Grading the Head Coaching Hires

Post #1 of our 5 part series for the holiday week is going to go over the Nebraska hire compared to Wisconsin, Colorado, Auburn, and Arizona State. This will hopefully set the stage for a deeper dive into Matt Rhule and his staff tomorrow when we go over Nebraska’s hires and our expectations.

For those of you that followed me from the board I got kicked off of, i’m going to give the good, bad, and everything in between with our beloved Cornhuskers. So this is my honest assessment of where we fall in the spectrum.

No reason to delay this any further… here we go!

Wisconsin A+

The Badgers were basically in the exact same situation as Nebraska in terms of who they could get. However, they have had a ton more success recently than we have. We will go into this further with the Rhule comments, but they just were on another level. Quite frankly, Chryst had that thing rolling. He had 3 division titles, and if you take out the Covid year he never had a season with less than 8 wins until 2022. I’m going to beat this dead horse a bit, but again they just were in a much different situation than Nebraska. Just last year Wisconsin was 9-4 and won their bowl game. What we wouldn’t give for a season like that in Lincoln nowadays. So they could afford to be a little more “win now” mindset. But what do I mean by that?

Again, not to give too much away for my Rhule section, but Wisconsin has pieces there. They have a winning attitude and demeanor. And they have had very recent success. What they needed was a guy that just needed to get them over the hump. Fickell played in the CFP from a Go5 school, won multiple conference titles, and had two teams that finished in the top 10 as recently as 2021. But Cincy was in a similar spot as Wisconsin was. Fickell replaced Tuberville in Cincy where the program got a bit stagnant as things were with Chryst in Madison. Like Chryst, Tuberville played for a conference title only a couple years prior and won it. The cupboard wasn’t bare by any means… again, Cincy just needed that coach to get them over the hump. Fickell then built on a recent conference title and ascended to unprecedented heights in Cincy that we spoke about earlier. If I would stop there, it’s still a ‘A’ hire every which way.

The other leading candidate besides Fickell to get the Wisconsin job was Jim Leonhard who is an alum and has proven himself to put out elite defenses.’s%20loyalty,from%20the%20Milwaukee%20Journal%20Sentinel.

He was their Mickey Joseph without a felony and with coordinating experience. Fickell gets chosen over him but convinces him to stay. This would essentially be like Rhule getting hired and being able to keep MJ (I know it got out of his hands). Really tough to do better than that. While I know Leonhard has since moved on, it at least shows the fans in Wisconsin it wasn’t due to Leonhard not being wanted. That goes a long way to win people over.

Then Fickell goes and one ups himself again, hiring North Carolina’s OC Phil Longo. The Tarheels have had a top 25 scoring offense each of the last two seasons.

It just can’t get much better than that. You originally keep the guy everyone wanted as HC, you pick off an elite Power 5 coordinator for the other side of the ball? It’s clear that Wisconsin did this whole coaching search thing better than anyone else this offseason.

Nebraska A-

Like with Wisconsin, fit was going to be so important for this hire with Nebraska. We were on the same level as the Badgers for who we could get, but we were in a much different spot for what we needed. Unlike Wisconsin and Cincy, Nebraska hasn’t played for a conference title in a decade. We haven’t won a conference title since years had a 19 in front of them. Further, we just had the chosen one come here and leave it in a worse spot than when he got here. This thing has to be gutted and rebuilt, and we needed someone proven to do that.

Rhule was pretty much my #1 guy when I heard what Trev was looking for in a coach and also from me knowing what we needed. While guys like Klieman at KState and DeBoer at Washington really intrigued me… there’s really only one guy that had done what we were needing to have happen in Lincoln at multiple spots. As i’ve said in previous posts, the multiple spots thing ended up getting pretty important to me based on what happened with the guy from Orlando. I just wanted as much of a resume of being able to do it as possible.

It’s quite evident to me that people who are disappointed with the Rhule hire are either 1) Delusional with who we could get 2) Delusional with where we are as a program 3) aren’t sure what we need or 4) one of the people that aren’t impressed with what he did at Temple and Baylor. For me it’s quite simple, he turned around two programs. The people that bring up he didn’t beat top 25 teams to me aren’t well versed on where we are at right now. If we would have only lost to top 25 teams this year we would have been 9-3 and playing in the conference title game.

Lastly, the worst one I hear a lot and my dad says it all the time, is “well I really wanted Mickey because he’s from here. What if Rhule gets us good then just bolts like he’s done before to a better job because he doesn’t have any loyalty here?”

I mean, wouldn’t that be a good thing? That he got us so good he got courted by other teams? That’s what we want. And I think he can bring that to us.

Colorado B

Look, i’m going to be really interested how this Deion thing goes in Boulder. I’m not sold on him as a coach just yet, and he bolted for the only Power 5 job that offered him. He came in and told all of his players to go ahead and enter the portal, told his son to stand up and that he was their quarterback with quarterbacks in the meeting, there’s just a lot of bravado that i’m not sure will work there. I can call it for you right now, he’s going to have a good first couple recruiting classes but the product on the field won’t be there and the flame will fizzle out.

