Hartman: ‘I owed it to Wake Forest’ to return after ACC loss

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sam Hartman walked off the field at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium in December in despair after throwing four interceptions in Wake Forest’s 45-21 loss to Pittsburgh in the 2021 ACC championship game.

The 22-year-old quarterback was so downtrodden he declined interviews after the game.

Hartman hasn’t forgotten that night in which the Demon Deacons were held scoreless in their final 13 possessions and missed out on a chance to win the school’s first ACC title since 2006.

“It’s one of the reasons I came back. It’s a legacy, right?” said Hartman, a redshirt junior who has thrown for 9,266 yards and 72 touchdowns during his four seasons. “Wake Forest invested in me and I want to invest back in Wake Forest. I felt like I owed it to them and their belief in me. … I wanted to make it right.”

Hartman was in good spirits on Wednesday, arriving at ACC Media Days wearing a “Peaky cap,” a nod to his favorite TV character Tommy Shelby from the early 1900s British crime drama “Peaky Blinders.” (“I like his attitude and his mentality,” Hartman said.)

Aside from the ACC title game, Hartman had a spectacular season. He threw for 4,228 yards with 39 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, helping Wake Forest unseat national power Clemson to win the Atlantic Division championship. After the ACC loss, the Deacons bounced back to beat Rutgers 38-10 in the Gator Bowl to finish 11-3.

And while Tommy Shelby is known as a no-nonsense character who doesn’t take anything from anyone, Hartman said he’s learned to “tone down” his trash talk during the game as he’s matured .

“I’ve learned if you trash talk people, they hit you harder – so I’ve kind of shied away from that,” Hartman said with a laugh. “I’m more likely to make cordial conversation.”

EXPERIENCED QUARTERBACKS

Wake Forest isn’t the only Atlantic Division team returning an experienced quarterback – all seven will.

That group that includes Devin Leary with North Carolina State and DJ Uiagalelei at Clemson.

Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said he’s never seen this kind of scenario before, adding that he expects the Atlantic to be a “slugfest.”

“If you are playing a team whose quarterback is not savvy and doesn’t have experience and yours is, you have a great advantage,” Doeren said. “We don’t have that in any game as far as playing against a nonstarter.”

Other returning starting QBs in the division are Florida State’s Jordan Travis, Syracuse’s Garrett Shrader, Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec and Louisville’s Mailk Cunningham.

DABO’S SUPPORT

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the difference between Uiagalelei and his successful predecessors Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson is that Uiagalelei hasn’t gotten the support from those around him.

Uiagalelei received heavy criticism last year for the Tigers’ falloff in offensive production, but Swinney threw his support behind him Wednesday.

“I got a lot of confidence in DJ,” Swinney said. “He’s got some scars on him, some shrapnel – and that’s going to serve him well. … But you’ve got to go do it. And I believe he will do it.”

PLAYOFF EXPANSION

Commissioner Jim Phillips said the ACC is supportive of an expanded College Football Playoff, but added there “is more work to be done” before that comes to fruition.

In January, Phillips preached caution when it came to playoff expansion, citing concerns about athlete welfare, the impact on academics and the length of the season.

“The ACC took what we believe was a necessary stance regarding last fall’s CFP proposal,” Phillips said. “This was based on feeling we must all come together to address before rushing into a new model.”

But Phillips’ optimism comes after what he called “great meetings” with other conference commissioners in April and June. He said he is confident that the concerns of the ACC and others will be addressed and “a new model with great access will ultimately come to pass.”

Phillips said an expansion still might take some time.

“I don’t expect us in September when we get together to line up and announce a new CFP structure,” Phillips said. “… I don’t know that there’s a separation now with those things. We’ll see, but I think the health and safety, the 365-day calendar review. I mean, we’ve talked about access, automatic qualifiers. There’s a lot of things to discuss.”

FINAL YEAR OF DIVISIONS

This will be the final season the ACC uses the two-division format.

Beginning in 2023, the league will go to one 14-team division and the teams with the top two winning percentages will advance to the annual conference championship game the first weekend of December in Charlotte.

That would seem to be an advantage to teams in the Atlantic Division that have had to compete for one spot with Clemson, which had won every ACC title since 2014 before being upended by Wake Forest last season.

“If you take the division votes every year, the Atlantic was for eliminating it, and the Coastal was for keeping it,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.

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.