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Hot seat? Nope, just a pivotal season for Temple football and third-year coach Rod Carey. | Mike Jensen

If his tenure is to achieve liftoff, Carey can’t afford to finish 10th in the American Athletic Conference, as forecast.

Rod Carey starts his third season as Temple's football coach.
Rod Carey starts his third season as Temple's football coach.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

No hot seat.

That’s the way to view Rod Carey’s position at Temple going into 2021. No, 1-6 in 2020 was not what Owls fans wanted to see from Carey’s second season in charge at 10th and Diamond. It is important, however, to realize that 2020 was not representative of much more than this: The pandemic did not treat all college football programs the same, certainly not in the American Athletic Conference.

Draw a line through 2020. Try to forget it.

No such thoughts about 2021.

This might turn out to be Carey’s most important season. If his tenure is to achieve liftoff, he can’t afford to finish 10th in the AAC, as forecast. The signals that would send to recruits, and even to his own players, would be obvious. And 2022 would come with a very hot seat.

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Look at this way … the last Temple coach to lead the Owls to two straight losing seasons was Al Golden, who had three straight, in his first three seasons. Anybody who knows anything about the history of Temple football knows that Golden was hired needing to do all sorts of heavy lifting after the Owls had been kicked out of the Big East, and his trend line was always up, from 1-11 to 4-8 to 5-7 to 9-4. After an 8-4 fifth season in 2010, Golden moved on to Miami. Nobody could deny the job well done, even if Temple never quite won the big one under Golden.

Go back to the second and third seasons of some other recent Owls coaches. We can’t go to a third season for Geoff Collins since he didn’t stick around that long, but his 7-6 and 8-4 seasons bled into Carey’s 8-5 first season. (The Manny Diaz era in between was a special couple of weeks.)

The Matt Rhule era, Temple’s high point for this century, began at 2-10, moved to 6-6 and then hit the heights of two straight 10-4 seasons. Maybe that 6-6 season is the one that deserved to be underlined, since it offered hope that Rhule was headed in the right direction. Little did we know what was ahead, for Temple or for Rhule himself.

Just before Rhule beat Penn State and brought ESPN’s College GameDay to Market Street for the Notre Dame game and won the AAC, Steve Addazio had a downward trend line in his two seasons, going 9-4 and then somehow parlaying 4-7 into a job offer from Boston College.

To understand the importance of a third season, let’s look at that alone. Rhule, 10-4. Golden, 5-7. Bobby Wallace (heavily done in by circumstances, I’d argue), 4-7. Ron Dickerson, 1-10. Jerry Berndt, 2-9. Bruce Arians, 6-5. Wayne Hardin, 9-1.

The trends are clear, even if many of these coaches took over under vastly different circumstances, with different resources. The coaches considered successful got their heads above water, or at least bobbing to the surface, by the third season.

Carey himself was 11-3 in his third season at his previous stop, Northern Illinois. The question right now is more about whether he is the perfect fit for Temple, whether the current transfer climate will eventually work in his favor or whether a bunch of good Owls players will continue to move on to the Power 5 after making their mark.

It’s a crucial question, since we’ve seen it is unnecessary for Owls to move on to prove yourself to the pros. Temple has proven itself as an NFL proving ground. And replacing transfers out with transfers in isn’t a great way to provide continuity. Plus, these are Carey recruits rising to veteran status and it’s time for them to prove themselves.

If you’re drawing a line through 2020, shouldn’t this be Carey’s second season? No, we’re just ignoring the results. The season happened. Players came and went, and everyone got older. Freshmen who showed up this fall were probably in eighth grade when Temple won the AAC in 2016. The clock keeps ticking.

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The best way for Carey himself to prove his tenure is ready to trend in the right direction: Beat Rutgers in Thursday’s opener or beat Boston College in a couple of weeks, sandwiching in a win at Akron in between. A 3-1 record in September (with Wagner scheduled in there later as a presumed W) would suggest that 10th-place AAC prediction was off, and that Temple is ready to trend in the right direction. We’ll see soon enough.