Just when it hit its peak, the Matt Rhule era at Temple is over.
Rhule has accepted the open job at Baylor, a Big 12 school.
According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, Baylor has given Rhule a seven-year deal.
Rhule, who became the head coach of the Owls in 2012 after Steve Addazio left for Boston College, left an indelible mark on a downtrodden program with a 28-23 record in four seasons. While that may not look like a spectacular record, it's a remarkable job for a program that was a mere board of directors vote or two away from extinction just over a decade ago. Temple is 20-7 over the past two seasons, the best two-season mark in school history. Rhule's 28 wins tie him with Bruce Arians for sixth most in school history.
"I want to thank Matt and (his wife) Julie and their family for everything they did for Temple," Temple athletic director Pat Kraft said Tuesday afternoon during a press conference at the Liacouras Center in the same room where Rhule was introduced as the Owls' head coach four years ago. "They did an incredible job of continuing the evolution of this program and making it more and more competitive by putting us on the national scene. So we're very proud of what they accomplished. I'm very proud of what Matt did off the field and how he treated our young student athletes."
"I cannot say enough about Coach Rhule."
Rhule spent parts of 10 seasons at Temple as he filled various roles on the coaching staffs of both Al Golden and Addazio. He left in 2011 for a role on Tom Coughlin's staff with the New York Giants before coming back to North Broad Street.
As the Owls' leader, he endured a season from hell in 2013 when the Owls couldn't do much right and finished and embarassing 2-10. That improved to 6-6 in 2014, but the Owls were not invited to a bowl despite being eligible. The 2015 season was when Rhule really made his mark, as Temple beat Penn State for the first time since 1941, took Notre Dame to the limit in a primetime showdown that was preceded by ESPN's College Gameday broadcasting live from Inpedendence Mall and had the Bronco Nagurski Award winner for the nation's best defensive player in linebacker Tyler Matakevich.
This season reached new heights as Rhule helped deliver the program its first taste of championship glory since 1967 as Temple beat No. 19 Navy for the AAC title this past Saturday. That win also marked the first time in program history Temple has posted 10 wins in back-to-back seasons.
That resume has Baylor convinced Rhule is its man. Baylor AD Mack Rhoades has long been an admirer of Rhule as he attempted to woo Rhule to Missouri last season when Gary Pinkel stepped down as the Tigers head coach. And Rhoades had to strike quick as Oregon reportedly made a push for Rhule's services in the last 24 hours.
"I am truly honored and humbled to join the Baylor Family," Rhule said in a press release sent by Baylor Tuesday afternoon. "I can't thank President (David) Garland and (athletic director) Mack Rhoades enough for this incredible opportunity. Baylor is a tremendous institution with a history of football success and I know the passion that so many have for the Bears will help bring the community together to reach even greater heights. I am excited to get started."
Baylor has been mired in controversy in recent years as sexual assault scandals have rocked the program and ultimately cost head coach Art Briles his job.
Baylor went 6-6 this season as Jim Grobe, formerly of Wake Forest, filled in on an interim basis.
In a text to CSNPhilly.com, Matakevich said it hurts to see Rhule leave Temple, but understands the move and will always have his college coach's back.
"I'm happy for him. Coach Rhule deserves this," Matakevich told CSNPhilly.com. "He gave me an opportunity when no one else did. He shaped me into the player and man I am today, and for that I am beyond grateful and that's why I support him in his decision. It hurts to see him go, don't get me wrong. But he has to take care of his family and what's best for them! I love Coach Rhule and he is going to be missed at Temple, but I know he is going to be successful wherever he is!"
Though the Owls missed out on the Cotton Bowl at-large berth that went to undefeated Western Michigan, they are set to face Wake Forest in the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 in Annapolis, Maryland.
Tight ends coach Ed Foley will be the Owls' interim head coach for that game. Foley been a member of the Temple coaching staff since Golden was head coach.
"Ed's been here now for nine years and he's been through three transistions," Kraft said. "Ed was here from from Al to Steve to Matt. So he'll be the interim for now then we'll play the bowl game and go from there."
"From there" is Kraft's challenge. He said the situation materialzed quickly and Rhule called him Tuesday morning to inform him of his decision to head to Baylor.
Now it's Kraft's job to find a replacement who has the ability to keep the momentum Rhule created going into the future.
The program is far from the spot it was in when Rhule took the job in 2012. Needless to say, it's in a much better place.
"I'm really excited for this challenge," Kraft said. "This is a great university. It's a great opportunity for us to continue this momentum that we have started. Al Golden started it, Steve continued it and Matt took it to another level. ... We are committed to continuing this momentum.
"We are going to get the best person for this job to continue this momentum."
Kraft said there is no timetable in place for Temple to hire a new head coach. He's more focused on finding the right fit, no matter how long that takes.
"We'll consider everybody. We'll talk to everyone that we think is a viable candidate," Kraft said. "I can tell you right now my cell phone is dead from calls and emails from coaches and agents and friends across the country"
"This is a different job than it was four years ago. We have proven that we can win here. We have proven this is a program that can compete at the highest level.
"We're going to take our time and do this right. It may be fast, but we're going to do it right. It's going to be a good fit. ... You have to get the right person. And that's going to be a big piece of this going forward."
So what exactly is Kraft looking for in Temple's next head coach?
While he won't rush the decision, he has a feeling of what he is looking for.
"It has to be a good man," Kraft said. "You've got to be able to recruit this area. You've got to be really strong there.
"This not just and X's and O's job. This is bigger. It's a vocation almost. It's about working with some really, really good young men and continuing to bring in really, really good young men."
Kraft feels knowledge of Philadelphia is especially important.
Rhule had that and knew what came with the territory. Kraft wants to find somone in that same mold.
"To find someone that dynamic is important," Kraft said. "But at the end of the day, we just have to find the right fit for us. I think that comes with the evolution of our program and where we are and where we are on the national stage. That's important to the program. You need someone who's engaged in the community in the Philadelphia market. It's a competitive market."
But for now, the sting is still fresh.
After doing yeoman's work in rebulding the program back not just to respectability, but even into the national eye, Rhule is gone. He and his family are heading for Waco, Texas for the forseeable future.
The impact Rhule made on Temple will last for years to come. And if anyone knows that, it's Kraft.
"He left it in a better place," he said, "and I appreciate that."[[247269581, C]]