As St. Joseph’s basketball coach Phil Martelli sat down at his post game press conference Sunday inside the Al Shrier media room at the Liacouras Center, the first words out of his mouth were not about his team’s 66-65 overtime win against the Owls.
He even held his complaints about Big 5 scheduling to second on his press conference agenda. Instead, Martelli, who has coached in Philadelphia for the past 30 years, opened with praise for coach Matt Rhule.
“He got Philadelphia to talk about college football,” Martelli said about the university’s football coach. “Never in my life did I think it would happen, and never in my life has it happened, and I’m 61. … From afar he’s a very extraordinary guy.”
Rhule and the Owls, currently ranked No. 24 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, are in Boca Raton, Florida, preparing for a matchup against the University of Toledo in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl after a 10-3 season and a trip to the American Athletic Conference championship game—where they were defeated by Houston 24-13 Dec. 5.
It is the first time since 2011 that Temple has gone to a bowl game and the second time in program history the Owls have achieved the 10-win milestone.
A lot of the credit for the program’s recent success has been given to Rhule—he received a new six year contract from the university Dec. 7—but the coach looks at his players’ response to his coaching philosophy as the root of the team’s success.
“It takes a special kid to come here and do what I ask them to do,” Rhule said. “We ask them to be very demanding. We ask them to do a lot.”
Rhule became the Owls’ head man in December 2012 after six years as an assistant and a one-year stint as an assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants.
After inheriting a 4-7 team, Rhule went 2-10 in 2013, followed by a 6-6 record last season and ultimately arriving at this year’s 10-3 mark in year three.
Redshirt-senior wide receiver John Christopher was in his third year with the program when Rhule took control of the team.
“There was a whole new culture around here,” Christopher said. “And that was the biggest thing, for everyone to buy into the new culture, the new process that he brought in to make us a winning team.”
Christopher described the culture Rhule put in place as “No B.S.,” where players are held accountable to act professional and do their job everyday.
Junior quarterback P.J. Walker said Rhule’s philosophy and the players he has brought in have aided in the team’s new identity.
“From coach Rhule, the chip on the shoulder and having guys that fit the system of the style we play,” Walker said. “The coaches build us to be tough guys. … That mindset is just what keeps us going.”
Hand-in-hand with Rhule’s turn around of the program has been Christopher and the rest of the Owls’ 19 seniors, a group of players that went 6-17 in its first two seasons in a Temple uniform.
“The kids we’re playing with now, the kids that are redshirt freshmen, sophomores and juniors, they didn’t have to go out there and play when they were true freshman,” Rhule said. “That’s hard. They didn’t have to get their head beat in. These kids had to go out there and their true freshman year they didn’t have a lot of success. Their sophomore year when I first got here, we certainly didn’t have a lot of success, but they were tough enough to fight through it.”
Christopher said despite the team’s 2-10 record in the first year under Rhule, he bought into the ideas of the new coach.
Now three years later, Christopher and his classmates are helping enforce the culture they became part of.
“Initially when he got here it was mainly him because he just got his new staff and everything,” Christopher said. “But as the years developed, as the time kept going on, it’s more the players adapted it and the players enforce it, and that’s when you see a lot of the success.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue