WHEN THEN-TEMPLE athletic director Bill Bradshaw hired former Penn Stater Al Golden to be the school's new football coach a little over a decade ago, the Owls were coming off an 0-11 season that had been preceded by 2-9 and 1-11. Bradshaw's words that day were prophetic: "If (Golden's) getting hired by another program in four or five years, then we've got the right guy."
Five seasons and 27 wins later, Golden was on his way to Miami. But not before the culture had been changed. Maybe forever.
Four years ago, just before he left North Broad, Bradshaw gave the job to former assistant Matt Rhule. This time, the Owls were coming off a 4-7 under Steve Addazio, who never really seemed to want to be here. Rhule did. In fact, very much so. He went from 2-10 to 6-6 to 10-4 and now 10-3 and an American Athletic Conference title, the program's first since 1967.
And now he's gone, to Baylor. There were rumors that Oregon was after him, too. Last year, Missouri courted him. Baylor's AD was the former AD at Missouri.
This is what happens when you don't play in a Power Five conference. It's mostly a matter of when and where to, if you're successful. Ask Houston, which just lost Tom Herman to Texas after only two years. Or South Florida, which might lose Willie Taggart to Oregon after four years. Or Western Michigan, which looks as if it could lose P.J. Fleck to somebody. Also after four. That's just the way the college sports universe operates. Everyone is looking to move up, for all the obvious reasons. And schools such as Temple, despite everything that's gone on these last two years, can only try to come up with another right guy.
Patrick Kraft, Bradshaw's successor, is tasked with making that call. He gets the reality.
And really, what more was there for Rhule to do here, unless Temple somehow were to get into the ACC or Big 12 someday? But that day, if it comes at all, probably won't happen anytime soon. There's only so much you can accomplish at a non-Power Five program. And that's not changing, either.
Rhule earned this shot. We'll see what he does with it. But he's not Temple's concern anymore. It's time to start fresh once again. The difference is, Temple is no longer dealing from a position of weakness, perceived or otherwise. It's not Penn State, and never will be. But neither is it a punch line. Those days are history. Still, you can only get so far in the AAC. And this year, it wasn't the Cotton Bowl.
"We're excited for this challenge," Kraft said Tuesday after the news that Rhule was leaving. "Matt continued the evolution of the program, put us on the national scene. He took it to another level. It's a great opportunity for us to continue that momentum. We turn the page. I'm very passionate about . . . what's in front of us."
He should be. He'll most certainly have a larger, deeper talent pool to choose from. Temple might not necessarily be a destination yet, but it's way higher on the food chain than ever before. That's something. But the hardest part isn't always about getting there. Sometimes, there's more involved in keeping it there.
"The landscape is this way," Kraft said. "I can't say the individual we hire is going to stay forever. Matt had a lot of opportunities last year and stayed. That's part of it. It doesn't surprise me. It is what it is.
"These things move very fast. It was quick, 24 hours. I wanted him to make the right decision for his family and himself. He left (Temple) in a better place. The important thing is to make sure we get a good fit. (A candidate) has to understand the institution, where it's located. It's not just an X-and-O job. It's a vocation almost. Matt found a way to be really a voice for us. It's hard to put a price on that. He was the engine in that building. But there were a lot of people behind that, too."
Transitions can be tricky, no matter how much due diligence goes into the process. Ed Foley, who's worked for the last three coaches, will be the interim guy for the Military Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 27. Rhule will take some folks with him to Waco, Texas, which is about as far removed from 10th and Diamond as you can get. He told me last year that Phil Snow, who's built one of the nation's best defenses, would be a good choice. We'll see. Snow has never been in charge of his own program. Foley was the head coach at Fordham for two years in the early 2000s. Four years ago, the players wanted Rhule. That didn't mean they had to be right. Who knows whether they feel as strongly about anyone who's already there this time, or whether that would even be an overriding factor? Because times have changed. They just haven't changed enough to make Temple much more than a steppingstone. Albeit a higher-profile steppingstone.
A lot of programs would trade places with Temple. Think about how many laughs that would have gotten you before Golden arrived.
Rhule's departure was inevitable. But remember this: Back in the mid-1990s, when the Owls were ill-equipped to compete in the old Big East, John Chaney showed up at practice the day after Ron Dickerson had quit and then changed his mind following a loss at Pitt. And he duly noted, as only he could, that not even Knute Rockne could win here. Well, the last three guys combined have had five seasons of at least eight victories from 2009 through now.
If things work out once more, Temple will be going through this about four years from now. It might not be ideal, but there are far worse problems to have.
It's called progress. And the price that goes with it.