Matt Rhule

Rob's Rants: Lombardi on Pederson; Crawford's debut; Rhule's rough start

Rob's Rants: Lombardi on Pederson; Crawford's debut; Rhule's rough start

Here's the latest edition of Rob's Rants in which CSNPhilly's Rob Ellis does just that about the hottest topics in Philly sports.

Qualified opinion
Former NFL general manager and front office member Mike Lombardi pulled no punches when it came to his assessment of Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. Lombardi is now an analyst for The Ringer, and his comments have caused quite a stir locally. At first glance, them’s fightin words. No gray area there. He is not a believer in Doug P. And naturally there are Eagles fans who haven’t taken kindly to Lombardi’s hot take on their coach. 

"Now, everybody knows Pederson isn't a head coach," Lombardi said. "He might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I've seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL."

The hot takes from fans in and of themselves are ironic considering there was a throaty portion of said fan base who shared those very same sentiments when Pederson was hired and as the team lost seven of its last 10 games in his first season as coach. In a previous life, I fielded a large number of phone calls echoing precisely what Lombardi, an Ocean City, New Jersey native, expressed. Does this mean I agree with Lombardi? 

Yes and no.        
     
I was then and am now concerned that the Eagles' front office and ownership brought in Pederson to recreate some form of the Andy Reid era. A kinder, gentler time of mostly winning, a stark contrast to the choppy, adversarial, screw-your-holiday-party, Chip Kelly regime. I never bought that Reid would cede play-calling in second halves of games to Pederson. It’s difficult to know just how much coaching acumen Pederson actually has. There were losses last year, like the first meeting in Dallas, that were directly on him. There were lapses in judgment like asking your starting quarterback fresh out of concussion protocol to be a lead blocker. These are legit concerns.

But Pederson should be given some rope. He was left with an ill-fitting roster, damaged by Kelly. His receivers were as bad as any team's in the NFL, and half of his secondary was equally inept. His defensive line was not talented enough to get any kind of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He had eight days to prepare a rookie quarterback thrust into the job. None of this was on him. 

And back to the anti-Chip thing. There was something to that. The players had had enough of Kelly. There was a divide in the locker room and the next coach did need to have a better bedside manner than the Chipper. Pederson is well liked by his troops, who appreciate being treated like men.   
 
A case could be made for both sides. And here’s the thing about Lombardi: I’ve never viewed his analysis as some clearly contrived Skip Bayless hot take. His stints in Cleveland and Oakland did not go well, and that certainly opens him up to be questioned. But he knows the league. The proof will be this year. No more rookie excuses, and the talent has been upgraded. Pederson needs to show he is in fact qualified. 
         
Welcome to The Show  
The Phillies absolutely did the right thing bringing up J.P. Crawford right now. There was some debate that he should have stayed with Lehigh Valley as they begin the International League playoffs. But with all due respect to the IronPigs, this is not about them; it’s about the big-league club. I was highly critical of how long the Phillies waited to bring up Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins has shown in his first 25 games he was more than ready. 

Crawford, after an awful start, has been excellent the last two months. The Phils have 25 games left. There's nothing to lose by getting Crawford a taste of the major leagues while also moving some pieces around to get a handle on what you want to do in 2018. And from a fan's standpoint, it’s yet another reason to watch a team that is 33 games under .500.    
 
Give me Liberty?
Matt Rhule’s run at Temple was nothing short of remarkable. He took what Al Golden started and brought the Owls' football program to legitimacy on a national level. So it wasn’t a matter of if but when he would leave for greener ($$$) pastures. But the choice of Baylor seemed a strange one. The program is and has been mired in a sexual assault scandal, among other violations. You share the state with Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. 

You knew it would take some time to clean things up and get the school back to prominence. But losing at home to FCS division Liberty as a 34.5-point favorite? The Fighting Jerry Falwells' quarterback torched the Bears' defense for 447 yards in the air. Could be a long year in Waco for Coach Rhule. Guess the grass isn’t always greener. 

Speaking of upsets, Howard University’s stunning win over UNLV was the biggest point-spread upset ever. The Bison, another FCS team, went off as 45-point underdogs. Howard was 3-19 the last two seasons. If you placed a $100 wager on Howard, your return was a cool $55,000 beans.  

