During his four-year tenure as Temple’s head coach, Matt Rhule put an emphasis on looking to the future.
“What’s next?” was the phrase Rhule coined as the team’s mantra. It meant looking forward to the next play, the next practice or the next game.
When Rhule departed for Baylor University in December, he left behind some uncertainty about “what’s next” for the Temple football program.
Early in his tenure, coach Geoff Collins is trying to brand Temple as a Top 25 program. Collins is taking over a team that has won 10 games and appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll in back-to-back seasons. The program has had six players drafted to the NFL in a two-year span.
But success in college football can be fleeting. Just look at fellow American Athletic Conference school East Carolina. The Pirates were a Top 25 team in 2014, but have totaled just eight wins during the past two seasons.
Connecticut, which appeared in the Top 25 polls three times from 2007 to 2010, hasn’t had a winning season since, falling to the bottom of The American’s standings.
Next year will be a benchmark of Temple’s success. Without four-year starting quarterback Phillip Walker, first-round NFL draft pick Haason Reddick and others, Collins will have his work cut out for him if he is to maintain the level at which Rhule left the Temple program. Rhule went 2-10 in his first season at Temple.
Going on their fourth coach in 10 years, it is unclear whether the Owls can sustain a certain level of success while coaches depart for the greener pastures of Power 5 schools.
The men’s basketball team faces similar questions about its stability heading into next academic year, although for a different reason. Coach Fran Dunphy has been a consistent presence on Temple’s bench over the last 11 years, especially compared to the merry-go-round of football coaches. But is that a good thing?
Four years removed from a six-year stretch of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the program looks to have lost a step. Dunphy has led the team to just one trip to the Big Dance since 2012-13.
One year after an NCAA tournament appearance, the team went 16-16 in the 2016-17 campaign. The direction of the program is a bit confusing. Temple followed a 9-22 season in 2013-14 with back-to-back seasons of 20 or more wins before last season’s disappointing results.
After only sending two teams to the NCAA tournament in 2017, The American is desperate for Temple and the conference’s other traditional hoops programs like Connecticut to rebound from disappointing seasons. The Owls are poised for a potential bounce-back campaign with the return of injured point guard Josh Brown and the addition of a hyped recruiting class.
The league hopes to raise its basketball profile with the addition of Wichita State. The Shockers have gone to the NCAA tournament in six straight seasons and have finished in the final Associated Press Top 25 rankings in four of the past six years.
Temple’s non-revenue sports are still trying to find their way after leaving the Atlantic 10 Conference before the 2013-14 year. Temple’s only conference championships since moving to The American are a regular-season basketball title in 2015-16 and the football team’s conference championship win last year.
The women’s basketball team went to its first NCAA tournament since 2011 last season, but is still trying to edge South Florida as the league’s second-best team behind Connecticut.
The volleyball team has had three straight 20-win seasons but hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2002. After historic starts by the women’s soccer team in 2014 and 2015, coach Seamus O’Connor’s squad fell back to the bottom of the conference in 2016. The men’s soccer team has yet to translate early-season results to a winning record in The American.
Meanwhile, the field hockey and golf teams are still trying to replace former All-Americans Amber Youtz and Brandon Mathews.
At the moment, Temple doesn’t have any programs consistently competing at the national level. The football and women’s basketball programs showed this year they might be inching closer. The lacrosse and men’s soccer teams both received votes in national polls.
The addition of the Temple Sports Complex may give the field hockey, lacrosse and soccer teams a boost.
It will be interesting to see what’s next for Temple athletics.
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.