In accepting his first head-coaching job, Geoff Collins stepped into a tough spot at Temple University, having to replace the program's best head coach in generations who also happened to be a great salesman, but appears to have the Owls right on track for continued success.
By Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
Unfiltered. Unabridged. Uncontrollable.
That, if anything, would have been the correct response for anyone associated with Temple University football when Dr. Neil Theobald got shown the door by the school’s board of trustees a year ago.
As president, he’d overseen everything at the North Broad campus for four years, but nowhere was his presence felt more than within the grid program, which experienced unprecedented growth, exposure and success during his tenure.
Oh, there is no denying the impact Matt Rhule had as well then, but Baylor University’s new head coach can thank Theobald in large part for that Big 12 gig and paycheck to match he now has. The latter gave the former not only his break at Temple, but the support required to turn an absolute dumpster fire into a viable, entertaining FBS operation – one good enough to make back-to-back American Athletic Conference championship games, including a victory in the second go-’round.
Put it this way, no one – not even Rhule or All-American linebacker Tyler Matakevich or 2017 first-round draft pick Haason Reddick – influenced the road the Owls traveled from 2012 through 2016 more than Theobald did.
Fortunately, his ouster last July occurred too late to derail Temple’s pending fall campaign. But, anything after that … well, fair game.
Which is why anyone with a real investment in the football team had every reason to have a deer-in-headlights appearance with matching vibes inside for months following that, even while Rhule’s final edition of Owls was piecing together a conference title-winning season.
Temple did so with nary a sniff of attention from the Philly media and area fans – which was a far cry from the apex of awesomeness it reached the previous year while beating Penn State, hosting Notre Dame and recording its first double-digit-win campaign in almost 40 years.
Any hopes that the program would continue its upward trend despite Theobald’s departure seemed to rest with Rhule. Then he left, barely seconds after securing that AAC crown.
Panic, say hello to Dread.
Seriously. All things considered, with the never-ending string of obstacles Temple football has faced for decades, ranging anywhere from lousy facilities to no respect to bad luck, a self-imposed death penalty wouldn’t have been such a bad option. Just think about the release from frustration …
But it has kept plugging away. Under new administrative authority, with yet another first-time head coach, and, amazingly, with the 2017 season little more than a month away, it – gulp – has stabilized.
At least it appears to have stabilized.
Not for nothing, but Geoff Collins has almost reprised Rhule’s savior role … only with a more folksy, even friendlier, gotta-get-me-some-cheesesteaks approach. But he’s just as hard-ass on the field as his predecessor, just as demanding on what he expects of his players, both those already on campus and those he is, and will be, recruiting for the Cherry and White.
Plus, Temple has several players listed on preseason watch lists for awards, it remains recognized as an AAC title contender, and just this week word leaked out that a home-and-home series may be in the works between it and Atlantic Coast Conference member Miami.
None of those are signs of a program that is careening off the tracks, as easily could have been the case once the driving force behind Temple’s commitment to football was forced to leave.
But, here it is, a year after Theobald was 86’d. It’s also seventh months since Rhule split. Yet, the Owls are still sitting with the proverbial big kids at their conference table, still getting some “love” from those in college football circles, and still bringing in quality players. Go figure …
A-OK WITH COLLINS
Hard to put a finger on it.
At some point, with following all his activity, seeing how he interacted with people, young and old, players and non-players, watching him work his players, hearing how he was viewed at previous stops, it just clicked for me:
This guy, this new coach for Temple football, well, maybe he ain’t Matt Rhule.
Maybe, for this program, with where it’s going, he may be … ummm, better.
Yep, said it. Still stuns me, too.
The Owls’ former coach was a special kind of salesman, able to light a fire under his players and actually elicit some interest in Philly for a program that, well, has never received much of any in its entire existence.
Rhule was never about Xs and Os. He was all attitude, and he was, pardon the fanspeak, awesome with it. No one with any connection to Temple football has any business viewing him as anything less than the highest regard, as a quality coach, as a program-builder, as a guy who took the Owls to previously unprecedented heights for them.
But, he wanted to go … and, frankly, Collins wanted to come. Apparently as much as Rhule did back in 2012, when he left an assistant’s gig with the New York Giants to return to Broad Street, where he had been Al Golden’s right-hand offensive man for years. Collins, frankly, arrived with better credentials. He’d been successful as a defensive coordinator at two Southeastern Conference schools, and actually had been Rhule’s boss at prior stops for both at Albright and Western Carolina.
But Temple, if nothing else, is a tough sell. Any coach at the Owls’ helm will face indifference and disrespect that few, if any, elsewhere ever experience. Rhule handled that like, well, no one else ever has.
Oh, it’s early. Way early. Far too early to tell how things will go, long-term. But if the early returns, or examples, are any indication, Collins has matched, if not surpassed, Rhule’s steadfast enthusiasm and energy in not only running the Temple program, but promoting it.