Matt Rhule made promises to his senior class four years ago — and to the Temple community.
Rhule pledged a championship, and in Year 4, he fulfilled his promise. The Temple Owls are American Athletic Conference champions. The Owls dispatched No. 19 Navy, 34-10, in a game not many pundits would have scripted. Temple easily handled the Midshipmen, a team that entered the game scoring 141 points in its previous two games and scored just 10 against TU.
“For me, it means the promise has been fulfilled,” Rhule said. “[Athletics officials] were sitting there with me in the locker after we lost to Fordham our first year. And to bring it full circle, that to me, is almost a relief of a job well done."
It was a battle between one of the nation's top offenses (Navy) and a top-three defensive unit (Temple), and it was the defensive squad that proved too much. Temple's defense, while not as vaunted as the 2015 team in terms of player recognition, lived up to its name.
The Owls entered the game as the third-best defense in the country. Yes, better than No. 2 Ohio State. No, not as good as No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Michigan. No, Temple is not ranked.
There are no Tyler Matakevich, no Tavon Young, and no Matt Ioannidis. Instead, there are redshirt-seniors Haason Reddick and Avery Williams and junior Sean Chandler. Three months after a season-opening 28-13 loss to Army, a loss that may keep the Owls from competing in a New Year's Six bowl game, Rhule's group accomplished what it set out to achieve in camp.
Temple is the American champion. That has a sweet ring to it, doesn't it? It does. As a result, Rhule's name will be connected to bigger (and better) jobs. We've been here before. Hello, 2015. Rhule's name will come up (again) for openings with more allure.
Remember the rumblings about Missouri last season? Rhule is going to be an attractive name again going forward. That's what happens when you bring a football program on the brink of extinction to relevance, a team no one sneezed about to winning a conference championship in the sixth-best conference in the nation, to legitimize a program, to potentially have a stadium built because of the success in your name. There's so much for Temple to lose.
But there's also much to lose for Rhule, too. It's easy to sit back, look at the success Rhule has built on North Broad Street and proclaim he's destined for something bigger, something better. He very well may be, and we'll find out. But staying at Temple is a decision that would benefit both Temple and Rhule.
Let's not forget, Rhule is an Al Golden disciple. We all know the story written about Golden. He revitalized a dying Temple program and gave it purpose before spurning for a bigger (and better) job at Miami. We all knew Golden was destined for a bigger (and better) job, and he got it by working hard and building something out of nothing.
Golden's next endeavor after Temple brought South Beach. Golden was the head coach of the Hurricanes. Yes, the same school that produced NFL players year after year, and a little over a decade ago was competing for national championships.
From North Broad Street and the Mid-American Conference to Miami and the Atlantic Coast Conference, a natural development, a coach at a small program proving his worth to make the jump to a far bigger program and ultimately national glory.
Except the glory never came with Golden. He took over a Miami program in disarray, a program that issued university sanctions for violating rules. Some may say Golden never got a fair shake at Miami, and that may stand true.
But Golden didn't last with the Hurricanes. In five years, Golden compiled a 32-25 record with two bowl appearances — both losses. That's not going to cut it at a power program.
Golden is now coaching tight ends for the Detroit Lions.
"Al is an outstanding coach," Rhule said last season. "Sometimes, you're at the wrong pace at the wrong time, or it's just not a fit. I'm unbelievably grateful for the opportunities Al gave me. I think Temple should be unbelievably grateful for what Al did when he came here. Al put the structure in place."
Rhule served on Golden's coaching staff at Temple from 2006 through 2010, when Golden departed. He then stayed on staff for one season during the underwhelming Steve Addazio era, before departing for the NFL for one season. Then Addazio left for Boston College and the door opened for Rhule's return.
What can Rhule learn from his previous mentors? Just because more money comes calling, or a bigger (and better) job shows up on his caller ID, it doesn't mean it's the right time to jump ship. Four years ago, no one knew what to think of Temple football.
Addazio had just left, and the Owls' future lay in the hands of Rhule, a Penn Stater who became a Temple guy under Golden. A coach who built enough of a résumé to land an NFL gig, yet returned to North Broad for a chance to be The Man.
The Owls are AAC champions. Rhule accomplished much of what he set out for. But there is unfinished business, both for Rhule and Temple program — like a football stadium.
Like more than four years of football relevance.
Rhule needs Temple as much as the Owls need Rhule.
His time to depart will come, but it just doesn't feel right.
Or, at least the Temple community can only hope.