MATT RHULE just completed his first season as Temple's football coach. The Owls finished 2-10. They lost six times by nine points or fewer, four by three or fewer, including three because of long passes at the end. So we sat down with him to get some of his thoughts on what just happened and what he thinks lies ahead.
Q: The university recently announced it was dropping seven sports for budgetary reasons. What was your reaction?
A: I feel for everyone who has been impacted by this decision. I am thankful that Temple will continue to support these student-athletes, financially and academically.
Q: Some have expressed the opinion that football was the villain behind those cuts? How would you address that?
A: I can't worry about the public perception of the football program, or myself. My focus is on this football team, on recruiting and the future. And continuing to build this program into something the university can be proud of. I have a job to do, day in and day out. And that job is to make the program the best it can be. That's what I wake up every day thinking about.
Q: Regarding your program, what did you learn about yourself this year?
A: I had hoped for probably a better record, even though in many ways it was good for the program and good for me to reinforce some things I believe in.
Q: Such as?
A: You have to have attention to detail, sweat the little things. I think you can give people the opportunity, but at the end of the day, they have to take advantage of them. At some point in the year, we had to turn it over to some other kids and they ran with it.
Q: How much different is it being the head coach rather than an assistant?
A: It's a thousand times different, in that you see the whole picture. As an assistant, you see your slice of it. And as head coach, you see the overall, everything. You're trying to manage all those things, and be fair to everyone, as well as the program.
I think I learned a lot about patience, moving forward, trusting yourself. I had to learn this is a process. You might not be where you want to be but you have to say, OK, are we better today than we were yesterday? If the answer's yes, then you're doing the right things.
Maybe I'm cheating, because I've done it once before [on Al Golden's staff]. I see the parallels.
Q: How tough is losing, especially the way some of those games were lost?
A: What it's done for us and our kids is make us really go back and search for what's going wrong. Maybe if you win some of those, you don't make the changes that you have to. But the issues are still there. That's what losing can do, if you can be mature and professional about it. Then when you're winning, it allows you to keep winning.
Some people have a tendency to get complacent.
Q: Do you ever question yourself?
A: I question everything, in a good way. We should do the same soul-searching when we're winning. Don't just take things for granted.
Q: How hard is it when people question you, or the way you're doing things when they're not going well?
A: I appreciate the fact that people are passionate about the team. If they didn't care, so be it. I understand that. I was here when they were calling for Al's head, when we lost to Villanova. We won nine games [that year]. It happens everywhere. My job is not to worry about me. Keep the attention where it needs to be, on the players. That's what they deserve, and that's what they responded to.
Q: And people remember that you won 26 games in 3 years (from 2009-11).
A: I was watching "Monday Night Football" one night and I'm watching Jaiquawn Jarrett and Muhammad Wilkerson take over a game [for the Jets]. I remember when we weren't a very good team [under Golden]. We got better and better, as we recruited and developed our players. We only have five seniors next year. We're in a much more competitive league [American]. We knew this year was going to be a struggle. When we get the players we need to compete in this conference, we'll win.
Q: Is patience the hardest thing for a fan base?
A: I came here because I wanted this job, and I knew how to do this job. I knew it was going to be a process. You have to go through that. I'm learning, too. At the end of this year, were we a better team than we were at the end of last year? I think we were. But that's a moral victory. Let's keep getting better. I think people that came out and watched our games can see that [freshman quarterback] P.J. Walker's going to be something, [sophomore wideout] Robby Anderson's going to be something, [sophomore linebacker] Tyler Matakevich is going to be something. That's how we did it the first time. That's how we're doing it now.
Q: When you go 2-10, does it affect recruiting?
A: It's probably not the way you want to go out and sell the program, but some good things happened to us. I think people saw the UCF game [last-play loss to a team ranked 17th at the time]. A lot of recruits saw the Rutgers game. They saw how close we were. If we were losing, 40-10, it'd be different. Kids want to go somewhere where they feel they can make an impact. If I'm a pass rusher, and they just lost a game because they had no sacks, maybe I can change that. Our job is to show people we need a couple more plays, a couple more players. Come be one of us.
Q: It seems like the [new] administration is excited about a future that might include an on-campus stadium. Your thoughts?
A: I think the biggest thing is, any time you hear the president talk or [athletic director] Kevin Clark talk about athletics, it kind of invigorates me. As much as people want to win, what you have to do is invest. You have to put things in place so you can go recruit, so they come and have an amazing experience. That's what other programs have done, and what Temple has begun to do. I love to hear that type of vision from the top. He [President Dr. Neil Theobald] thinks football and basketball are a big part of [the future]. That's exciting for us. We feel the same way.
I think we play in a wonderful place [Lincoln Financial Field] right now. We use that in recruiting. I love the fact that we'll play Penn State [and Notre Dame] there in two years. It'll be a great environment. [But] if the time ever comes where we move, and that's a decision people will have to make, I think it'll be great for the student body and North Philadelphia as a whole.
Q: I don't know how much you've been able to follow the bullying issue with what happened in the NFL this season in Miami, but what do you tell your guys?
A: I had a chance to coach in the NFL, so I saw how guys tease each other, certainly, but never anything that was harmful or hurtful. You don't want someone to feel scared, ever. The litmus test is what you're doing to make someone feel a certain way. You want to motivate, but . . . Bear Bryant once said, "Coach 'em hard and hug 'em later." I know our coaches do that.
We're pretty hard about no hazing. That leads to bad things. If players want to hold each other accountable for effort and things like that, I think that's great. But it can't be physical. Make sure it's an environment that makes everyone feel secure. You can push kids, if they know where you're coming from and how much you care about them and what you're trying to do for them. But if people feel hurt, I don't think anything good that can be done if that's the way you're doing business.
Q: How excited are you for 2014?
A: Hopefully, they learned what it takes, that if you come to work every day and give your best, good things will happen. We're still trying to figure it out. You have to block out the [outside] noise. We took no shortcuts this year. It may not have been the best thing for the program for this year. But we're trying to build. You make decisions based on that. Some kids just weren't ready, so you redshirt them even if they might have helped you some. And I think you'll see the benefits of that in the coming years.
Q: Was it the right call not to play P.J. until the fifth game?
A: I think so, but it's always open to debate. The thought was to redshirt him. But the skills were too great. He showed what he could do. For us to finish with some of the things he did, it leads the way into the future.
Q: You said when you took the job that you wanted to get trophies. How confident are you that at some point, that's going to become reality?
A: Tremendously confident. You saw we can compete with the teams in our league. The team that won the league, we had the lead with two minutes to go, playing a lot of young kids. You are what your records says. We're 2-10. But I know where we're headed. And I feel like these kids will continue to work until we put a trophy there.
Q: And how good will that feel, after going through a season like this?
A: When you see how the kids handled it, you didn't hear anything bad. Nobody pointed fingers, nobody got in trouble. And that does happen, because you get frustrated. That's what makes the success feel so good. Not only did we go through hard times, we went through it with class. The way you should. We didn't quit. We just kept coming back. People would come up and say, "I hurt for you guys." It's not me. I hurt for the kids. Now we have to get up after this season, just like we did after every game, and come back and make a better run.