WHEN THEN-athletic director Bill Bradshaw introduced Al Golden as Temple's next football coach a decade ago to take over a program that had become a punch line, he made a point that proved prophetic.
"If another school is looking to hire him away from us at some point," Bradshaw noted, "then we hired the right guy."
And after five seasons of changing the culture while transitioning into a new conference (Mid-American) and making the Owls relevant for the first time since Paul Palmer, Golden did indeed go to Miami in 2009. Where, for whatever reasons, it didn't work out. He still was the first Temple football coach to leave North Broad coming off a winning season since Henry Miller in 1932, a span of 12 men. And Albert Kawal, who went from Temple to Southern Illinois after the 1954 season, is the only one of those 12 who was a head coach the following year.
Obviously, the landscape these days is much different.
The Owls and third-year coach Matt Rhule, who was on Golden's staff, are 9-2 and ranked 25th. They could win the American Athletic title and perhaps get into a New Year's bowl, either the Peach on Dec. 31 or Fiesta the following day. But right now the only thing we know for sure is that Rhule's name will come up in any number of job openings.
That's the reality. And Temple can't do anything to stop all the speculation. Although, as Bradshaw understood, it shouldn't be considered a bad thing. It goes with being successful.
Welcome to the big time, which is what Temple always wanted.
Cincinnati's Tommy Tuberville is the highest-paid coach in the AAC, with an annual base salary of $2.2 million. That could change. Justin Fuente, who, at 39, is a year younger than Rhule, makes $1.4 million at Memphis after agreeing to a five-year extension last November when most everyone figured he was gone. Then the school made him an "extraordinary" offer when the Tigers (8-3 after starting 8-0) beat Mississippi last month that would reportedly make him the highest-paid coach outside a Power 5 conference. He supposedly has yet to formally respond.
Tom Herman, the former Ohio State offensive coordinator, is 10-1 in his debut at Houston. He's 40, and making $1.45 million. But the school, which said it's "100 percent committed" to retaining him, has offered a raise to $3 million.
It's how you do business in today's world. That doesn't mean their guys will stay. It does show they're trying everything possible, which is all a non-Power 5 school really can do.
Rhule earns about the same as Fuente and Herman. He got an extension through 2020 coming off 2014's 6-6 season, an improvement of four wins over the previous season, his first as head coch. Temple would love to sign him through 2040 if it could, even though contracts are walked away from every year.
If Rhule stays, he'll surely get some kind of raise, and so probably will his assistants. Yet, at some point, Temple can continue to do only so much. That some point doesn't have to be after this season, or maybe not even after next season. Still, it's almost inevitable that he eventually will receive an offer that's impossible to ignore.
That's being realistic, too.
Going back to his time on Golden's staff, Rhule's been here for 10 years. He embraces it, as does his family. He might decide to make this his home for the long run, even if Temple's never been that kind of place before. I don't think he's looking to leave, at least not right away. And I don't think he'll leave leave for just anywhere. I believe it will take something extremely enticing to make him seriously consider moving on.
He wants to build something lasting here. And that takes time.
If Temple were in a Power 5 conference, Rhule would have a lot less reason to even return any phone calls. As one person very familiar with the situation emphasized, that should be every bit the priority as keeping Rhule or building an on-campus stadium. As long as Temple isn't one of of your so-called haves, there always will be a certain ceiling.
Rhule can stay put and achieve historic things. But it's not the same as being in, say, the Atlantic Coast. And if this is your chosen profession, don't you want an opportunity on that level before you're done, even if his Owls keep all this Top 25 stuff going? And there's no reason to think they won't.
I don't know whether or when the ACC will expand again, or whether or when it would take a long look at Temple. But if Temple got in the ACC tomorrow, the chances of Rhule staying for an extended period of time would go way up.
Maybe I'm an optimist, but I'd put his over-under number at about two more years. And there's nothing wrong with that. Life at 10th and Diamond will have to go on.
Temple got this one right. At some point, you just have to hope it makes the correct call again. Until then, Rhule will try to put trophies in a trophy case that could use some additions. If that's a reason for Power 5 programs in need of a fix to pay close attention, consider it a necessary evil.
Money and a bigger stage aren't always the be-all. But they are part of the equation. Only Rhule knows how big a part it is for him. Comfort level and happiness matter, too. He obviously has that already.
Just in case, appreciate every step of this ride for however long it lasts.