was in town, the traveling ESPN extravaganza naturally wanted Temple coach Matt Rhule live on the set that morning of the Notre Dame game. Rhule said he'd just walk to Independence Mall from his place in the city. It wasn't too long a walk and he'd probably be looking to burn some energy off anyway.
Not a good idea, he was told. The area would be full of Owls fans heading to the same place. He'd likely be engulfed before he ever got to ESPN's set. They sent a car.
Put that on the list of many things that changed for Matt Rhule this season. Not that Rhule is suddenly a celebrity, even in Philadelphia - but even casual sports fans know what Temple football accomplished this season, and many of them now know that Temple's football coach is named Matt Rhule.
Temple fans, including the students who made it to College Gameday that eventful Halloween day, have more than casual interest in Monday's news that Temple has agreed to a new contract with Rhule. Not more years - it's still through 2021 - just more dollars, well north of $1.5 million a year, a source told The Inquirer.
I'm used to Division I-A football coaches who are more mono-focused than Rhule. This guy can multitask all facets of his program while at the same time noticing the world and specifically the city around him.
The night Temple had its upset devouring of Penn State in the season opener, Rhule had some of his neighbors over to his place in the city. One of them was the Inquirer's esteemed restaurant critic, Craig LaBan. They apparently got to talking about food and within days a terrific story appeared on the front page of our paper of a meal at a favored Rhule lunch spot in South Philly.
I mentioned to Rhule that he should go along with LaBan when he was reviewing a restaurant, that Rhule would enjoy the experience.
A couple of weeks later, Rhule said he'd done it.
"Had a great time," he said.
That wouldn't be noteworthy except this was smack in the middle of this football season. Rhule is a very engaged football coach. He runs the scout team himself, he says, so he can work with the young guys he hopes will eventually be his starters. There just is no mattress in his office.
When this job was open last time and Rhule was interested in coming back from his assistant's job with the New York Giants, I wasn't sure about it. Why hire an assistant when guys who have proven themselves as head coaches might take the job? It wasn't anti-Rhule sentiment in the least. Everyone who knew him spoke highly of him. I just thought it was time to go after someone with head coaching experience.
The guys I favored probably would have done a good job. Rhule has just done a historic job. His previous ties with Temple made him the better choice in retrospect. But it's his ability to see the big picture through all aspects of his program that make him stand out, but couldn't be seen fully until he had the job.
I can remember when plenty of Temple fans used to get on Rhule when he was an offensive coordinator under Al Golden. That's the nature of that job. Coordinators are always under a microscope. It's also the head coach's job to give the coordinators resources to succeed. Rhule so far gets an A there.
His first year as head coach, Temple didn't have quality defensive backs and it turned into a costly Achilles heel. But that unit was immediately addressed and quickly turned into a strength.
Rhule's offense also initially was more passing driven after he became head coach. But when that didn't work so well he quickly shifted gears and adopted a multifaceted but lower risk system that works better with Temple's general defensive strength. Common sense stuff but hugely impactful.
Even Temple's decision to go to the Boca Raton Bowl has all sorts of logic involving beach location and timing and prime time TV exposure. Rhule thought it all through. The result was not necessarily a marquee league opponent or a historic bowl, but a Temple vs. Toledo matchup that CBSSports.com listed as the 10th best bowl matchup of the year. Who could have imagined that? Temple enhancing a bowl's appeal? (We're not talking about drawing power, more as a general game for the average fan to watch on television).
Monday, Rhule was announced as one of eight finalists for the Eddie Robinson national coach of the year. His competition for the honor includes three of the four national playoff semifinal coaches, the coach at American Athletic Conference champ Houston, plus the coaches of Notre Dame, Stanford and Iowa.
Signing a new deal doesn't automatically wed Rhule to Temple until 2021. There rarely is a buyout clause that fazes truly big-time programs. But it will take a big-time program that can win in a big-time league to lure Rhule away. That's simple logic, but when it comes to Rhule, logic usually applies.