Dec 30, 2023; Pasadena, CA, USA; ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit reacts during Rose Bowl media day at Rose Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirk Herbstreit admits he spoke to Dominic Raiola. And he also acknowledges that he had nothing but praise for Matt Rhule.

But did the ESPN College GameDay analyst really help sway Raiola’s son, 5-star quarterback Dylan Raiola, to de-commit from Georgia and commit to Nebraska as the older Raiola implied earlier this week? Herbstreit says that’s not the case.

Appearing on The Paul Finebaum Show on Thursday, the former Ohio State quarterback publicly addressed the controversy that began when Dominic Raiola told that Herbstreit insisted his son should take his talents to Lincoln. Raiola’s revelation resulted in Herbstreit receiving no shortage of criticism — including from Finebaum — for his perceived role in helping Nebraska recruit a 5-star quarterback away from another team.

But while Herbstreit admitted to discussing Dylan Raiola’s recruitment with his father and praising Rhule while doing so, he denied actively recruiting on the Cornhuskers’ behalf.

“I know Dom. We’re not great friends, but I know him pretty well,” Herbstreit said. “When somebody calls and says, ‘What do you think of Matt Rhule?’ and you like Matt Rhule are you supposed to say, ‘Matt Rhule’s a bad guy. Matt Rhule’s an idiot. Matt Rhule’s a bad coach?’ Or do you say, ‘I like Matt Rhule. I think Matt Rhule’s a good coach.'”

Herbstreit went on to note the Raiola family’s previous ties to Nebraska, including Dominic being an All-American center with the Cornhuskers and his brother, Donovan Raiola, being the program’s current offensive line coach.

“It sounded like the family, out of respect for their love for Nebraska, that they were really torn is what he made it sound like,” Herbstreit said. “I thought being a guy that went to Ohio State and a lot of it had to do with my dad, I just said, ‘Wow, the fact that your son can go to any school, any powerhouse that’s competing for national titles and because of his respect for his own dad he’s thinking about maybe going to Nebraska? A place that hasn’t competed for national titles in over 20 years. That says a lot about who the kid is as far as what he wants to do. It’s not just about trying to go to the NFL. He’s thinking a little bit more about it because of maybe the way he grew up in that house and the way that they love Nebraska. I just said, ‘Wow, that’s a powerful thing if he ended up doing that.’

“I, of course, did not sell Nebraska and try to tell anybody not to go to Georgia. That’s the most ridiculous thing that anybody would do. But I did compliment Matt Rhule. If I’m guilty of anything, I said that Matt Rhule is a good coach and he’s a good man. And I believe he will bring Nebraska back, the way he did Temple and Baylor.”

Herbstreit’s portrayal of the conversation stands in stark contrast to the Raiola’s version of the story. Speaking to’s Adam Gorney, the former All-American center stated that the ESPN analyst reached out to him to enthusiastically pitch Nebraska upon hearing that his 5-star son was considering flipping his commitment to the Cornhuskers.

“When he saw the smoke about Dylan entertaining Nebraska, he was like call me, he was like ‘Dude if this is true, he’s gotta do it,'” Raiola said. “His affinity for Nebraska, for a guy like that to tell me and get behind me, you know I knew he needed to do it, but I wasn’t going to sit here and say you need to go change that place or be a part of the change of that place. So when Kirk told me that, you know I was like man, I had other coaches reach and say the place is special and coach Rhule is a special leader.”

Herbstreit had initially told his side of the story via On3’s Andy Staples, downplaying the nature of his conversation with Raiola. But by that point, the controversy had mushroomed to the point that it was inevitable that the Thursday Night Football analyst would have to address the matter himself.

While one could argue that Herbstreit shouldn’t be advising any prospect’s family on recruiting matters considering his role as a prominent college football analyst, that’s likely not realistic considering the relationships he has built in his nearly 30 years at ESPN. Herbstreit’s version of the conversation is certainly a lot less damning than Raiola’s telling of it — not that Georgia fans will care when College GameDay makes its first trip to Athens next season.

[The Paul Finebaum Show]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.