Nebraska and former Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule were finalizing a deal Friday to make him the Cornhuskers’ coach.
A person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that after several days of discussions, Nebraska made Rhule an offer Thursday that persuaded the former Temple and Baylor coach to return to college after two-plus years in the NFL.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details of a contract – including what the Panthers might still owe Rhule – are still be worked out and no announcement from the school was imminent.
ESPN first reported Nebraska was closing in on a deal to make Rhule its coach.
Rhule has been out of work less than two months since getting fired five games into his third season with the Panthers.
He 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.
One of eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins but more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is pinning its hopes on the 47-year-old Rhule to recreate his success at his previous two college stops. Twice Rhule took over struggling programs and built them into conference contenders in three years.
The Cornhuskers beat Iowa 24-17 on Friday and finished 4-8, their sixth straight losing season. Athletic director Trev Alberts fired Scott 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.
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.
Rhule would become the sixth Nebraska coach since College Football Hall of Famer Tom Osborne retired after the 1997 season. The Huskers haven’t won a conference championship since 1999 under Frank Solich or played in a bowl since 2016 under Mike Riley.
Rhule is no stranger 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.
Alberts has lamented the Huskers’ lack of player development and physicality, particularly on the lines. Those areas would appear to be in Rhule’s wheelhouse. He was a defensive line coach at Temple in 2006 before moving to the offensive side as quarterbacks coach and coordinator. He left Temple for a year to be the New York Giants’ assistant offensive line coach in 2012.
Rhule returned to Temple as head coach when Steve Adazzio left for Boston College, and the Owls went 2-10 and 6-6 before he put together back-to-back 10-win seasons and won the 2016 American Athletic Conference championship.
He was named Baylor’s coach on Dec. 6, 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 was the first NFL coach to be fired this year after the Panthers lost four of their first five games.