Temple’s task now: Find the next Matt Rhule | Mike Jensen
The obvious task for Temple now is to analyze what really made the Rhule era work after a disastrous one with Rod Carey.
Find the next Matt Rhule.
That’s the obvious task for Temple now, the Rod Carey era officially declared a disaster area, the job of finding the next Owls head football coach in the hands of new athletic director Arthur Johnson, just in from the University of Texas.
After Monday’s announcement that Carey is out after three seasons, Johnson talked in general terms about the search for the next coach, acknowledging that he’s hearing from interested coaches already. He talked about “the right fit, someone who understands Temple,” that an understanding of the region, “a connection to this area,” is important, that without it even candidates he has known for a long time would be long shots.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to lead a football program,” Johnson said, talking about how the need to build a proper culture is paramount. He’ll look at the Rhule coaching tree “very closely;” it won’t be “the deciding factor, but will play a role.”
Let’s acknowledge that finding a Rhule is rare. The man is a head coach in the NFL for a reason, even if the Carolina Panthers are struggling right now. Since the Wayne Hardin era — so, in the last 40 years — Rhule is the only one of 10 Owls head coaches who either didn’t get fired by Temple, or at their next stop, or are now in imminent danger of getting canned at the next stop, or on a hot seat. (Yes, we’re counting Manny Diaz. Can’t ever forget Manny Diaz.)
» READ MORE: Rod Carey fired at Temple
The point is, these are hard jobs, and the degree of difficulty at Temple is harder still. Five straight Owls head coaches moved on to Power 5 jobs. (Yes, we’re counting Diaz, since he did leave Temple to go back to Miami after his famous 18-day tenure.) Carey breaks that string. If approached, the next hot coach will have to think a little harder whether Temple is the perfect stepping-stone to the big time.
That’s not what Johnson and the other decision-makers have to worry about first. They have to analyze what really made the Rhule era work. They need a football coach who gets the culture right, so the transfer exodus stops, so players recruited to Temple want to stay. That’s the real secret of the Rhule era. That culture was re-created at Baylor. Rhule wasn’t easy to play for, just worth playing for.
So let’s get to some names …
To find the next Rhule, presumably you call Rhule. Johnson should do that. The problem there, all sorts of Rhule underlings are real qualified and presumably would want the job. Johnson should say to Rhule, “Don’t give me a list … If you’re me, you can only hire one guy. Who’s the guy?”
A first thought on the Rhule coaching tree … Mike Siravo might be the guy. Now in his third spot as a Rhule assistant, Siravo knew the lay of the land at Temple, serving as a linebackers coach but also with stints as recruiting coordinator. I think that’s key, maybe more than hiring a coordinator used to calling plays. You need to find the right coordinators or you’re in trouble, but recruiting coordinators have to be able to communicate. In my memory, Siravo hits that.
Do you call Fran Brown at Rutgers? You absolutely investigate whether Brown is your guy. A lot of people thought Brown would be a future Temple head coach. Is now that time? Was leaving for Rutgers a check against him or a sign that he knows how to keep moving forward?
Another former Rhule defensive assistant deserves a long look. Elijah Robinson is now the defensive-line coach at Texas A&M. Before that, the Penn State grad worked at Temple and Baylor under Rhule. Success seems to follow Robinson around. Don’t wait for him to call, call him, figure out if he’s ready to be a head coach.
Johnson doesn’t have to do much investigating about Stan Drayton. He was just with him at Texas, where Drayton was a Longhorns assistant. Drayton, a former Penn and Villanova assistant way back, had, according to sources, talked to Temple previously about being head coach and it seems mind-boggling right now that Temple went thumbs up on Diaz/Carey but passed on Drayton.
A good recruiter?
“He recruited Brian Westbrook,” noted a Villanova coach, who raved about Drayton.
Bottom line on Drayton: Johnson should already have a strong opinion, one way or the other.
Tom Herman is another coach Johnson is familiar with from Texas, where Herman failed after succeeding at Houston. My opinion? Wanting to be a head coach isn’t enough. You have to want to be Temple’s head coach. People are wondering about Dan Mullen, now available, since the just-fired Florida coach is a Drexel Hill native and Ursinus graduate. Pass. Too much of a culture shock given the resources he’s used to having.
What about Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles? The Temple alum just signed a three-year contract. Another example of a coach they could have had who surely would have been better than the guy they just hired. (Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator is probably a better line on the resume anyway.)
Another NFL name: Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai was at Temple with Al Golden. A respected guy. Smart people say this man is a really smart person.
What about bringing back Golden? Tempting, for sure. His first time, Golden got the culture right and put Temple on the right track. All that is needed again. Do second acts work? Will Johnson investigate this option?
Others to look at: Ed Foley or Phil Snow would have been a way better choice to carry on Rhule’s success. Chris Wiesehan was part of Rhule’s success, then went to Georgia Tech with Geoff Collins. Is Gabe Infante ready to be a Division I head coach? Temple should look at that. I once wondered if St. Joseph’s Prep was doing the right thing bringing Infante in from outside the area. So much for that. Infante did an amazing job.
Do any coaches in the area fit Temple’s needs? I would argue Princeton head coach Bob Surace just might, but Surace might pass on this one. He’s got a good gig up the road.
Thinking outside the box
My wild card? To me, Temple needs to take a chance. I’d strongly consider taking a huge one. Temple’s greatest sporting successes came by taking risks. Hire the Cheyney head coach for hoops? Yeah, that worked out all right with John Chaney. What about a women’s hoops coach who had never coached at any level? Dawn Staley eventually moved on to South Carolina, where she has the top-ranked team in the nation. Her Temple tenure was a success, too.
Where am I going here? Hit the Rhule tree, but not the coaching tree. The playing tree. Call Colin Thompson. If you’ve talked to Thompson, you know the Carolina Panthers tight end is one of the sharpest minds you can find. He’d understand how to build the culture, find the right assistants, engage with the university community itself, which Rhule was great at doing. Thompson also got a bit of an inside look at the program from a non-playing angle when he was on Temple’s radio team.
A big risk? Sure. Do you hire coaches because they host a great podcast? (Thompson hosts a great podcast.) Nope, never. You hire head coaches who see the whole landscape for exactly what it is and want to dive in and make it hum.
“Yes I would like to continue to play football,” Thompson texted back when contacted about this crazy idea. “But I would like to interview and see what happens.”
To make it clear: Thompson wasn’t lobbying. His own long-shot candidacy aside, Thompson believes this isn’t some kind of search-firm hire.
“Bring a group in,” Thompson said. “Interview them all and see who is the best fit for Temple, not the hot hire or coordinator.”
He admits to being partial toward all the coaches who were part of the Rhule era, mentioning a whole bunch of them.
Arthur Johnson knows Temple’s history by now, and saw Rhule’s Baylor success at pretty close range when Johnson was at Texas. Temple’s board of trustees members, who probably patted themselves on the back for the Rhule hire, now must acknowledge that their own moves since then actually led the Owls away from success.
The advice here: Let Johnson make the hire. That’s literally why he’s here, for this very task, given his background. The man talked sense Monday. Let him prove he can put his words into action.