Thursday, December 8, 2016

Parsing the first presser for the new #RhuleofLaw

New Baylor head coach Matt Rhule was introduced last night in Waco in the midst of what appeared to be a pep rally and it went very well. You can check out the video here or the transcript here.

Rhule clearly either understood or was assisted with the right language and tone to take in speaking with Baylor folks and made repeated reference to his faith and feeling "called" to Baylor while emphasizing the influence he took from working with NY Giants coach Tom Coughlin for a few years while only briefly touching on the influence he took from Joe Paterno or Jerry Sandusky.

I'm not criticizing the man, just noting that he and new AD Mack Rhoades seem to understand how to message and brand this hire and the future of the football program better than has been done over the course of this last season with Briles' retained staff and Jim Grobe. The Bears have frequently been tone deaf and divided over the last year and it's made their situation more difficult then it needed to be. I'm betting that Big 12 media days in 2017 will feature Rhule emphasizing the future and largely ignoring Baylor's past scandals.

From the beginning it was clear that the Baylor program was desperately maneuvering to absorb as little pain as possible so that all of the recent investment into the football team wouldn't be sunk costs and the program wouldn't crash back into the Brazos river. It truly seems like they've managed to balance the necessary hits fairly well and while Rhule is a strange fit in Waco, he's a much better and more proven coach than I was starting to expect they'd end up landing.

I was delighted to hear the president make reference to the "Rhule of Law" pun, personally I think that's the brand and slogan that we should all give the Rhule era whether he wants it or not. It's just too fitting for a coach hired to rebuild a program mired in scandal with a physical, demanding, and martial practice culture.

I've learned that parsing coach speak is a difficult and subtle art and wanted to offer my takeaways from the press conference and what I expect will be the path and plan for Baylor football under Rhule. I base this in part off my understanding of where Baylor is at, my understanding of Rhule's methods gleaned from observing Temple at various points over the last year or so, and my years of parsing coach speak. I'll probably be wrong on a few points but here's my best guess on where things are going.

Rhule #1: Baylor is going to become a defensive-oriented football program. 

"We're going to bring the No. 3 ranked defense in the country here. We're going to play great defense, and we're going to have a dynamic offense." 
I love that Rhule delineated between results on one side of the ball and descriptor on the other. A "no. 3 ranked defense" that "plays great" refers to results that occur from his process. A "dynamic offense" just means one that has different dimensions to it, that word only describes how it will look, not how it will work.

You could describe his last few offenses at Temple as "dynamic" but you definitely wouldn't describe them as great.

However there's no question that Rhule knows how to build good defenses and he did so with scraps that were developed within his program, not with the top rated players in the region. I did a breakdown of his 2015 defense at SB Nation and what stood out to me was that his system is built to take advantage of recruiting on the margins and thereby getting players that could be broken down and then rebuilt through a process of redshirting and coaching.

I also wrote up a guide to how Baylor could, might, and should go about replacing Art Briles last summer. I pretty much nailed their process and they followed my suggestion for hiring a defensive coach. Here was my rationale:

"Suggestion 1: Hire a defensive coach
It'd need to be someone with a proven track record of defensing spread offenses and ideally either someone who was a defensive head coach who hired spread OCs or a DC who worked alongside spread O coaches. 

Why? Because for the reasons I mention above it's not rocket science to build an effective spread offense at a Texas program with the resources of Baylor. Any half-decent spread O college coach should be able to field a solid offense with what Briles would theoretically be leaving behind and what the Bears could expect to bring aboard in the future. 

With Art at the helm Baylor could count on running the best spread offense in the conference, if he's gone they should try to find another angle where they can be at advantage because that one is gone. For instance, being the team that has as good an offense as most anyone else but can also play defense. That's a nice niche to try and fill and Baylor's most successful teams under Briles have been the ones that could play a little defense. 

Defensive coaches are also often known for building a tough, disciplined culture and Baylor could sure benefit from a bunch of spring narratives (I'd assume they'd go interim in 2016 and make a hire for 2017) about increased accountability, toughness, and "now we play defense" quotes."

