As the Temple Owls practiced Tuesday morning, smoke headed toward the Owls' football complex. Maybe interim head coach Ed Foley, in charge through the Military Bowl on Dec. 27, could have read that smoke as official word that the Owls had a replacement for Matt Rhule. Except Foley lives in the real world. Something was on fire.
"There was some type of structure fire in North Philly," Foley said. "Smoke started to billow over the field, and sirens were going off. That's a distraction. We deal with it."
Foley brought it up in the context of a bigger practice distraction. That's not even the right word. It was the news everyone in the complex had been waiting for, white smoke from Temple's administration. The Owls had a new coach to replace Rhule, now Baylor's coach. Geoff Collins, defensive coordinator at Florida.
"Somebody came up to me in the middle of practice and said they just named the head coach," said Foley, who had been associate head coach and special- teams coach and at Temple for two previous coaching changes. "And it's just rumors. Even that statement, I'm not sure what all that means. We go to the next drill."
Foley didn't ignore the news, though.
"I brought them out on the field, I said there's probably some things on Twitter," Foley said. Then he said, "What's next, guys? One o'clock study hall. That's how we do it. I don't know if there's any other way to do it."
The official announcing came later Tuesday. Collins will be announced as Temple's new coach Wednesday and the signs point to Temple's doing what you're supposed to do when you lose a good coach. Go out and find the best you can attract. On paper, that's Collins.
Asked about which assistants were here coaching on this Tuesday morning two weeks before their bowl game, Foley said, "The offensive staff is here intact. The defensive staff is not here."
Younger graduate assistants were coaching the defense and the full defensive staff is expected to be back next week, he added, and will be working the Military Bowl.
Because Rhule shows all the traits of a caring human being, let's assume he's lost sleep over not finishing the season with his guys. He should. College football has a deep systemic flaw, where coaches don't just leave during the season when they're fired, they take off before the end of successful seasons.
College football justifies this apparently because the next place is investing so much in the new man and the recruiting calendar demands instant attention. Heaven forbid the calendar is changed to accommodate the players who are already on a team. Is there another sport impacted quite in this way? The same thing happened this month at Houston and South Florida - the disappearing coach act.
At least Rhule is sending the assistants he's hiring at Baylor back for the bowl game. That's not even an automatic in some places.
You could argue it seemed paternalistic of Temple to keep their mature student-athletes sequestered from the media once word leaked about the new coach. Plans for players to talk were scratched, the media herded to the upstairs room where Foley would be the sole representative.
There was reason for it, though, since the questions would have been obvious and the answers various forms of "I don't know anything about him." They hadn't even gotten to their phones yet for quick Google searches.
Foley's first talk with the team after Rhule left, Foley said he asked the same question he did Tuesday. What's next?
"They said we've got to find out who the next coach is - we've got to get over this . . . I said, 'No, here's what's next. We have mandatory breakfast tomorrow at 7 o'clock in the morning. Then after that we have study hall.' "
And the team leaders came out, Foley said, lauding the Owls seniors. For the younger guys, it's tougher. They talk about being here because of Coach Rhule. Foley's message back: Your life is going to go on. First day in the spring, he said, you're going to go through a drill or a weightlifting session that would be exactly the same as if Rhule was here.
"I respect the fact that they're hurting," Foley said.
Foley sounded fired up from what he saw at practice, players cheering from the sidelines - "they're just trying to get each other through it. They love the game. They love each other. Really, all that other stuff is not a whole lot different than some of the other stuff they hear during the year. Obviously, it's more impactful. But it's still crowd noise."
The goal of getting a school-record 11th victory in the Military Bowl, Foley said, is "huge," helping the guys refocus back on the game after Rhule left - "You have a chance to win more games than anybody ever has ever done." It's also, Foley admitted, "a little bit of a mind game thing," in the sense of trying to motivate guys and keep the focus that produced 10 wins.
He's just not trying to blow any kind of smoke at them. These Owls have enough distractions.