Baylor coach Matt Rhule wants all those people sending him texts, telling him to hang in there and asking if he is OK, to know that he is doing great.
While Rhule certainly doesn’t like that the young Bears are still winless in his first season, he believes that a solid foundation is being laid for the future. He has been through this process before, and things turned out pretty good then.
“That’s the hard part about freshmen, but it is the exhilarating part,” Rhule said. “Because we’re teaching young kids that need to be taught, and we’re taking them through one of the most adverse times of their life, and we’re trying to do it in a really, really positive way, but a really truthful way.”
The Bears, who play Saturday at 14th-ranked Oklahoma State, have already used 21 first-time starters in their first five games. That includes eight true freshmen, plus eight others who have played fresh out of high school.
“It’s frustrating now, but you’re going to look out there one day and Jalen Pitre is going to know how to do everything right,” Rhule said.
When Rhule became Baylor’s coach last December, after a second consecutive 10-win season and an American Athletic Conference title at Temple, there was only one recruit committed to sign with the Bears in the wake of a sexual assault scandal for the program that had claimed Big 12 titles in 2013 and 2014.
That lone commitment was Pitre, who has now started four games at linebacker as a true freshman and has 20 tackles.
After starting the season with home losses to Liberty and UTSA, teams that never before had beaten a Power Five opponent, Baylor has been competitive in its Big 12 games.
The Bears led then-No. 3 Oklahoma late in the third quarter of their conference-opening 49-41 loss. Before their open date last week, they lost 33-20 at Kansas State after the Wildcats kicked two late field goals.
“Do I like losing games? Absolutely not. But we knew this was going to be a process, and I see the process working incrementally,” athletic director Mack Rhoades said. “We’ll build this on rock. We’re in the process of building a program, and not just a team.”
Rhule got a seven-year contract from Baylor after being at Temple for 10 of the previous 11 seasons. He was on the Owls staff from 2006-11, then spent one year with the New York Giants before returning as head coach. Temple was 2-10 with a bunch of youngsters in 2013, but much of that same group was part of the consecutive 10-win seasons.
Baylor is now going through some very similar growing pains.
“You just keep teaching and hope that when they’re sophomores and juniors, juniors and seniors, that they win a lot of games,” he said.
Injuries have also affected the Bears, who lost big-play junior receiver Chris Platt (left knee) and defensive end Xavier Jones (broken bone in foot) to likely season-ending injuries in the Oklahoma game. Graduate transfer quarterback Anu Solomon has been sidelined with concussion symptoms since starting the first two games.
While Baylor players welcomed days off during the open date, coaches were on the road talking to high school coaches, administrators and teachers. Rhule and his assistants couldn’t talk to players, but potential recruits can see that the Bears coaches aren’t afraid to field young players.
“The response was overwhelming from the coaches in Texas,” Rhule said. “A lot of those guys know what we’re going through. They know the work that we’re putting in. They know that, despite losing, we’re still trying to do a great job with their players and their student-athletes, and how we’re always putting them first.”