I have a lot of platforms with which to share my thoughts these days, so an extended post on something is a rarity for me, but after an incredible day in Annapolis, I had to try to put some things into words.
About nine years ago, I made what I consider to be the best decision of my life: I accepted an offer to enroll at Temple University. It’s the best decision I’ve made because of what Temple provided me — a quality education in the field I work in today, an opportunity to experience the world beyond the suburban life I grew up in, and relationships with people that I’ll cherish forever.
Later, however, that good decision was accompanied by a bad one: I accepted an offer to work as a video staffer for the Temple football team during my first semester. In 2008, the school was coming off its first semi-respectable season in years and had the look of a program on the rise. I was beyond excited for it.
It was a disaster. I hated the work, which was largely filming early-morning practices atop a 30-foot high scissor lift that scared the life out of me at a time when I didn’t have the bravery to tell anyone how scared I was. Plus, almost a decade later, I still don’t handle early mornings well, so you can imagine how well I handled them when I was living on my own for the first time in my life. It was not the job for me, plain and simple.
There were bright spots though, and one stands out, especially today.
When I started working for the team, I was a shy, 18-year-old kid in totally unfamiliar territory. When I met head coach Al Golden for the first time, it was like meeting a religious figure. He was friendly, but incredibly intimidating. The same could be said for many of the coaches on his staff. Many friendly, but also intimidating. Almost everybody was “Coach” too. There were a few exceptions, but most used the title and the coach’s last name. First names were rare.
There was one coach, however, who from day one, made me feel more welcome than anyone could have possibly done.
“You’re new, right? What’s your name?” the coach asked me.
“Matt,” I replied, meekly.
“Hi Matt. Do you know my name?” he quizzed me.
“Coach Rhule,” I responded to the team’s then 33-year-old rookie offensive coordinator. I had done my homework.
“No,” he replied emphatically, shaking his head. “My name’s Matt.”
Years later, it doesn’t seem like much, and I feel silly even typing it out. But at the time, as a small fish trying to blend into a big pond, it meant the world to me. I remember it like it was yesterday. Hopefully, I’ll never forget it.
From that moment on, Matt Rhule was my favorite coach. He’d refer to me by name every time we spoke, which wasn’t the case for most of the coaches. He always asked for things, never demanded them. I was a valuable member of the program, not a disposable employee.
Please don’t misunderstand me, he’s not the only person who treated me well. Plenty of others did, and many more had good intentions. I liked and got along with most of the staff. But this isn’t their story.
After the season, I wasn’t asked back (I think that’s the polite way of describing what happened), nor did I want to come back. I had failed, and failed hard. I wasn’t good at the work, and I didn’t want to be good at it either. The job had done the unthinkable — it made me hate football. Again, it wasn’t for me.
I had plenty of regrets after it was over, but one of the biggest was not getting a chance to thank Matt for the way he had treated me. I never saw or spoke to Matt after I walked out of the building the last time, and I’m sure he wouldn’t remember me today (which isn’t a knock on him, it was eight years ago and I wasn’t remarkable in the slightest).
I wondered if he recognized the scared kid standing before him and what he could do to get the most out of me, but in watching over the last few years as that young offensive coordinator became one of the top collegiate coaches in the country, I don’t think that’s what happened. I think that’s just the quality man that he is.
Even though I had the bad taste in my mouth from the way my tenure went, I never turned against the football program. I always believed in them and supported them, even when times were tougher than others. They were the small fish in the big pond that I had been, they just wanted to grow and get better opportunities, to produce results that those who stood by them could be proud of. Many times, they failed. They weren’t equipped for it yet. They weren’t ready.
Saturday, I made the trip down to Annapolis to watch Temple make another run at bringing home a conference championship. When I arrived at Temple, the team hadn’t had a winning record in almost two decades. The idea of a conference championship was laughable. It was the goal, but it always seemed loftier than it had any right to be.
I didn’t think they would win. I thought there was a chance, sure, but I’d suffered through too many heartbreakers just when I thought Temple was on the cusp of breaking through. I thought Navy’s triple option offense would prove to be too much for the Owls.
But they did it. They really did it. They broke through.
Over four years, Matt built a program full of kids who were tired of being the butt of jokes, of being the go-to example of futility. It was beautiful to watch. For once, it was Temple standing tall on the biggest realistic stage. There can only be one national champion, but there’s also only one American champion.
The question over the next few weeks will be the same question a successful Temple coach always faces: when does Matt leave for a better job, one that pays him better and one that gives him a better chance to compete at the highest levels of the sport?
It’ll come, sooner or later. Maybe this year, maybe next, maybe the year after. And when the time comes, he deserves whatever windfall he gets. He deserves to compete for a national title. He deserves to be recognized as one of the top coaches in the profession.
I’ll cherish whatever time we have left with him at the helm. Everybody wants to believe their program has a good man as head coach. I know we do.
Thanks for everything, Matt.