You're welcome, Rhoades.

Rhule #2: There's going to be a learning curve on offense.

Actually there's one angle mentioned above that I'm not sure Rhoades has totally grokked and that's the need for going to the spread offense in the Big 12.

To begin with, while Baylor is well stocked with the components needed to run the ball (a pair of big, German TEs, a deep stable of RBs, most of the OL returning, etc) many of their best players on offense are used to lining up outside of the hash marks.

There's also the fact that a smashmouth spread offense with RPOs is not only going to be easier to coach with Texas HS kids, but it'll also make it easier to score the amount of points you need to be able to score to win in the Big 12.

Like I noted in the Football Study Hall column, you can ask Gary Patterson, Charlie Strong, or Bill Snyder how things go in this conference trying to win games 24-13. It doesn't work, you can hold down your opponent for three quarters and then give up 21 points in seven minutes.

One of the more potentially concerning comments that Rhule made in his presser was this one:
And then the third thing is we'll have some guys on the staff with Texas ties, we had some guys on my staff at Temple had Texas ties, so we'll make sure that we have that tie. 
Temple didn't recruit Texas and the coach on that staff that had "Texas ties" was his OC Glenn Thomas, who grew up in Texas and graduated from Texas Tech but did much of his coaching at Midwestern State, the Atlanta Falcons, and Temple. His background is pro-style and if he's coming with Rhule from Temple he's going to have to learn how to do things a little differently to unlock the potential of Baylor running a spread offense with Texas kids.

He may well prove to be good at it, God knows he'll find that Texas kids are more developed then what he was working with at Temple, but what he did at Temple won't score enough points in the Big 12.

Rhule #3: The new process is still an underdog process.

"Number one, we developed the players because of the way we practiced and competed. I'm proud to say this. I've had NFL coaches, I've had NFL GM's say to me, Matt, just don't change the way you practice if you go there and you'll be really successful...
...In terms of the one- and two-star piece, we're going to trust our own evaluations."
Matt Rhule isn't building on what Briles did in terms of program development, instilling new processes that will take Baylor from "unique scrapper with an edge from their unique offense and practice format" to "blue blood program that's harnessing the best of the best."

Instead, Rhule is going to be looking to find advantages from his practice format and development plan that allows Baylor to get more out of their 2/3 star players then other schools around the conference get from their own recruits. Rhule never recruited at the top of the AAC and while you can make a great argument that his recruiting will improve as a result of working with Baylor's facilities and incentives, his program is not about winning over the best recruits and then just getting them on the field.

When Art Briles first arrived in Waco he gave the program its edge by fitting 2/3 star offensive players to his system and then just doing some "plug and play" every year with new burners out wide, new behemoths up front, and QBs that he'd been programming over multiple years to run his offense. Towards the end, Baylor had built up enough credibility and garnered enough alumni investment to start to recruit some of the top talents in the state but even then they weren't drawing in as many "blue chip" talents as Texas or Oklahoma.

Rhule clearly intends to do the exact same thing. Only instead of fitting 2/3 star offensive players that he knows will fit his system, he'll be picking out 2/3 star defensive players that he knows he can mold. Instead of programming his players to operate a revolutionary spread-option offense on auto-pilot with practice formats that provide hundreds and thousands of reps, he'll be programming his players to be physical intimidators with practice formats that force the dogs to come out in every player.

Perhaps Baylor earn credibility and start landing 4/5 star defensive (or offensive) talents towards the end of Rhule's current seven-year contract but in the interim you can expect this to look more like how Briles built up the Bears to where they are today.

I'm guessing (and hearing) that Rhule is going to hire some offensive coaches from around the state of Texas to fill out his offensive staff. Who he hires as OC is going to tell us everything about how quickly he can get this program on track.

If Rhule creates a hodge podge staff of guys from different spread backgrounds and then puts them under Glenn Thomas and expects a coherent, effective spread offense to come out as a result then I don't think this think is going to get fast tracked. If they develop a cohesive vision for a new Baylor offense and the staff suit that vision, then #RhuleofLaw will be trending before too long.

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