10 Questions With: Temple head coach Matt Rhule
Among all the first-year head coaches hired last December and January, Temple's Matt Rhule might be the most well-rounded. In terms of versatility, it's hard to beat a bio that boasts stays as a defensive line coach, linebackers coach, offensive line coach, run game coordinator, special teams coach, quarterbacks coach, recruiting coordinator, tight ends coach, offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. Off the gridiron, he has a big-picture view and TV-ready charisma that helps him sell his program in ways big and small, whether that means New York City, doing the Cupid Shuffle, or cycling through the Owls' uniform combinations for this fall, as he and his staff were doing through NCAA Football at the time of our call.
Aside from football fashion, we talked what it means to be the head coach at Temple, what he learned from Tom Coughlin, what he likes about Temple's new conference and what he learned from his son's swim instructor with the Owls' new head man on today's edition of 10 Questions With.
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1) At your introductory press conference at Temple you struck me as a guy that fully appreciated what a privilege you had just been given, and that you could not wait to wake up and go to work every day. Is that fair?
I spent six years here so I knew exactly what I was walking into. That was a decision I made because I wanted to be here. You can't always work where you want to work and I had a great job with the Giants and I loved Coach Coughlin and those people. This is a place that I really wanted to be. Everything you see from me is very geniune.
2) I'd imagine your first team meeting was much different than a typical introductory meeting. How did that go?
It made it more business-like because they all knew me. It was kind of like, "Okay, this is how we're going to do it." I met with the seniors and it was very, not business-like, I should say more informal. Like any other team meeting because those guys knew me. What was unique, Coach Addazio, when they played Army this year they were staying about 15 minutes from my house up in Jersey so my wife, my son and I went up there and Coach allowed me to speak to the team. I hung out with Steve and hung out with all the players for a couple hours. It wasn't maybe but a month, month and a half later that I got the job. All those guys at least had a place to see me since I had left. There were just so many people that knew me, knew what I was about. My wife was still working at Temple when I was with the Giants so the guys knew her, knew my son. It was just kind of like coming back to the family.
3) How much of your job is strictly selling people on Temple football considering Philadelphia is such an NFL market?
Probably a lot. There's a lot of great fans here, a lot of great football fans. You just have to consistently get the program out. The cool thing in Philadelphia is, one in every seven college grads is a Temple grad so there's a lot of Temple alumni that are right here. The message I have is, "It's great to be an Eagles fan, it's great to go to games on Sundays but you can take your kids and come down here on Saturdays and watch us play." It's a different environment, it's a great environment for kids. It's a great environment if you're a Temple grad. I get on the radio, get on TV, do whatever I can in this market to make sure people know we're a great thing you can go do on the weekends. We're a great entertainment sports value. I think people are seeing that. Al (Golden) did it really well, Steve did it really well and I'm just trying to continue what they did.
4) As a position coach you bounced back and forth from offense and defense much more than most coaches do. At the time did you see it as something that would help you in the long run, or did part of you wish you could establish roots on one side of the ball and work your way up from there?
I think those things happened by chance but I knew the more I could do, the more I could do. When opportunities came available and people said "Hey I want you to do this, I want you to do that," I saw it as, No. 1, a way to diversify myself, No. 2, I felt like if I ever had a chance to become a head coach I'd be well-versed in enough areas that I would be able to be a head coach from all areas. I walk in and it's my first head coaching job but I've been a recruiting coordinator twice, I've been an assistant head coach, I've been a special teams coordinator, I've been an offensive coordinator, I've coached the quarterbacks, the tight ends, the o-line, I've coached in the pros. On defense I've coached the d-line, I've coached the linebackers so unless it's secondary play, receiver play or running back I've basically done it. To me, I think that that allowed me to have a lot of diversity. And I've always just wanted to be one of those guys that when a coach needed me to do something, I did it and tried to do it really well. I didn't worry about, "Oh, this is going to stunt my growth." I just said, "Okay, whatever you need me to do I'll do it." What I found is, as an offensive coach my time on defense has really helped, and hopefully vice versa. Now as a head coach I really have no position, at least when we have conversations, when we're debating things, I feel like I have a good perspective because I've probably either coached it or been really close to it during my time.
