Summer 2024

Head coach Rhett Lashlee seeks God's glory while leading resurgent SMU

News about the college football bowl matchups has taken a backseat in the national media in recent days amid all the analysis, opinions and reactions swirling around the sport after the announcement of the four-team College Football Playoff on Sunday. But one such bowl matchup could be a preview of things to come for a program on the rise.

Head coach Rhett Lashlee and his SMU Mustangs (11-2) will head to Boston’s legendary Fenway Park on Dec. 28 to take on Boston College (6-6) of the ACC in the Wasabi Fenway Bowl.

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In only his second year as head coach, Lashlee led his team to an American Athletic Conference title on Saturday with a 26-14 win on the road against then-No. 22 Tulane. SMU’s victory was its 11th on the season, the most since the program’s national championship team in 1982. It was also SMU’s first conference title since 1984, when it was part of the Southwest Conference.

“Our goal was to bring home a conference championship,’’ Lashlee told the Dallas Morning News on Sunday. “There is nothing more satisfying than that.”

“We’re excited to be playing in the Wasabi Fenway Bowl,” Lashlee told the school’s athletics website. “We hope to wrap up this season with a 12th win — which would only be the second time that has happened in school history. … Our players deserve to be celebrated, and this will be a great opportunity to do just that.”

The Mustangs finished 24th in the CFP rankings and 17th in the AP poll, and Lashlee even made a case for his team to be included in a New Year’s Six bowl. Although he didn’t get his wish, things are looking up for a program that hasn’t experienced much success since it was struck with the “death penalty” by the NCAA in 1987 for repeated violations.

The Fenway Bowl will be what would be considered a conference game in just a year’s time; the Mustangs plan to join Boston College in the ACC starting in the 2024 season.

“It’s kind of cool to be leaving one chapter [the AAC] and beginning a new chapter with the ACC,” said Lashlee, who recently signed a multi-year contract extension and will be tasked with leading the program through the jump to a Power 5 conference.

As he’s moved up the coaching ranks as an offensive coordinator at places like Auburn and Miami, Lashlee also hasn’t shied away from speaking about his faith. He was featured on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in April 2022 before his first season at SMU, as well as in May 2021 when he was with Miami.

When asked on the podcast in 2022 about being a head coach, he said God ultimately placed him in that position in order to share with his players what God has done in his life.

“That’s my purpose. That’s why God has given me the influence He’s given me,” Lashlee said. “… God has put me here on assignment, and I’ve always kind of felt that. But, ‘Be intentional about living out that assignment. That’s why you’re here. The winning and all those other things will take care of itself.'”

Lashlee shared on the podcast in 2021 his story of how he came to faith in middle school, surrounded by family members who unceasingly prayed for his conversion and friends who encouraged him in faith, yet with an alcoholic and often-absent father. It all served to make God’s grace sweeter to him.

Now, despite a hectic schedule as he tries to build a perennial winner at SMU, he ensures he will always have time for his wife, Lauren, and his two sons and two daughters.

“We try to seek the Lord, seek what He would want us to do,” Lashlee said. “Put us where we could be used the most, not for our glory, but for His.”

The Wasabi Fenway Bowl against Boston College will kick off at 11 a.m. ET on Dec. 28. The Mustangs are favored by 10.5 points.

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