But let’s be real for the Buffaloes for a second. They are irrelevant, have drifted into further irrelevance, and their fans haven’t cared since the 90s. Hell, they lost a coach to Michigan State. I mean think about that. I’m not saying Sparty is a bad program, but Colorado definitely is bottom tier Power 5. For them, this is a homerun. He’s a massive boom or bust. If he does what he says that is the best hire out of all of them we are discussing, and if he flames out like I think he will once his son is gone then it’s back to where they were before with no one caring. The reward is worth the risk all day because no one cares out there. Lastly, their donor base is a joke, and they needed someone like Deion who was bringing companies with him for NIL deals instead of relying on boosters.

I do find it funny that the same people I saw clamoring that we had a shot at Urban are the same ones mad we didn’t get Deion. He was never an option. And he wouldn’t fit here. Frost, Mickey Joseph, Pelini, Rhule, they fit what we tried to do. Deion wasn’t that.

Auburn C

This ones tough for me because I think on the field, Hugh Freeze is a damn good coach. But Auburn is up against a buzz saw with in-state Alabama, and they basically had to sell their soul. Freeze has left multiple schools with NCAA violations, and got canned at one for getting hookers with University dollars and using the company cell phone to do it.

Auburn did basically what they had to do but I just don’t know how it will end up for them. If he can stay out of his own way, no doubt he can make them competitive. It doesn’t matter, no way I could have ever taken him seriously as a candidate after watching Dino Babers have to point to him in a hospital bed in the coaching booth where he had to shut the shades and roll over to pee during the game.

Arizona State C-

If anyone was going to hire Prime Time it should have been the Sun Devils. His gameplan would have played much better in Tempe than it will in Boulder in my opinion. With that said, Arizona State basically hired a glorified high school coach to run their program. There are cases of it working in certain situations, but for the most part they all fizzle out after the honeymoon period is over.


Look, I actually think if you just judge based on the head coaching hires, Rhule and Fickell are in the same tier which is the highest one. Both fit exactly what the teams wanted. But what Fickell did with his coordinators definitely puts them a cut above us in that regard. But I wonder if Fickell would have been able to gut this thing and build it up, or if he needed a foundation already set to get Cincy to the heights it got to? We didn’t have that here. Rhule has proven he doesn’t need anything here for him. When he got to Baylor he had 40 scholarship players left and only one recruit committed due to the NCAA penalties. Nebraska is the only Power 5 team who hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2017, we quite literally have had the worst 6 year run of all Power 5 teams. We needed someone who an build.

Now… is Fickell’s ceiling higher than Rhule’s? I lean towards yes. But Rhule got to double digit wins at Baylor, so if he can get us back to that, boom. How long will it take though?

I think Louisville and Wisconsin both got coaches that I would have been happy with in Lincoln. But teams like Colorado, Auburn, Arizona State, we blow the doors off those hires with getting Rhule in Lincoln. The long and short of it is Nebraska needed someone like Rhule just as much as he needed us. We have a long road ahead, and we need someone that doesn’t lose track of the day to day importance while he has a vision/plan for the possible2-3 year rebuild this is.

Tomorrow we will dive into Nebraska’s hires a bit and grade them from my perspective.

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12 thoughts on “Grading the Head Coaching Hires

  1. I am interested to hear your thoughts on the assistant hires from Rhule. Seems he went young and energetic…he also has shown a knack for finding promising young coaches and bringing them up (which is great IMO). Agree on Prime…boom or bust..not much in between….I would think after awhile his shtick will get old (unless they start the year 5-0 or something like that). Fickell seems like a buttoned up coach and will do well at Wisconsin I think…I am interested in seeing how the transition goes from their offense they have been running for years to a more spread concept…I would think they need to make some good portal additions and subtractions go get the offensive people they want?

  2. I agree with your points overall, but didn’t Leonhard announce he was leaving Wisconsin after the bowl game?

    Fickell was always my “too good to be true” candidate, but I think you make a good point about what he’s shown so far vs Rhule in taking programs to the next level vs building.

    1. Ya, they kept him originally but he decided he was taking off. Fickell did a really good job where he was, I would just be curious about where he could take us with the rebuild needed.

      I’ll go change so people know Leonhard is leaving.

  3. Isn’t Leonhard leaving…..just kidding. Good write up. I agree 100% that Rhule was our best “fit”. It’s going to be interesting to see how Rhule and Fickel both “adjust” or acclimate to the B1G as neither they nor their coordinators have coached in the B1G the past few years. I think they’re both smart enough to figure it out quickly, but the next season should be fun to watch play out. The B1G, in my opinion, is just a different animal than the rest of CFB.

  4. I have to think that Deions antics will turn off just as many as it turns on. If I had a kid would I want him to play for that arrogant jerk and to learn how to become a man from someone who actsl like him when he could go to someone who is truly a good influence? Heck no. He just stands for everything you dont want in a leader of men. I think he fails too and Ill be happy to see it

    1. This is coming from a kid who wore 21 in midget football because of Deion, but ya, I don’t know how well it will work in the long run. Like I said, he will close some big time kids and they will win more games at CU next year, but it will wear thin and he will be in trouble after the honeymoon is over.

  5. Good write up. I was wondering if you were leaning towards a rebuild mindset. It appeared to me like that was what Albert’s was going after and reading more about Rhule and what he is good at it seems to confirm that. I do have a strength and conditioning question for you. I was reading about the new guy and somewhere I found he uses a Russian style periodization. I was wondering if you could share how that might be different from what they were doing. And what that might mean for growth and development.

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