TEMPLE FOOTBALL coach Matt Rhule talks all the time about blocking out the noise. As his 20th-ranked Owls (10-2) - who already have tied a program record for wins in a season that's stood for 36 years - prepare to play at No. 18 Houston (11-1) on Saturday afternoon for the American Conference title and probably a spot in a New Year's bowl game, the only outside distraction might be his status.
Missouri, which won the SEC East in 2013 and '14 but went 1-7 in the conference this season, reportedly met with Rhule on Sunday to talk about its job opening. Another coach Missouri supposedly spoke with, Toledo's Matt Campbell, instead ended up at Iowa State. Tigers defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who held the same position at Memphis from 2012-14, appears to be very much in the mix to replace Justin Fuente at Memphis. If, of course, the former Tigers linebacker isn't the choice to replace Gary Pinkel at Missouri.
That's how this game works.
So is Rhule concerned that the ongoing speculation could be a problem?
"Only if people keep asking about it," he said when the subject came up on the AAC conference call. "We consider ourselves family. It's not about me. (This week is) about the kids. I would never dishonor the players by talking about myself. Both teams are hearing the same things out there.
"I'll do my part to make sure we play as well as we can."
Sure sounds simplistic enough.
Obviously, Temple would like to do everything and anything within its power to keep Rhule on North Broad, where he and his family are very happy. But it's not always that easy. Ask Memphis. It offered to make Fuente the highest-paid coach in a non-Power 5 conference, and he still left for Virginia Tech.
Now Houston is doing the same with first-year coach Tom Herman. He is the former Ohio State offensive coordinator whom Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades hired last November when Rhoades was still at Houston. Herman's name has come up in connection with several vacancies, most notably Georgia, South Carolina and Miami. But Houston is raising his salary to over $3 million a year, up from $1.3 million this season. Which is about what Rhule, who last offseason signed an extension through 2021, is making.
I'm not saying that a Herman-like deal is what it'll take for Temple to keep Rhule. But it's probably in the neighborhood. And if nothing else, it's a barometer. This is the escalating price of doing business, if you want to be big time. And since Temple's Board of Trustees will discuss a proposal at next week's scheduled meeting on a $100 million on-campus stadium, we can only assume that's what the university wants looking to the future.
It's what happens when you go from two wins to double digits in two seasons. And assistants get raises, too. It's all part of trying to keep the success going. Logic suggests there will probably be a time when Rhule is destined to leave, just because. That doesn't mean it has to be this year.
I'm sure there will be those within the Temple community who think that's too much to pay their coach. They might have a point. But the landscape has changed. And it's not going back. So it's Temple's choice, for as long as Rhule wants to stay. If the university is indeed going to build a facility to call its own, Rhule would figure to be a big part of the fund-raising process. I'm not saying another guy couldn't be, but he's been here and has developed a lot of positive relationships. That never hurts.
Maybe Rhule never coaches in that stadium, if it becomes a reality. Maybe the allure of a Power 5 program proves too much to fend off. But he might like to coach in the Peach or Fiesta bowls, if the Owls get into one of them. Maybe he'd like to try and do even more in the next year or two. The Owls figure to start next season in the Top 25. Perhaps Temple should pull a Houston. Don't wait for Rhule to get an offer first. Be proactive. If you're willing to seriously up the ante, make it happen.
Three years ago, when Temple was doing its due diligence and interviewing just about every worthy candidate to succeed Steve Addazio, it finally got to the point where I wrote that they should end the process and hire the guy who probably wanted it most and had the support of the locker room. It might be time to do the right thing again. Nobody ever said that staying on the map once you finally made it there was going to come cheaply.
"I honestly thought we were going to have a better record the first year (2013)," Rhule admitted. "I really still believe it takes about five years to really get the program where you want it to be, where everything's aligned. Maybe we had a little bit of a head start (by being an assistant from 2006-11).
"That's why we're so excited about the next two years."
Sounds like a plan worth executing. And expeditiously.
Senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich is the AAC Defensive Player of the Week. He had 11 tackles in a 27-3 win over Connecticut.