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New Nebraska coach Matt Rhule talks Deion Sanders, Big Ten expansion, NIL & more

Rhule says he was 'embarrassed' by some of his early coaching moves

In a lengthy, candid interview with former Nebraska standout Will Compton and Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, new Nebraska football coach Matt Rhule dived into myriad topics about his job rebuilding the Cornhuskers, preparing to face Deion Sanders’s Colorado team within the season’s opening weeks, Big Ten expansion and Name, Image and Likeness methods, among other topics during the ‘Bussin’ With The Boys’ podcast.

Rhule spoke directly on his beliefs pertaining to leadership and said it’s imperative that, in his view, a leader stand in front to absorb the slings and arrows.

“You want to be a leader?,” Rhule rhetorically asked his podcast hosts. “Get out in front. Take the bullets for your guys and hope that your guys respond for you.

“I think if I do that, I’ll have a chance to (positively) affect some of those guys’ lives.”

Rhule also was asked about the Cornhuskers’ renewal of their rivalry with former conference foe Colorado, which now is helmed by Sanders, aka Coach Prime, and set to host Nebraska Sept. 9 at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado.

“I believe in our staff, believe in what we’re doing,” Rhule said. “I think it will be a great game. I think it will be a great thing for college football.”

And, prompted by the hosts about Colorado athletics director Rick George having already pleaded with Buffaloes fans not to sell their tickets to Nebraska supporters, Rhule stayed in a role as “Switzerland.”

“I expect our fans to show up,” he said. “As I’ve gotten out to the western part of our state, seeing all the diehard die-hards, those people out there are excited about Nebraska football. I’m hoping people come from everywhere [to support Nebraska].”

Rhule acknowledged that both he and his staff already have encountered the Deion Sanders effect in recruiting. Even on video games. He said when visitors were playing the Madden NFL video game, one of the options that circulated was the likeness of Deion Sanders and that the screen read ‘Prime.’

Rhule said he told his staff to get that off of the screen, because “we’re trying to beat these guys for recruits.”

Elsewhere, Rhule weighed in on Big Ten expansion – and made a rather bold proclamation that expected the league to send record numbers of participants into an expanded, 12-team College Football Playoff.

“I do think the Big Ten has kind of become this coast to coast (league), almost like college is the NFL,” Rhule said. “From Piscataway (New Jersey) to L.A., we’ve got everything in between; it becomes this really national brand. I think that’s good for us. When I look at like Texas, I want Nebraska to be Texas’s Big Ten team.

“When I look at west of here, all those prospects, Arizona to Utah to in between, that don’t have a place to go if they want to go to the Big Ten. So as the Big Ten, as we go to 16 teams and the Big Ten is (potentially) getting three to four teams in every year to the College Football Playoff, hey come to Nebraska. Think that’s one of the things I saw.”

Rhule vowed an level approach to his work atop the Nebraska program; he indicated his makeup has been rooted in the highs and lows of his coaching tenure.

“I’ve been coach of the year, and I’ve been fired,” said the former Temple, Baylor and Carolina Panthers head coach. “Be the same guy. … I love football, it’s my passion. My purpose in life, I think, is to be a great man, a great husband, great father; so if say that, I have to live up to it in the hardest moments.

“The day after I got fired (last fall by the Panthers), did I take my kids to school? Or did I sit home and feel sorry for myself? Let them see what it means to truly be a man, to truly be the person you say that you are in the hardest of times.”

Rhule had harsh criticism for himself; he called some of his earlier coaching work “embarrassing.”

“It’s my fourth head coaching job in 11 years,” Rhule said. “Mistakes I made early on, I’m almost embarrassed about. Things I did at Temple. But I’ve learned; I’ve mastered kind of that craft of working with guys over time. I hope. I’m going to push them, I’m going to coach them, I’m old school. We’re going to practice hard, I’m going to coach them hard, but I can demand them … I don’t have to demean anyone.”

A Penn State grad who has proudly embraced an old school reputation, Rhule vowed to try to walk a moral line as he encountered roster management issues at Nebraska – be it via the NCAA Transfer Portal – which has blossomed into a vastly different form than when Rhule last coached in college – or the NIL phenomenon.

“I shouldn’t be calling a guy on your roster saying, ‘Come play for me,’” Rhule said. “If he’s happy there, let him be happy there. If a guy us unhappy and wants to go the Portal, that’s fine. … Sometimes we mess (student-athletes’) lives up and we’re responsible for that as adults.

“Hopefully, I’m doing it the right way, and it’s really hard. The lines are very blurred right now in what’s legal and what’s not. I’ll do whatever I can to win at Nebraska, as long as it’s both legal and ethical. If I can live with it.

“If I saw a junior in high school, I can’t talk to him [on the road in recruiting]. That doesn’t make any sense to me. I can’t do that, but his agent can call me and say he needs $500,000 to come here?”