5) Do you view yourself through an offensive or defensive lense, or do you not think of yourself that way?
I just had a staff meeting and I told the staff - last night my son had a one-on-one private swim lesson. My son is definitely afraid to get in the water and I think I'm this great coach and I can't get him in the water. This woman was a fantastic teacher, a fantastic coach as my son refers to her, and started with getting his head under the water once, and then did something else and then came back around got his head under the water twice. By the end of about an hour she had my son going up and down the pool. I was just struck by how good of a teacher she was. How patient she was. Her ability to communicate information. Her ability to pull him just beyond his limits but at the same time be supportive of his concerns, to help him but not enable him. I told her, "You're a fantastic coach, a fantastic teacher." Sometimes that's very humbling for me because I see that and I say to myself, "Geez, am I the same way with my players as this person is with my son?"
To be quite honest with you, that's really what a teacher and a coach is. Yes, you have to have the requisite information. There's only so many ways that you can teach tackling, you know? It comes down to the people that can take the information, communicate it to young people, communicate it again and be patient, teach them, correct them the right way, motivate them. Those are the things I've always been good at. In terms of actual, you know, the best knowledge of anybody, I don't know if there's one I know better than the others. I wasn't really an offensive line guy and I learned from Pat Flaherty and those guys and I feel like I know that well pretty well. I don't know that I would associate myself in any one place in terms of "Hey, this is what my expertise is." I would like to think I built my career on the ability to teach, communicate, motivate, correct and then teach again. Hopefully for a guy who plays for me, that's what he would say.
6) With your varied experience, how do you plan to divide your time between offense and defense once the season starts?
A lot of what I learned from Coach Coughlin. I want to probably spend a lot of time with the special teams. One of the things Coach Coughlin did was he was the master in terms of introducing the opponent to the team. I think that was something I had never really been around before. He was able to articulate the overall vision for our team and who the opponent was really well to the entire team. So I want to do that. I want to lead the team, I want to be involved in the special teams and then be involved in offense where I can but, again, have a feel for everything and know what's right and what's wrong and really just sort of mimic the schedule that he did.
6a) When you say Coughlin introduced the opponent to the team, what do you mean by that?
He introduced them statistically, introduced the key players, he introduced them with a video. In 15 minutes, that could basically encapsulate, "This is who we're facing and this is what we're facing." So often we get caught up in our own little component, you know what I mean? We compartmentalize ourselves. He kind of, from the very beginning, set the vision for the week. "Hey, here's who we're going to play and here's what we have to do to stop this guy or beat this guy." The whole team heard it and the whole team knew how were we going (to play). People talk about a team win, but he started that at the very beginning of the week by talking about the opponent and then as the week went on it was a system of, "Here's what they do well, here's what they don't do well, and then here's what we have to do." By the time you got to the game, everyone understood how we're going to win this football game. I liked knowing going into the game, even as an assistant, who we're playing, what the other side of the ball is facing, who we have to neutralize, our plan.
6b) How often do you and Coughlin talk?
Just here and there. Coach is a very busy man and I'm very respectful of that. I think that he's a person I would always go to when I have questions, when I need advice. He got in touch with me when my daughter was born, he's gotten in touch with me to see if I need anything. He's just a really good person. I would go to him when I need advice, when I need direction. I think that's what's great about coaching. When you can find mentors you can rely on when you're not sure what the answer is. Hopefully you have some guys like that on your staff and hopefully you have some guys like that who aren't on your staff that can give you a very unemotional, direct response and I know I can certainly get that from him as well as several of the other coaches with the Giants. I know they're there to help me as I go through this journey at Temple.