Only in Vegas.     

Upon further review
The chilly, wet, conditions in the Delaware Valley Saturday provided perfect couch potato weather. I watched college football pretty much nonstop for about 14 hours. Honey do’s be damned. It was glorious. 

For the most part. 

The inordinate number of reviews for plays has gotten completely out of control. I understand they want to get every play right. But clear, obvious, no-doubt-about-it plays that even I in a salsa dip coma can see from my couch have to have a two or three-minute look under the hood. Take the Penn State-Akron game. It lasted three hours and twenty-six minutes. The Florida State-Alabama game clocked in at an untidy three hours and fifteen minutes. It kills momentum, flow, brain cells, etc. when these games drag on as long as they do. Less is more and the people in charge need to realize it.     

Beautiful sight
This is anything but a rant; in fact it’s the polar opposite. We tend to focus on the negatives in sports. But what took place in the Western Michigan-USC game this past weekend was what makes sports great. 

Jake Olson lost both of his eyes to cancer and has been blind since the age of 12. He grew up a diehard Southern Cal fan in Huntington Beach, Calif. He dreamed one day of playing for the Trojans. That dream became a reality when he was used as a long snapper on an extra point in USC’s win over W. Michigan. Credit Trojans head coach Clay Helton and his administration with making this happen. 

But a very special assist goes to Western Michigan’s head man, Tim Lester. Helton reached out to Lester via e-mail during the week. Lester was on board and the result was one of the coolest things seen in sports in a while. Olson was allowed to make the snap, untouched by a defender. 

“I didn’t think it was a hard decision at all. It was bigger than the game. I was happy to be a part of it," Lester said to USA TODAY.  

Olson, a junior, was a long snapper in high school and practiced his craft the last two seasons with the Trojans.  

"I just loved being out there. It was an awesome feeling, something that I will remember forever," Olson said to AP.  

Football is the ultimate team sport. You won’t find a better example than this story.

Best of College Football: Liberty shocks Baylor in Matt Rhule's Bears coaching debut

usa-liberty-baylor.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of College Football: Liberty shocks Baylor in Matt Rhule's Bears coaching debut

WACO, Texas -- Stephen Calvert threw for 447 yards and three touchdowns and Liberty spoiled Matt Rhule's coaching debut at Baylor, stunning the Bears with just their second-ever loss to a lower-division team in a 48-45 victory Saturday night.

The Bears lost their seventh straight regular-season game since starting 6-0 last season, while a 19-game regular-season winning streak against nonconference opponents ended.

Rhule was hired after a year with interim coach Jim Grobe following a sexual assault scandal that led to the firing of two-time Big 12-winning coach Art Briles. The Bears lost an opener for the first time since Briles' first game in 2008.

Baylor's only other loss to a lower-division team was 18-17 to Division I-AA Lamar in the 1981 opener, when the Bears were coming off one of two Southwest Conference championships under Grant Teaff, the school's winningest coach.

The matchup up of private Christian schools was a big win for Liberty and athletic director Ian McCaw, who resigned the same job at Baylor last year after a scathing report over the school's handling of sexual assault cases involving football players (see full recap).

No. 1 Alabama defense smothers No. 3 Florida State
ATLANTA -- The Alabama defense turned in a dominating performance, the Florida State special teams endured a terrible night, and one of the most anticipated opening games in college football history went to the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

Damien Harris ran for a touchdown and blocked a punt, and Jalen Hurts chipped in with a scoring pass on a night that basically required the sophomore quarterback to make no major mistakes, leading Alabama to a 24-7 beatdown of No. 3 Florida State on Saturday at Atlanta's new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

This one was all about that dynamic Bama D.

And those not-to-special teams for the Seminoles (see full recap).

No. 11 Michigan gets kicks in 33-17 win over No. 17 Florida
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Quinn Nordin became the first Michigan kicker to make two 50-yard field goals in the same game, one of them in a quick go-ahead spurt after halftime, and the 11th-ranked Wolverines won 33-17 Saturday to hand 17th-ranked Florida its first season-opening loss in nearly three decades.

The Gators had won 27 consecutive season openers, the nation's longest such streak, since a home loss to Mississippi in 1989.

Michigan trailed 17-13 at halftime before scoring three times in the first 6 minutes of the second half.

After Karan Higdon's 3-yard TD run capped a half-opening 75-yard, 10-yard drive, Ambry Thomas forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. That set up a 30-yard field goal by Quinn, who then made a 50-yarder after Michigan recovered another fumble.

Nordin made four field goals, including a 55-yarder in the first half. He missed two attempts wide right in the fourth quarter, one of those from 52 yards (see full recap).

Maryland upsets No. 23 Texas, spoils Herman's debut
AUSTIN, Texas -- Tyrrell Pigrome passed for two touchdowns and ran for another before leaving with an injury and Maryland stunned No. 23 Texas 51-41 Saturday, spoiling new Longhorns coach Tom Herman's debut.

Pigrome had to be helped off late in the third quarter after twisting his knee, but freshman Kasim Hill came in and led two crucial fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

Maryland (1-0) led 27-7 in the second quarter, and then held off a Texas rally to snap a 17-game losing streak to ranked opponents, the third-longest streak among Power Five conference teams.

The Longhorns scored three non-offensive touchdowns: an interception return and blocked kick return by Holton Hill and a 91-yard punt return by Reggie Hemphill-Mapps. But those highlights couldn't deliver a win for Herman, who was brought from Houston to replace Charlie Strong after three straight losing seasons. Texas had its same old problems, giving up a special teams touchdown, missed field goals and a defense that was physically battered all game and give up big plays (see full recap).

Matt Rhule back in Philadelphia for NFL draft with former Temple players

Matt Rhule back in Philadelphia for NFL draft with former Temple players

Baylor coach Matt Rhule is spending the rest of this week back in Philadelphia, where he will be at the NFL draft with his former Temple players while also touting the Bears.

"I'm there to support my Temple kids, and I'm there to sell Baylor to future recruits, and make sure that all kids that I'm recruiting know that our process is doing things that no one thought was possible," Rhule said Tuesday. "Five kids made NFL teams last year from the Temple Owls."

There will also be appearances on the NFL Network and visits to some of his favorite restaurants -- he made reservations in advance -- in the town where he spent 10 of the past 11 seasons. He is staying in a hotel only about five minutes where he used to live.

Rhule became Baylor's coach in December , fresh off an American Athletic Conference title and a second consecutive 10-win season with the Owls.

The Bears wrapped up their first spring under Rhule with their Green and Gold game Saturday. They spent the 15 spring working on new offenses and defensive schemes, while also taking care of their academics and doing more than 700 hours of community service.

Temple linebacker Haason Reddick , a potential first-round pick, invited Rhule to be with him in the green room at the draft Thursday night. Owls offensive tackle Dion Dawkins is also expected to be a high pick, and Temple has at least two other players that could be drafted in the later rounds.

"I'm there because those kids asked me to come. It's as gratifying an experience as I've ever had," Rhule told the AP by phone before leaving the Waco campus for Philadelphia.

Among the Bears expected to get drafted are receiver KD Cannon, who left Baylor after his junior season, and center Kyle Fuller. Quarterback Seth Russell, who had each of his last two seasons cut short by injuries, could also get an NFL chance.

Rhule first went to Temple as an assistant under Al Golden in 2006, then spent the next decade there -- except for the 2012 season in the NFL as an assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants. He returned to Philadelphia as the Owls head coach in 2013, and they went from 2-10 and 6-6 seasons to the best two-season stretch in school history.

"Those older kids, I think they recognize how hard all of our assistant coaches and myself worked for them, and we recognize how hard they worked for us," he said. "When I left, they understood that this was the next step in my journey, and I understood that going to the NFL was the next step in their journey."

Like he did at Temple, Rhule he wants every kid that comes to Baylor to want to get an education, win conference and national championships, and want to play in the NFL. The goal is for players to try to excel in everything that they do.

"It's not about trying to pick one thing to be great at, it's about trying to be great at everything that's important to you," Rhule said. "That's a major step for kids and for programs."