Bold, aggressive Big Ten leaves door open for more expansion

Getty Images
0 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren talked about the conference being bold and aggressive as college sports goes through a period of sweeping change and left the door open for more expansion after the league added Southern California and UCLA.

Warren’s opening remarks to begin Big Ten football media days went nearly 15 minutes before he directly mentioned the two Los Angeles schools that announced last month they will be joining the conference in 2024.

“Regarding expansion, I get asked every single day what’s next? It may include future expansion,” Warren said. “We will not expand just to expand. It will be strategic. It will add additional value to our conference.”

He added: “We are in a perpetual state of evaluating what’s next for college athletics.”

Warren also said the Big Ten is in the process of finalizing a new media rights deal that will go into effect next year, with an announcement expected “sooner rather than later.” He dodged questions about what it could be worth to the conference but some projections have the Big Ten in position to pay out about $100 million in revenue annually to its schools in the coming years.

He did say USC and UCLA will enter the conference as full members with regards to revenue sharing. In previous expansions with Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland, the incoming members received partial shares of revenue at first.

The West Coast additions will make the Big Ten a coast-to-coast conference. For football coaches, the prospect of making long road trips was not much of a concern compared to the benefits USC and UCLA bring.

Just a year ago at the first in-person Big Ten media days hosted by Warren as commissioner, the SEC dominated headlines with news that Texas and Oklahoma would be leaving the Big 12 for the Southern superconference.

The Big Ten’s counterpunch came about 11 months later.

“I thought it was a very smart move for our league to get out in front of any changes that might be happening around the country,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said.

Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck summed it up succinctly: “L.A.! Are you kidding me? That’s perfect.”

Warren reminisced about the days when his family would shop from a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog and the company’s long history in and around Chicago. The third-year commissioner, who received plenty of criticism of the Big Ten’s handling of the 2020 pandemic season, said he would not let the conference become an outdated business like Sears.

“Where expansion goes, I don’t know,” he said. “It is important for all of us in business to recognize that were in a time of change. I’m embracing change. I’m going to be very aggressive.”

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.