morris) could,” offensive coordinator John Donovan said. “I already knew (Morris) could, because I’ve been in the fray with him. I do think with those guys, they’re all doing a good job, and I think over the next few months, this next process, they’re going to push each other. It’s going to be fun.”

Huard would seem to have the smallest chance of getting on the field this fall but he has the deepest ties to the program. His father, Damon, and uncle Brock both quarterbacked the Huskies during the 1990s. Eventually, Huard is expected to be the next in his family to become Washington’s starting QB.

“I’m just happy that you know that room is talented, and they’re farther ahead than where we were last year,” Lake said. “So that’s gonna make our whole team better.”

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.