For the record: Matt Rhule signing a bunch of ex-Temple Owls is not like Chip Kelly signing a bunch of ex-Oregon players with the Eagles.

Not like it at all. It could be the exact opposite.

Yes, we’re all making the same jokes around here – look at the Carolina Owls. Or is it the Temple Panthers?

Not the same.

Kelly brought in what, eight ex-Ducks? First of all, as you quickly saw, the Chipster did not bring in much talent. Most of the ex-Ducks were backups, so Eagles fans probably hoped at the time that what Kelly really was doing was establishing a culture.

As we saw, Kelly produced a sort of anti-culture in Philadelphia, where his arrogance reigned supreme. It was a losing formula from the start. Of the eight Ducks Kelly brought in by 2015, only Kiko Alonso and Kenjon Barner played last season in the NFL. (And Alonso isn’t exactly the poster child for successful Kelly moves.)

  • Brandon Bair, never played anywhere else after Eagles.
  • Taylor Hart, one game after Eagles.
  • Wade Keliikipi, didn’t make the Eagles or any other team.
  • Kenjon Barner, journeyman for three teams since Eagles, no starts.
  • Josh Huff, one season, no starts, after leaving the Eagles.
  • Jeff Maehl, never played anywhere else after Eagles.
  • Will Murphy, didn’t make the Eagles or any other team.
Chip Kelly during a press conference when he was Eagles head coach.
Chip Kelly during a press conference when he was Eagles head coach.

It’s a natural worry that college coaches shouldn’t overvalue their own ex-college players. Rhule already has been gently mocked on social media for trying to win a Super Bowl “with the 2015 Boca Raton Participant Temple Owls.”

It’s an amusing joke, bringing up a legitimate concern.

Except, a couple of things are way off about the Kelly comparison. No. 1, Rhule has proved more successful at establishing the right kind of culture, which allows voices to be heard in his locker room. Rhule never had a problem, for instance, with reporters talking to Temple coordinators and other assistants. The guy isn’t paranoid. That sounds like a little thing, but let’s argue it’s a huge thing. He didn’t succeed at Temple and Baylor simply on scheme and recruiting advantages. He had no recruiting advantages.

So let’s look at what he’s actually doing.

  • He signed former Owls QB P.J. Walker. If Rhule had signed Walker as his starter to replace Cam Newton, we’d be first in line questioning the move. But the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater as the presumed starter, with Walker as the insurance policy. Given that Walker lit up the XFL this year, earning praise as a sure thing to make an NFL roster, this was a savvy move. Everyone needs a backup. Rhule has one he trusts. If Walker turns out to be more than that, it’s a steal. But assume he’s a backup. It’s a smart move.
P.J. Walker when he was at Temple.
P.J. Walker when he was at Temple.
  • Robby Anderson. Here’s the steal. Many Eagles fans were clamoring for their team to sign this guy who had proved himself with the Jets. The Panthers got him. Rhule already is ahead of Chip Kelly. None of those ex-Ducks had Anderson’s resume, with 47 starts and 207 catches in four seasons, and legit NFL outside speed. Two years, $20 million. Jets fans are distraught.
  • Let’s say eight-year veteran Tahir Whitehead is that culture guy, signed to a one-year deal after being cut by the Raiders. Whitehead, at Temple when Rhule was an Al Golden assistant, is a former Detroit Lions starting linebacker. He led the Lions in tackles in 2016 and ‘17. He’s started a playoff game. If he’s got anything left in the tank, the Panthers got another steal. No risk at all.
  • Keith Kirkwood, more of the same. Cut by New Orleans, the Panthers grabbed him. This isn’t just a Rhule deal. This is a Joe Brady deal. The Panthers offensive coordinator, a hot commodity himself after being passing coordinator at LSU last season as the Tigers won the national title, had been an offensive assistant for the Saints the two previous seasons. If Brady and Rhule both think Kirkwood, injured last season, can help the Panthers, this seems like a no-brainer to add depth at receiver. Kirkwood had looked good as a free-agent rookie in New Orleans, after beating out a bunch of receivers for a roster spot, including an ex-Eagle named Josh Huff. Kirkwood started on the practice squad and moved up.

Bottom line, Rhule has found value, and if his advantage is that former Temple players who have legitimate talent actually want to play for him, that’s telling.

Here’s a bigger tell. Rhule loved Tyler Matakevich with the Owls. He’d personally recruited him, had stood on a table as an assistant making his case to sign this guy with no Division I offers. Maybe Temple fans thought Matakevich would sign with the Panthers after four seasons mostly as a special-teams ace with the Steelers. That didn’t happen. Matakevich signed a two-year, $9 million deal with Buffalo.

If Rhule was all about bringing in Temple players he could trust, paying Matakevich, or overpaying him, would have been a natural move. It didn’t happen. There probably won’t be a lot more signings of that sort by the Carolina Owls. Rhule found the value plays. That always was his strong suit. He didn’t get this far by overplaying his hand.