Nebraska Football: Meeting Matt Rhule's Unconventional Coaching Staff

By Brandon Cavanaugh

Matt Rhule's first staff as the Cornhuskers' head coach is diverse when it comes to backgrounds and experience.

It took several weeks, but Matt Rhule's first full staff as Nebraska football's head coach has finally taken shape. The official hiring process is not fully completed, but we'll assume all ducks are in a row.

Before dissecting the hires, it’s important to consider what this program currently is: a rebuild. Yes, the brand is strong, and concentrated efforts to rehabilitate its relevancy are well underway. But taking positive perception of the scarlet "N" from clothing fans want to wear in public again to an attractive on-field product fit for major national television time slots requires extremely heavy lifting.

Related: 5 Under-the-Radar Offseason Goals the Cornhuskers Must Accomplish

As a result, you see a coaching staff with more layers than a properly made burrito.

There are the established hires. Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield and special teams assistant Ed Foley both bring decades of experience to the table. Then you have the budding star in defensive coordinator Tony White who flipped the script at Syracuse. The Orange were catapulted from 112th in total defense in 2020 to back-to-back top-25 performances.

A fascinating get is tight ends coach Bob Wager, easily motivated with a "Practice What You Preach" mentality and inroads to Lone Star State recruiting. A 17-year fixture at Arlington Martin High School with a 143-64-1 record, Wager had the Warriors state playoff-bound annually after only having been four times in school history prior.

Then, some eyebrows rise and we see what is — quite frankly — welcome anxiety as a breakaway from tradition takes shape.

Evan Cooper, E. J. Barthel, Terrence Knighton, Rob Dvoracek, and Garret McGuire all represent a youth movement. Rhule needs young guns who can pull all-nighters and bounce back rapidly, who want to earn the reputation of a grinder. The innovators of an ever-developing recruiting mantra with a foundation of "Always Be Closing." One that excites the senses of a modern-day college football athlete.

These fresh faces are the equivalent of teenagers who were told, “you’ll never get a job playing PlayStation” and end up teaching others how to excel at Rocket League for hundreds of dollars per hour.

And keep in mind there was a time when the college football world wasn’t especially familiar with current Texas A&M assistant head coach/defensive line coach Elijah Robinson, a pupil of Rhule. During four pivotal years of his career spent at Temple and Baylor, he developed the necessary skills and a passion that would see him become's 2022 Recruiter of the Year.

Consternation among fans is partly with McGuire. The Huskers’ new wide receivers assistant checks in at a somewhat cherubic 23 years of age (24 come February). However, much like just about every move Nebraska football's new shepherd has made, this one requires a big-picture mentality.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, and USC Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley all share a common thread with McGuire. They all cut their teeth as wide receiver coaches at ages 26, 22, and 23, respectively.

And Rhule knows the score. Upon the announcement of McGuire's addition, countless athletes stepped up to show love and appreciation, something which continues to this day. His will truly be a wait-and-see story, but he’s arguably not even the most controversial hire.

Few guessed Donovan Raiola would be the lone holdover from the Scott Frost era. Nebraska’s 2022 offensive line performance is easily one of the poorest in recent memory. But Rhule appears to believe Raiola was dealt a poor hand.

“When you get into O-line play, there are three base philosophies and they’re very different. It’s like the difference between driving on the right side and left side of the road,” he said.

According to Rhule, not only were he and Raiola trained in the same system, but he appreciated the former Wisconsin Badger's energy and natural fit among the ranks. Further, when player interviews were held, a poor word was never spoken about him.

From season to season, a key element for any program is flexibility and never being afraid to grow. That's true now maybe more than ever. Between the coaching carousel, the transfer portal, and NIL, rosters are practically reshaped overnight.

Some of these coaches will want to move on and continue to climb the ladder which, while inconvenient in the immediate, is a good thing. It says to the profession that Nebraska is a welcoming place to work with Rhule and become something better. That bleeds from instruction to the players themselves.

While Big Red backers may question several of these hires today, all of them are under the same spotlight. As excitement grows and hopes cautiously return, success and failure will be celebrated and decried as a whole. All with fingers squarely pointed at the head coach for putting them in position to have a hand in it, for better or worse.

— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@Bcav402). To contact him, click here.

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