His football career at Indiana University was over and Rod Carey was looking to take the next step. So he met with his head coach, Bill Mallory, about possibly playing at the next level.
Carey was a three-year starting center in one of the great eras of Indiana football, which included three bowl appearances in four years.
Mallory, a no-nonsense coach, didn’t sugarcoat his advice to Carey.
“So I got done playing and I came into him and asked him, ‘Coach, do I have a chance at the NFL?’ ” the 48-year-old Carey recalled.
With brutal honesty, Mallory simply responded, “I don’t see it.”
And that candid assessment began Carey’s road toward a different football path. It eventually landed him at Temple, where he was hired as head coach in January and will lead the Owls in their opener Aug. 31 against Bucknell at Lincoln Financial Field.
Deep down, Carey expected Mallory’s assessment. After suffering a knee injury his junior year, Carey said, he didn’t feel he was the same player the next year. That said, he still enjoyed a fine senior season in 1993, earning the school’s Corby David Award as the outstanding offensive player.
Mallory then asked Carey if he wanted to coach. “I might,” Carey quickly replied.
Mallory got his assistants to call fellow coaches to see if they could find a college spot for Carey. When none surfaced, Carey began his career as an assistant coach at his Wayzata High, his alma mater, near Minneapolis.
He stayed there four years after being hired by his former high school coach, Roger Lipelt, who died in 2012.
“Coach said, ‘I heard you are not doing anything,' ” Carey said.
Lipelt then persuaded Carey to be the offensive line coach at Wayzata. Once Carey joined the staff, he was hooked.
“I had never had a fall where I wasn’t involved in football my whole life,” Carey said. “I got in it and said, ‘This is awesome.’ ”
In 1998 he earned his first college coaching job as a graduate assistant at Minnesota, where he worked for two seasons. Carey’s position coach at Indiana, Steve Stripling, was an assistant coach at Minnesota and recommended him to Gophers head coach Glen Mason.
“Steve Stripling said this guy [Carey] is an outstanding person, top quality who will never embarrass the program and has a great work ethic,” Mason said in a phone interview.
Now in his 13th season as an analyst for the Big Ten Network, Mason said that Stripling made the right recommendation.
“Rod was one of those guys who came in early, stayed late, and did whatever you wanted and was thoroughly involved,” Mason said. “I was really impressed with him.”
Carey began the nomadic life of a college coach. From 2000 to 2006 he was the offensive line coach/offensive coordinator for Division III Wisconsin Stout. There was one year, 2007, at Illinois State as the offensive line coach. Illinois State had an opening when Justin Fuente, who was the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at the school and is now the head coach at Virginia Tech, left to become an assistant at TCU.
That open spot went to Carey, even though he was hired as offensive line coach. It also formed another coaching friendship. Even though they never coached together, Carey and Fuente became good friends.
When asked about Carey during the Atlantic Coast Conference football media day in Charlotte, N.C., Fuente smiled and said, “That is my guy. ... First off, Rod is a great person, he has a wonderful family and he is genuine. He is a very good communicator with his players and coaches. He is demanding and fair.”
After just one season at Illinois State, Carey became offensive line coach at North Dakota from 2008 to 2010.
The big break in Carey’s coaching career came in 2011, when he was hired as the offensive line coach at Northern Illinois. As the connection to his former position coach Stripling was invaluable when Carey was hired at Minnesota, another strong relationship was vital in helping him earn the job at NIU.
At the time, the offensive coordinator at NIU was Matt Canada, who last year was the interim head coach at Maryland. Canada, a former high school quarterback, was a student assistant at Indiana when Carey was playing there. The two struck up a close friendship, so much so that Canada was in Carey’s wedding.
Canada recommended that then-NIU head coach Dave Doeren hire Carey.
“Matt was my ticket to Dave,” Carey recalled.
When asked what caused him to recommend Carey to Doeren, Canada said in a phone interview, “It was our relationship.”
By 2012, Carey was elevated to offensive coordinator after one game.
During the spring of that year, offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar received a diagnosis of lung cancer.
“He said to Dave [Doeren], ‘I will get you through the first game, but after that you need to hire Rod,'” Carey recalled.
Dunbar died in September 2013.
In 2012, NIU went 12-1 and earned a berth in the Orange Bowl. After the regular season, Doeren was hired as the head coach at North Carolina State. Carey could have gone with Doeren and been on his staff at N.C. State, but before departing, Doeren gave Carey some poignant advice.
“I will never forget, he said, ‘Do you want to be a BCS coordinator or be a head coach?’ ” Carey recalled. “He said, 'If you want to be a head coach, this is a great place to be a head coach.’ ”
So Carey was named head coach before NIU played in the Orange Bowl against Florida State.
What a welcome it was to the head coaching ranks. Florida State 31, NIU, 10.
“I think nine of those 11 cats from the FSU defense got drafted,” Carey said. “It was crazy.”
In six full seasons as head coach Carey went 52-30, won four division titles and two Mid-American Conference championships, in 2014 and last year.
Carey is a no-nonsense coach who doesn’t care if he wins news conferences.
“He was a great coach,” said Luke Shively, a center on last year’s NIU team said in a phone interview. “He is very stern, very strict.”
Yet there was another side of Carey.
“He really looked out for us and was always a really good dude, looking out for our best interests,” Shively said.
Carey said at his opening news conference that he wasn’t going to proclaim how hard his team works. Instead he would let people judge by the players’ actions.
What is important to Carey is making relationships with his players. Constantly at practice he will stop and talk to a player, have a laugh, and then move on.
“He is a really cool guy, a really good coach, business-oriented, focused, and holds us accountable for our actions,” said Temple senior linebacker Shaun Bradley, a first-team all-American Athletic Conference choice last season.
Bradley is known as one of the better trash talkers on the team and he already feels comfortable with Carey to give him the business on the practice field.
“Since his background is being an offensive guy, I’ll ask him, ‘When are you guys going to score some points on us?’’ Bradley said, laughing at the exchange. “And he jokes around right back and it is really a cool relationship.”
Carey and his wife, Tonya, have two children -- Kennedi, who is entering 10th grade, and Charlie, who will be in seventh grade.
“The thing about him that I really like about working with him is he is a family-first guy,” said Temple defensive coordinator Jeff Knowles, who also coached under Carey for two years at NIU. “Everybody says they are family first, but he lives it.”
Carey has had so many influences in his life, but one of the greatest was Mallory, his college coach who suggested that Carey have an alternative plan to the NFL.
Mallory, who died in May 2018, was 168-129-4 as a head coach at Miami of Ohio, Colorado, Northern Illinois, and then with Carey at Indiana. Mallory liked the ground-and-pound attack, something that Carey prefers as well. But in these days of sophisticated passing offenses, Temple will often operate in a spread attack. Plus, unlike when he attended college, Carey doesn’t have his players tackle in practice, even in training camp.
“Coach Mallory is probably rolling in his grave, but I would rather have the players healthy then have them tackled in practice and get injured,” he said.
Carey was Temple’s second choice after Manny Diaz took over for Geoff Collins and lasted just 18 days before taking over as the head coach of Miami.
None of that matters to Carey. He said he is so excited for the season, the time has been a blur since his Jan. 11 hiring.