Cumberlands grad has a plan for taking over program

Matt Rhymer has returned to coach at his alma mater 7 years after graduating.
Matt Rhymer has returned to coach at his alma mater 7 years after graduating.

Matt Rhymer is a man with a plan.

Recently named head football coach at the University of the Cumberlands, Rhymer inherits a 13-1 team that reached last month's NAIA national championship game.

He replaces John Bland, who left to take over the program at Mississippi College.

Rhymer played linebacker for the Patriots from 2003 to 2007, earning a degree in public health.

He then served as a graduate assistant, earning a master's degree in education and spending five years on Bland's staff.

The past two seasons, Rhymer coached high school football — one year as offensive line and defensive backs coach at Oneida, Tenn., and one year as head coach at South Laurel.

As for that plan, the Harlan native said, "our goal is always going to be to play for a conference championship, put yourself in position to be in the playoffs and try to be in such a position where you can host playoff games. If you do that, you set yourself up to play for a national title. That's always going to be our goal.

"I know what it takes to win here. I know the direction we have to go. And I know the steps that it will take. The process never stops. We're going to be fully engaged in the process to success."

That is his theme — a process to success.

He says the process includes several steps:

■ "Improving our self-image, becoming a better individual so that collectively we'll be a better team, better people and, one day, better husbands, better fathers and so on."

■ "Stressing success in academic excellence and graduation, and being great students."

■ "Winning. It never stops. You have to compete every single day. You have to make the sacrifices, the commitment and those things to be a winner every single day."

Rhymer has two full-time assistants and four graduate assistants on board. He needs to hire a position coach, as well as his offensive and defensive coordinators.

Although South Laurel went 3-7 last fall, Rhymer was able to increase the roster from 35 to 61 in his only season.

He says he is "uniquely qualified" to lead Cumberlands, as he and wife Jessica already had a commitment to the university and community. He says he understands the school's philosophies and that he knows what it takes to win in the NAIA.

"I'm familiar with the option offense, and that's what we've been running for the last close to 15 years is an option-based offense," he said. "A lot of philosophical things, a lot of schematic things, a lot of personal things enable me to be qualified and ready for this job."

Aside from completing his staff, Rhymer is busy keeping off-season workouts on schedule, preparing for spring drills and, of course, on the recruiting trail.

"My hopes are to recruit a lot of Kentucky kids," he said. "I want the kids in Kentucky to realize 'hey, the University of the Cumberlands is for real; they just played for a national championship.' ... I would like a lot of Kentucky kids to realize what a place this is, what an opportunity there is here to get a great education and to play for championships."

Just one more part of the plan.