Loss of head coach Matt Rhule stings for #Temple

The Owls football program is in great shape, but who’s next?
Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As a Temple University alum that worked with the football program while a student, the loss of Matt Rhule to Baylor hits hard. Having been part of a 1–11 record myself, watching him lead the program to back-to-back ten win seasons and an appearance on ESPN’s College Game Day was a dream.

This loss stings more than the departures of Al Golden and Steve Addazio. Golden was instrumental in laying the foundation that put the program back on the map, but both coaches gave the impression they were always looking for their next opportunity. Matt Rhule was different. He loved Philadelphia and his toughness mantra fit with the culture of the city. There was a clear connection with his student-athletes, the student body, Temple administration, alumni, and even the Philly sports media. He was cheese steaks and soft pretzels to the core.

I probably speak for many alumni in saying that we hoped Penn State alum Matt Rhule would stick it out at least as long as James Franklin’s tenure with the Nittany Lions. Two 7–6 seasons were a very average start for Franklin in Happy Valley. An 11–2 season and a Rose Bowl berth this year changed things for both coaches. Franklin got his job security; Rhule saw a longer wait for his dream job. Not only that, but Rhule probably realized it was going to be hard to do any better than 10–4 and 10–3 in consecutive years at Temple. Next season, he would be facing the loss of senior quarterback Phillip Walker, the program’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns, and wins. Rhule’s stock wasn’t going to get any higher in a potential “down year” in 2017.

Why Baylor? That’s going to be for Matt Rhule to answer. His focus on academics and recruiting quality young men makes him a better fit for Baylor than vice versa. Oregon was also reported to be in the mix, but neither school seems like a fit for a guy born in New York and raised in State College. If Charlie Strong couldn’t succeed in the Big 12 with all the resources at the University of Texas, it’s hard to imagine any coach doing better at Baylor following the football program’s sexual assault scandal. It won’t be easy convincing mothers to send their sons to school in Waco. Hiring assistant coaches with connections to Texas high schools is going to be huge. Hopefully the Baylor administration is patient, but there is some serious competition in the Big 12. Tom Herman will have Texas back on the map sooner rather than later, and it’ll be tough to surpass Oklahoma, West Virginia, and even Oklahoma State. Will Baylor be ok finishing fourth or fifth in the league at best?

So where does Temple go now? Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested the aformentioned Charlie Strong. Strong is an outstanding recruiter and beloved by his players, but would he want Temple? Is he the best fit for Temple given his lack of experience in the northeast? I think the answer to both questions is probably no. A better fit for Charlie Strong would be going back to Florida at USF if Willie Taggart leaves for Oregon. I’m not sure either AAC school could afford a coach that previously made $5 million a year at Texas though.

As far at potential head coaches on the current staff, Temple AD Dr. Patrick Kraft will take a long look at interim head coach Ed Foley and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. Foley is a Cherry Hill, NJ native and fits the bill as a northeastern guy with previous coaching stops at Penn, Fordham, and Hofstra. He has also served as the Owls’ recruiting coordinator. Phil Snow has been with the Owls over the past four seasons and led one of the best defenses in college football this year. Snow might be out of the running pretty quickly however, if Rhule persuades him to go to Baylor. Foley and Snow are solid choices that would help keep the current recruiting class together, but neither would generate a huge buzz among the fan base. In an ideal, but unlikely world, an incoming head coach could keep one or both assistant coaches on board at Temple.

The biggest question is how high can Temple shoot with their coaching search? Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is one name going around who should receive an interview. Moorhead has turned around the Nittany Lions offense this season, and ironically enough defeated Matt Rhule’s Temple Owls in 2013 as head coach of FCS Fordham, the school’s first win over an FBS program. He was also a finalist for the head-coaching job at Purdue. How about former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano? Schiano is still a huge figure in New Jersey recruiting circles. He’s been co-defensive coordinator for an outstanding Ohio State defense. It would take some getting used to seeing him in Cherry after all those years with the Scarlet Knights, but if he were interested he’s a no brainer. Like Charlie Strong though, he would be a long shot. He was interviewed for the Oregon opening and could easily hold out at Ohio State for a bigger job.

Regardless of whom Temple hires, Matt Rhule is leaving the program in great shape. It’s tough to see him go, but best wishes to him on his new adventure in Waco.