Matt Rhule’s metaphorical door remains open around the clock.
It’s unlocked and free to all who wish for a few minutes with the second-year coach, from a light, friendly chat, to a man-to-man sit-down with the father figure of Temple’s football program.
The constant invites for conversation, critique and banter, when appropriate, are all part of Rhule’s multi-layered, two-way street type of coaching style, both on the field and off.
“I think everybody on this team has an open door with coach if you want to talk about anything,” junior center Kyle Friend said. “He’s a really good person to talk to. But when he gets serious, everybody gets serious and you know it’s time to go.”
Rhule established his open and honest, yet demanding style when he first filled the vacancy after the 2012 season.
His offensive and defensive systems and training camp routine, along with his newly-formed relationship with his players as head coach, though, took time to gain traction amid a 2-10 season in 2013, Temple’s worst since former coach Al Golden’s first year as coach in 2006.
“It was a younger team [last year] and it was hard at first for them because they might not have understood expectations,” Rhule said. “It took a while to get everyone on the same page and that’s the first step of being successful.”
Fast-forward to August 2014, a month consisting of training camp, preparation, strengthening and hope for a squad seeking a few more wins and newfound respect in the American Athletic Conference.
Black Temple football T-shirts with the motto “never again” were a common sight in camp, another earmark of the overarching story.
Rhule and his staff have the tall task of establishing a new, respected culture identified with Temple football.
“I think one thing we’re really focused on right now is we’re really trying to build our brand,” Friend said. “That’s something Rhule’s been preaching a lot lately in camp. When you think building your brand, you think about what you’re known for. Right now with practice and everything, we want to be known as a smart, disciplined and tough team.”
“Everything’s easier this year,” Rhule said. “We have our brand and everyone understands what our brand is. Last year it was just trying to survive the day and get to the next day. As we keep recruiting, the older guys will teach them our brand and it evolves from there.”
Yet, Rhule understands his team is still fighting an uphill battle in a conference that, despite the departures of Louisville and Rutgers, remains competitive.
Temple ranks ninth in The American’s preseason poll released last month, one spot behind last year’s cellar-dwellers in Memphis, and ahead of Connecticut as well as new American tenants Tulane and Tulsa.
Temple’s defense allowed 473.6 yards per game last season, as well as an eye-popping 298.6 ypg. averaged through the air, ranking fifth lowest in the nation.
The team returns its three leading rushers from last season in tailbacks Kenny Harper and Zaire Williams, along with sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker, but only Harper eclipsed the 50 yards-per-game mark on the ground (51.1) en route to finishing 137th in the nation in that category.
The offense struggled with inconsistency last season, particularly early in the year, but shows glimpses of promise with a young signal-caller in Walker and options at the running back and wide receiver positions.
“I know it’s still a young team,” Rhule said, “but they understand who and what we are. There are areas of concern. I’m a coach. I’m always worrying about something.”
But, it is still August. No player or coach knows where the 2014 squad will end up come December, and how much or how little respect for the program and its “brand” will have gained by that point.
And yet, Rhule said he’s happy with where his team sits in late August 2014, as opposed to this month last year.
“I just feel really good about where [the players] are physically and mentally, and how far they’ve come with their development,” Rhule said. “It’s our job to keep pushing them and developing them, keep recruiting kids, let the old guys teach the young guys and to turn it into a culture, a way of life.”
“We’re ahead of where we were last year and I’m excited to see what we’ve done.”
You can reach Andre Parent at email@example.com and on twitter @daParent93