Baylor head coach Matt Rhule is one coach facing significant challenges in his first year.
Rhule did an admirable job saving a recruiting class that (mostly) fled after the fallout from Baylor’s ongoing sexual assault scandal by signing 27 players. After a glut of transfers (a few more may join after spring practice, commonplace with a new coach) and a torrent of terrible press, Rhule will try and get the Bears into the headlines for their play. It doesn’t help that Rhule has already dismissed support staff members for being caught in a prostitution sting and sending inappropriate text messages to a teenager.
Rhule has plenty of public relations rehab to do off the field. On the field, the problem is they may be too short-staffed to compete in the Big 12 this season. The lack of depth under interim coach Jim Grobe cost Baylor at the end of the last season, as the Bears lost their last six regular-season games (four by 20-plus points) and will likely harm Rhule in his first season.
Rhule arrives highly regarded from Temple, where he was revered for a smashmouth, run-heavy offensive style and a sturdy defensive line. That stands in stark contrast to the Art Briles regime, which featured college football’s most electric offense and a passable, but often effective defense. The question is whether Rhule can transform the defense into the punishing kinds he raised at Temple.
Fortunately for Rhule, finding a starting quarterback shouldn’t be a major issue in his first season. Sophomore Zach Smith looked like the future after shredding Boise State to the tune of 28-for-39 passing, 375 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Add in graduate transfer Anu Solomon from Arizona, who shined as a freshman in Tucson but struggle with injuries and inconsistency afterwards, and a formidable quarterback competition should emerge in Waco.