FRISCO, Texas — Matt Rhule feels like he has a completely different job going into his second season as Baylor‘s football coach.
More of his focus can now be on actual football. So much time in his first year was spent working to change the culture in the aftermath of a sexual assault scandal that occurred at the school before he got to the Waco campus.
“We’re not forgetting those things. We’re still doing those things, but I’m able to do a lot more football,” Rhule said Tuesday. “The first couple games last year, I was on the sidelines, just kind of like a cheerleader because literally I was in meetings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays that weren’t football meetings, and even sometimes in the middle of last year.”
At his first Big 12 media days last summer, Rhule talked about working to build a program, not a team; and building a culture, not an attitude. He said the Bears were committed to correcting the wrongs of the past into a bright new future.
A year later, Rhule said tremendous progress has been made in those areas.
“I meant what I said,” Rhule said, adding that Baylor players are getting it and have been outstanding.
“Do kids make mistakes? Kids make mistakes. Do I have to deal with things? Yeah, I have to deal with things,” he said. “But I’m dealing with the same things I was dealing with at Temple and I dealt with when we were at UCLA. So, I wake up every morning hoping that everybody made all the right decisions, all 115 kids.”
The Bears finished Rhule’s first season with a 1-11 record. Four of those losses were by eight points or less — and four others were by 14 or less. They even led in the second half against Big 12 champion Oklahoma, before falling 49-41.
“The record doesn’t define you. It may be 1-11, but we are not losers. Just learn from it and put that in the past,” Lewis said.
Rhule offered his take.
“I think you will see a group that learned their lessons from last year,” the coach said. “Last year stunk; last year wasn’t fun, obviously. But you’re a fool if you don’t learn from it.”
Off the field, the Big 12 Conference is still working to verify that Baylor is fully implementing 105 recommendations for reforming the school’s Title IX process. The NCAA is still looking into the scandal that led to the departure of two-time Big 12 champion coach Art Briles two years ago.
“It’s just my job to make sure we’re doing things the right way and know that in time, this too shall pass,” Rhule said. “And when it does, we need to make sure we have a healthy football program sitting there.”
Rhule described it as “really reinvigorating” to be able to focus more on what’s happening on the field. Preseason practice starts in about two weeks, and the season opener is Sept. 1 at home against Abilene Christian.
“I break my job down into two things. There’s the job that’s all the administrative stuff, fundraising and all those things,” he said. “And then there’s the part that I love. That’s not a job. That’s coaching football.
“You build a team by your relationships with your players. You only have relationships when you spend time with guys.”