Temple's new coach Matt Rhule remains humble

Matt Rhule greets players at the corner of 11th and Diamond Streets.
Matt Rhule greets players at the corner of 11th and Diamond Streets. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff)
Posted: July 31, 2013

Matt Rhule, the alpha dog of Temple's Division I football program, is full of kindness, meekness and simplicity. So much so that he keeps his car parked and takes the bus or subway to work.

"I walk over to 11th [and Chestnut Streets] and take the No. 23 bus up," said Rhule, who has a temporary Center City residence before moving to Rittenhouse Square next week. "I take the subway a lot when I go down to" Center City on the ride home.

But why would someone of his stature take SEPTA to and from Temple's football complex, Edberg-Olson Hall, at 11th and Diamond?

"Why else?" Rhule said. "I grew up in New York City. I took the subway to school every day while I was living there.

"I can leave my car [at Edberg-Olsen] and take the SEPTA bus, and you are right here in 15 minutes."

Rhule, who was hired as the Owls' coach in December, doesn't fit the profile of a major college football coach.

He's extremely active on Twitter under the handle @CoachMattRhule. Unlike some coaches, the 38-year-old is actually the person supplying his own tweets.

Rhule can be spotted around campus conversing with students when he's not at the practice facility. He has also participated in a few pickup basketball games at the Temple men's hoops team's practice gym at Pearson-McGonigle Hall.

"He hasn't put himself on a pedestal," said Adam DiMichele, a Temple offensive graduate assistant. "The hierarchy in the room is not like, 'I'm the head coach. I'm going to do this blah, blah, blah.'

"He's still the same guy [as before he was the head coach.] He comes in and jokes with us."

Relationships are key

While that's true, Rhule is far from a pushover.

He developed a reputation as a supportive yet demanding coach during his time as an Owls assistant from 2006 to 2011. There were times when he performed dance moves in front of his players. Then Rhule would chew them out the next day for missing an assignment.

That mix is the reason present and former players urged Temple to hire him after Steve Addazio resigned to become Boston College's head coach.

"Coach Rhule is very passionate and genuinely cares about the guys he coaches," said Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who played at Temple from 2005 to 2008. "I still have a good relationship with him today."

Relationships with former and current Owls is part of what drives Rhule. That was a major reason he returned to Temple after spending last season as a New York Giants assistant coach.

He's determined to lead the Owls to a third bowl appearance in five seasons.

"I'm still scarred from the year that we went 8-4 and those seniors that we love didn't have a chance to go to a bowl game," he said of 2010, when Temple wasn't invited to a bowl despite being bowl eligible. "And I think that memory of those guys being told that they couldn't go to a bowl game bothers me."

While he's hopeful, the Owls may be a season or two away from going back to a bowl game. Coming off a 4-7 season, Temple is expected to finish toward the bottom of the American Athletic Conference standings this season.

Knew it would work out

The Owls do, however, have the conference's third-best recruiting class behind Louisville and Rutgers for the Class of 2014, according to Rivals.com. (Louisville and Rutgers will leave the conference after this season.)

Through recruiting and hard work, Rhule said, the Owls can turn into a conference powerhouse down the road.

He's confident the things he learned as a walk-on player at Penn State, his 14 years as a college assistant coach, and last season with the Giants have prepared him for this moment.

The rookie coach, however, concedes that he became discouraged on several occasions after not landing a head-coaching job.

"It really was when we were at Western Carolina" from 2002 to '05, said Rhule, refering to himself and his wife, Julie. "We were far away from home. I was like, 'Man, I just want to get back up the Northeast.' "

Rhule also became discouraged when, despite being a popular assistant, he was passed over for the Temple job that eventually was awarded to Addazio in December 2010.

"But at the same time, as the years went on, I always felt like this will end up working out," he said. "So I felt it's not about finding the right path to get you there.

"It's about making sure that as you go along, you are learning all you can on that path. So when you are there, you are ready."

In the process, the Rhules have had to sacrifice.

With his head coaching gig comes a lucrative six-figure contract. But there were times when he and Julie wondered how they would pay bills.

"Yeah, I was 24 years old and a Division I full-time assistant," he said. "Then our whole staff got fired at Buffalo. I took the [graduate assistant] job at UCLA, making $750 a month. The rent was $1,400 a month.

"My wife and I sold everything we had."

Julie worked from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. in sales so the Rhules could make ends meet.

"I think it was those moments in your life when you say forget about the money," he said. "We will figure out how to pay the bills. We will figure out where to live and how to eat.

"Let's just get into the car and drive over to L.A. and make it work, and we did."

Life hasn't changed

Nowadays, Temple's future is often an early-morning discussion between Rhule and fellow commuter John Mcleod on the Route 23 bus into North Philadelphia.

On a recent Wednesday, the coach, wearing a blue Temple dress shirt and khaki slacks, hopped on the bus a few minutes after 7 a.m.

After finding a seat in the back, Rhule greeted a few passengers. Minutes later, he educated Mcleod in some of the latest football terminology. Twelve or so minutes later, Rhule exited the bus at 11th and Diamond.

"I don't think that my life has changed much," he said. "There's maybe some different responsibilities, some different things I had to deal within the job itself.

"But as you have seen, I think I'm still the same guy."

Contact Keith Pompey at kpompey@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @PompeyOnSixers

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