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Nebraska reportedly hires E.J. Barthel as new running backs coach

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Nebraska’s staff assembly under new coach Matt Rhule continued Tuesday with the reported hire of a new running backs coach.

E.J. Barthel is leaving UConn for the same position with the Huskers according to multiple reports and his updated Twitter bio. The New Jersey native is set to become the fifth new on-field assistant secured by Rhule in barely three days after adding Marcus Satterfield (offensive coordinator), Terrance Knighton (defensive line), Evan Cooper (secondary) and Ed Foley (special teams). NU also has brought in a strength coach in Corey Campbell.

Barthel joins all of them in having a past under Rhule. He was the director of player personnel at Temple in 2015 and later was with Rhule with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers working with running backs, the offensive line and pro personnel department.

The 37-year-old has bounced around in his young coaching career since injuries limited his time as a rusher at Rutgers and Massachusetts. He served as recruiting coordinator at Penn State in 2016 before single seasons guiding running backs at Albany (2017), Howard (2018) and William & Mary (2019). He joined Jim Mora’s staff with the Huskies this season, helping them improve from 3.18 yards per carry (121st nationally) last fall to 4.80 (38th) behind multiple underclassmen.

Nebraska has struggled to recruit and develop star running backs since Ameer Abdullah’s last college campaign in 2014. Barthel will be the fourth NU coach at the position in the last seven years.

Appearing on the “Coach Forward Podcast” last May, Barthel said he simplifies and clarifies his position meetings as much as possible. He darkens the room to set the stage. He texts players an advance PDF of the schedule and topics of the day. He encourages them to take notes on their smartphones.

His motto with backs is “Pound the Rock” — a nod to running the ball but more broadly doing everything at an elite level on and off the field.

One rhythm Barthel learned under Rhule at Temple is showing daily video clips of his players making “violent effort” plays that lead to wins and “loafing” ones that don’t.

“It created a culture of no hiding so every day you as a player were so terrified to be on that lion-and-sheep tape,” Barthel said. “That’s the worst thing you could do is be on that sheep tape. So what we’re doing is, without them even knowing, we’re creating a standard of toughness and a standard of expectation just by showing that tape every day.”

Previous Husker running backs coach Bryan Applewhite — hired 10 months ago by Scott Frost — won’t be retained though his players found relative success this season. Junior college recruit Anthony Grant finished with 915 rushing yards — the most by a Nebraska back since Devine Ozigbo cracked 1,000 yards in 2018 — and freshman Ajay Allen flashed well through four games before suffering an injury.

“Love and you will forever be a great dude to me and also a mentor,” Grant wrote on social media.

NU has one running back commit in the 2023 class in New Orleans native Arnold Barnes, whose lead recruiter was Applewhite. ​

Matt Rhule is introduced as the new Nebraska football head coach at the Hawks Championship Center in Lincoln on Monday, November 28, 2022.

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