7) Your first game as a head coach will be in Notre Dame Stadium. How much time have you spent thinking about that game?
We're now in June kind of working on the first four opponents and I don't know that we have the luxury to prioritize any one of those four over the other. We've spent several days on each of those opponents and really just trying to get to know who we're playing, what they do, what they don't do. We've spent some time with them as a staff, we've spent some time on Houston, on Fordham, on Idaho. Just trying to familiarize ourselves because even though I was an assistant here before, we're not playing any of the same teams we played when I was here in the past. Other than Army and Connecticut, I don't think I have a history at Temple against anybody we're playing this fall. This will be a completely new schedule for me as a position coach or head coach. We've tried to grind a little bit to get ahead in terms of, "This is what these people do."
8) What's your view on the the Big East becoming the American Athletic Conference?
I think it's really exciting and I'll be frank with you, when you look at a league and you want to see if it's going to be a good league or not, I think you have to look and see how many different teams win that league or are in contention year in and year out. There are some leagues that we say is a great league but the same two or three teams are going to win that league every year and so really it's not. It's just a collection of a couple dominant teams. I think when you look at the American (Athletic) Conference, South Florida has been in the top five, top 10 in the country in the last couple years. Houston was No. 6 in the country a couple years ago and beat Penn State in a bowl game. You look at Cincinnati, who's been a tremendous team. UConn went to the BCS a couple years ago. You start looking at the other teams, the SMU's, the Central Florida's, there's a lot of teams there that have been really competitive, have won a lot of games, have won conference championships. What I think you'll see, and the reason why I think it's going to be a great league, is there's going to be a lot of competition. There's going to be a lot of teams that can win that league year in and year out and when you have that you start to develop some natural rivalries. I think people are going to look and see SMU vs. Houston and think it's a great game in a couple years. USF and UCF or us playing UConn every year, those are going to be some great natural rivalries geographically and at the same time I don't think you're going to be able to say this team is going to dominate the league year in and year out, or these two or three teams. It's going to be really competitive and I think that's why the league will take off in the years to come.
9) Thanks to all of the realignment upheaval, you're now going to be playing much more of a national schedule. Do you plan on working that into your recruiting strategy?
I thought about it, I really did. That's a great question. In some ways, maybe so. But I think the thing we did here - at one point last year we had 13 different guys on active rosters in the NFL, I think we had seven defensive linemen, and the important thing is all those guys that we got were within a car ride away. That's how we built it. I would much rather stay here, stay within this four or five hour radius and go battle for the kids that have spent the last four or five years watching Temple on TV, seeing Temple be bowl eligible three straight years, seeing them play in two bowl games, seeing Bernard Pierce go in the third round and go win a Super Bowl ring this year, seeing Muhammad Wilkerson get drafted in the first round out of Linden, New Jersey. There's a lot of local ties and local connections to Temple. I think our strategy is to be the best possible recruiting staff we can be within the local area. If there's a natural tie, if people from outside that area see us and there's a connection, we'll certainly always travel high and low to get a great player. I don't want to start recruiting in another time zone and lose what we've built here, which is connections with the high school coaches, with families, with alums. We're going to try to be the best staff we can be here, locally, and see where that takes us.
10) We hear you're a pretty devoted reader. What kind of stuff do you like to read?
I'll either read books about football coaches or I'll read business books, psychological books, learning books. I just read a book called "The Slight Edge" by Jeff Olson, which every football coach in the country should read. It's one of the best books I've ever read. One of my best friends is a guy named Geoff Collins, who's the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, I was through about 50 pages and texted him that he needed to read it. It's a great book for everyone. For your players, but for coaches, in terms of focusing on the process and instead of trying to do eight things at one time, doing everything right every day. I would say I probably try to read 15 to 20 minutes of a motivational, learning, philosophical or football book every day so that every day I get a little bit better.