It was almost a year ago today thatTemple handed Matt Rhule a six-year contract extension.
The Owls were fresh off their most high-profile football season ever and their young head coach was a hot commodity. A sell-out home win against Penn State, near home upset against Notre Dame and on-location hosting of ESPN's College GameDay made Temple football a household name in 2015.
“While this has been such a special season, there is still so much more that Temple football can accomplish,” Rhule said after inking his extension on Dec. 7 of last year. “I am proud to coach such incredible student-athletes and I am honored to continue to be a part of the Temple community.”
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Ten more wins and an American Conference championship later, and Rhuledecided he had had enough.
Enough of being an underdog. Enough of fighting for scraps on the national stage. Enough of creating teamsbuilt from inferior Northeast football talent. Enough of giving tickets away for free to watch his team play Stony Brook or East Carolina.
The Owls did not offer Rhule — a capable and motivated young man — a route to a national championship. And even though the Baylor Bears are 6-6, riddled with off the field issues and nothing near the life Rhule knew as a Penn State graduate and one-time Giants assistant coach, they offer access.
Access to a New Year's Six bowl game. Access to a potential college football playoff berth (with less hoops to jump through). Access to more lucrative television exposure, and most importantly, access to the best football talent in the country — in Texas, the South and Midwest.
Rhule was offered a head coaching spot at Missouri last offseason, but spurned the SEC doormat. He instead will take his defense-first approach to one of the most historically high-powered offenses in college football down in Waco, Texas.
"@CoachMattRhule turned me into the man I am today. He opened my eyes to what a real man was, will always be loved and missed...," Temple's star running back Jahad Thomas tweeted.
The team is graduating Rhule's first group of recruitsas Temple's ADPat Kraft told the media in an afternoon press conference, the "players took it pretty hard."
The Owls will begin a new search for a head coach, hoping to find a "good man," as Kraft described, and one who can continue to lead Temple as an AAC powerhouse.
The only problem is that Temple is and remains a stepping stone program. Just ask Steve Addazio or Al Golden. Each led the Owls to a bowl game in recent seasons and each left for greener pastures. Without its own stadium or a pipeline to a major bowl game, Temple will never be the final destination for a talented young coach — just a proving ground.
And maybe that's OK. Rhule and the others mentioned above learned and grew during their time in North Philly. They made connections that will last a lifetime and an impact that will never be forgotten. That's what college is all about. And we can only hope Rhule's four years as a Temple Owl left as big an impact on him as they left on the never larger contingent of Owl devotees.
Rhule will be missed. Bring on the new era.