Matt Rhule isn’t happy with his office furniture.
The arrangement of the two couches, two chairs and computer desk in Rhule’s office on the second floor of Edberg-Olson Hall was put in place by former football coach Steve Addazio and hasn’t been changed since Rhule moved in as head coach on Jan. 1.
“It should be like the Oval Office,” Rhule said in an interview on Jan. 17, preferring that the desk move to the wall opposite of the door. “When you walk in, I should be staring you in the eye. Now when you walk in, you see what I’m looking at on the Internet.”
Boxes sit unopened in a corner. A shelf that Addazio cleaned out – apparently rather quickly during his sudden exit on Dec. 4 – is now filled with books on football and coaching, including “Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court,” written by legendary men’s basketball coach John Wooden. On Rhule’s desk lays a bag of cigars sent by his old boss, Al Golden.
But far bigger transitions await Rhule than the arrangement of furniture.
He’s inheriting a program that has won 19 percent of its Big East Conference games in 15 seasons, while taking on a recent history of Temple coaches who have bolted for more prestigious FBS schools when the opportunity presents itself.
Rhule begins the first head coaching job of his career in a sport ill with re-alignment, at a university with an uncertain future in a fractured conference. Rhule, who coached at Temple from 2006-11, returns after a brief stint as offensive line coach with the New York Giants.
Rhule had a cozy spot with the 2012 Super Bowl Champions, working for coach Tom Coughlin, who Rhule speaks highly of, but he came back to college football for reasons he said stem from his love for Temple.
“I didn’t come back to the college game, I came back to Temple,” Rhule said. “That’s a big difference. I really like it here. Since the very first day that I came here, it’s been the right fit for Julie, myself and Bryant – my family.”
Rhule, who has 15 years of coaching experience on the collegiate and professional level, was introduced as Temple’s new football coach on Dec. 17, less than two weeks after it was announced that Addazio was departing to take the head coaching job at Boston College.
Rhule’s hire has been a popular one among the football staff and players, some of whom were mentioning Rhule’s name on Twitter less than an hour after Addazio’s abrupt departure.
At the press conference announcing his hire, Rhule was reunited with dozens of players in attendance, many of whom he recruited himself while he was recruiting coordinator in 2007 and 2011. There was a feeling of content and relief as the players formed a line in the front of the room, waiting to hug their old coach turned new.
“I just think that with all that they’ve been through, I’ve been there through all those changes,” Rhule said. “I had been there when [Golden] left. I was there for the bowl game. They saw me, maybe, as a stable person through all those things and they knew I wanted to be here.”
Detractors of the Rhule hire voice concern over Rhule’s lack of head coaching experience. Rhule, who served as offensive coordinator under Golden but has never been a head coach, won the job amid a coaching search that reportedly included candidates such as Mario Cristobal formerly of Florida International and Todd Bowles of the Philadelphia Eagles, both of whom have served as head coaches before.
When asked about his lack of head coaching experience, Rhule called it a “great criticism.”
“Al Golden came here, I thought he did a great job, and it was his first job as a head coach,” Rhule said. “Steve Addazio came here and took us to a bowl game in his first year as a head coach. Everybody starts somewhere.”
Rhule said he has spent his first three weeks as head coach busy recruiting and assembling his staff.
Rhule hired Allen Mogridge of Central Florida, Brandon Noble of Coastal Carolina and Marcus Satterfield of Tennessee at Chattanooga as assistant coaches, as well as appointing former Director of Operations Ed Foley to assistant head coach.
Rhule made his most significant hire to date when he named Phil Snow as his defensive coordinator on Jan. 15. Snow had spent the last three years as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Eastern Michigan after two years off from the Detroit Lions’ linebackers coach position.
Rhule, who is still diagnosing the talent of his team, said Snow will get the most out of what the Owls’ defense has to offer.
“When you look at defense, it comes down to the personnel,” Rhule said. “I don’t even know who we have on the defense to say that yet, but I do know one thing about Phil Snow: whoever we have, they’ll play better after being coached by him.”
It appeared Rhule had actually made his most significant hire weeks earlier on Dec. 29, when it was reported that Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich was leaving to accept the same job at Temple. Two weeks, and a reported doubled salary later, Rolovich rescinded on his decision and decided to stay at Nevada.
“At the end of the day, I just really want people who want to be here,” Rhule said while refusing to address Rolovich specifically. “Life takes us in different directions, people have to do what’s best for them. I want our kids to know when they go out on the football field and they’re being pushed and strained and cajoled by the coach, that the coach really wants to be there with him for the long haul.”
Rhule said he’s “close” to hiring his new offensive coordinator. Satterfield’s name has come up as a potential in-house hire, while Rhule stressed the importance of maintaining stability at the position, which has seen three different offensive coordinators in the past three seasons.
“I’m probably close, but I feel great about Marcus Satterfield,” Rhule said. “I’ve talked to a lot of candidates for a lot of positions. There’s a lot of people that want to work here. But especially at that position, I want somebody that wants to be here. I don’t want to keep changing coordinators every year.”
Rhule said he wants to run a “multiple offense” that he explained means forming an offense around the talents of its players. Last season, the football team seemed to do the opposite, running the ball 468 times in 11 games despite returning one out of five starters on the offensive line.
“I want to utilize different personnel groupings,” Rhule said. “If we have the players, we might as well use them. If we don’t have them, we’re not going to play them. But anyone that’s good enough to help us win, I want to get them on the field.”
Addazio said he expected junior quarterback Clinton “Juice” Granger to be the starter heading into spring ball at the end of last season. Whether Granger or redshirt-junior quarterback Chris Coyer would fit better as a starter into the style of offense Rhule described, he wouldn’t speculate.
“I haven’t seen either one of them throw a ball yet, to be honest with you,” Rhule said. “They were doing that based off their system. For me, I don’t know where those guys are right now.”
Rhule also detracted questions about conference re-alignment, saying that “doesn’t concern” him. He said he has a broader picture of the Big East in his first season as a head coach.
“When I look at the Big East, the biggest thing I think about is that Temple hasn’t proven it can win in the Big East yet,” Rhule said. “This is our first year back after being in it previously and we went 4-7. Whoever they send to us to play in the Big East, it’s our job to beat them and try to go to a bowl game as a member of the Big East, which hasn’t happened yet.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @joey_cranney.