When Al Golden left Temple to take over the Miami Hurricanes there were a number of candidates interested in taking over the job on North Broad Street. Among them was one of Golden's top assistant coaches, Matt Rhule. Rhule interviewed for the job and discussed the opportunity with Temple but was informed that he was still raw on some of the traits the school was looking for in a head coach. It just was not the right time for Rhule to become a head coach.
Rhule stayed on board for one more season at Temple under Steve Addazio, who filled the head coach vacancy. After one more year at Temple Rhule took an opportunity to coach at the NFL level, joining the reigning New York Giants this season as an offensive line coach. Two years after first interviewing for the head coaching job at Temple, Rhule feels now is the right time for he and Temple to move forward.
Addazio's departure for Boston College left Temple in a bind yet again in a time of great uncertainty for their athletic programs moving forward with continuing conference realignment changes left and right. From the start of their most recent coaching search, Rhule was deemed the internal favorite for the job by players and media, and as it turned out the administration.
So the big question now for Matt Rhule is, has the wait been worth it?
Why We Like the Hire
Being the head coach at Temple can be a rough job. You coach a college football program in a city that largely passes on college football in favor of pro sports and play in a stadium that the Philadelphia Eagles tried multiple times to shut you out of when constructed. To put it simply, Temple football is not exactly the big story in Philadelphia. But to some, that is OK. Part of the challenge of being a head coach at Temple involves getting this passionate sports city behind you. The program has come a far way since the days before Golden breathed new life in to the program, but there is still far to go.
Fortunately for Temple, they found a guy in Rhule who brings a genuine passion for the program. Rhule wants to continue the mission initially set out by Golden in making Temple Philadelphia's college football team. Addazio talked the talk but ultimately could not walk the walk for Temple fans. With Rhule it is a different story. Although he played at Penn State, Rhule has become a Temple guy after working on the staff under Golden and seeing glimpses of changes with the program. Despite what is happening in conference realignment, Temple is better off today than they were five or ten years ago. Funding has improved, as have the facilities. If Rhule is given the same increased commitment from the program, and I believe he will be, then winning in the Big East (or whatever this turns out to be) may not be completely out of the question down the road.
Rhule is the kind of guy who will relate to the city, players, recruits and their families. It begins there. Rhule is very familiar with the vision of the program, and his family roots suggest he wants to be here for that.
Why We Don't Like the Hire
Enthusiasm and winning the press conference is one thing, but Rhule is still a rookie head coach so mistakes will come from time to time. This is not to suggest Rhule will not be a good coach, but as with all rookies we can expect to see some mistakes made along the way. We expect this will be the case in the first year of Rhule's tenure, but we also expect he will learn from his mistakes.
We should note some of these concerns might be reduced once we see what kind of coaching staff Rhule surrounds himself with as well.
As long as Temple's administration is supportive of the idea that Rhule will take some lumps along the way (2013 season opens at Notre Dame), we can look past this to a point.
What Kind of Talent Does He Inherit
Temple took a beating in their first year back in the Big East in 2012, but considering the roster was largely made up by players geared for MAC competition that was expected. Temple finished last in the Big East in scoring and total defense, allowing 31.2 points and 436.7 yards per game. The Owls also struggled mightily in the passing game, ranking last in the conference with just 120.8 passing yards per game and a conference low 10 touchdown passes all season (tied with UConn).
The strength of Temple's 2012 season was the running game with Boston College transfer Montel Harris putting together a 1,000-yard season (thanks Army!). Matt Brown had a rough season, ending his season with just 372 yards and four touchdowns. Both leading rushers are graduating though, leaving the ground game open for new leaders. Temple has some young backs ready to take over, with Kenneth Harper and Jamie Gilmore each getting some sparse playing time this season.
The quarterback position should be pretty interesting to watch under Rhule. Chris Coyer, who was recruited primarily by Rhule, will be the favorite to lead the offense again in 2013, but Penn State transfer Kevin Newsome could make one final push for some playing time starting in the spring.
On defense Temple has some young talent that could improve in 2013. Freshman defensive back Tavon Young led the team with two interceptions this season and sophomore Chris Hutton should join him in leading the secondary. Sophomore defensive back Anthony Robey was sixth on the team in tackling this fall too. Temple's two leading tacklers in 2012 were freshmen linebackers Tyler Matakevich and Nate Smith. Smith was second on the team in sacks this fall, with 3.5 sacks. Up front Temple has freshman defensive lineman Hershey Walton coming off a season in which he finished eighth on the team in tackles.
There is some talent at Temple ready to grow. We'll see if Rhule and his staff can get the most out of it and take it up a notch.
Yeah, But Can He Recruit?
The big unknown. Though Rhule has been coaching since 1998, fresh out of his playing days at Penn State, the recruiting paths he has had to travel are largely unpaved. What we do know is Rhule's recruiting philosophy appears to be more proactive than any we have seen at Temple, and he wants to focus on recruits close to home.
In his introductory press conference Rhule said Temple will establish a one-hour perimeter around the city and recruit hard within that radius in hopes of keeping some of the top talent closer to home rather than go to programs like Penn State, Miami, West Virginia etc. Rhule will not have a lot of time to work with the Class of 2013 with a dead period taking up a chunk of time and his ongoing commitment to the New York Giants, so it may be more fair to assess his recruiting efforts with the Class of 2014 before we know anything for sure.
Rhule did help to recruit a number of players on the current roster, including quarterback Chris Coyer.
When I hand out a coaching grade I'm not comparing what Temple does compared to what Wisconsin or Auburn do. To me I grade each coaching hire on a curve depending on the school, realistic options and program. As far as Temple is concerned, Rhule is probably as good of an option as there is right now. This is the third straight rookie college head coach Temple has hired, which tells is Temple is not a destination program but a place to wet your feet.
That said, there is a lot keeping Rhule and Temple getting truly high marks here. What holds the grade down is just the inexperience as a head coach. The optimism is there for Rhule and what he will be able to do with the Owls, but until he shows he can win some football games it is easy to not get too carried away just yet. We don't fall for press conference victories here, but Rhule has said all the right things, has the enthusiasm and seems to have a solid vision for the program. If he stays true to his word, then there is no reason to think this is anything but a good, not great, hire for Temple.
If he wins some football games, then it will prove to be a great hire.
Coaching Hire: B