In 2006, former Temple Football head coach Al Golden made a seemingly minor move by bringing in Matt Rhule, a relatively unknown up-and-coming coach from Western Carolina, as the Owls’ defensive line coach.
That decision came to drastically change the direction of Temple Athletics.
Rhule was named the Owls’ head coach in 2012 after working his way up the ranks. In just three years, the Owls were nationally ranked and hosted ESPN’s College Gameday for the first time in school history.
“It was the first time I experienced college football at Temple University actually driving the bus,” said Andy Carl, executive director of the TUFF Fund, Temple’s lone independent Name, Image and Likeness collective. “Being locally, regionally and nationally relevant, that was the first time that had transpired in my experience with Temple.”
At the same time, former head coach Fran Dunphy was also leading the basketball team to its eighth 20-win season in nine years, and the Owls qualified for the NCAA tournament as the 10th seed. Even as recently as 2019, the football team qualified for a bowl game while the basketball team punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament. Neither team has done so since.
As rival colleges continue to rake in massive amounts of money through NIL donations from former athletes and wealthy alumni, The TUFF Fund has not yet received a single donation from a former football or basketball player, Carl said.
A lot has changed since the days of Rhule and Dunphy. Instead of taking action, Temple is treading water. It’s an uphill battle with no real solution in sight.
“There’s a strategic alliance and alignment at other universities that are having far greater success in the NIL space, in the athletic space and the university space in general,” Carl said. “We are siloed, we are kind of partitioned off. Simply put, we’re just not there and we have tried, we continue to try to best align ourselves to have that success but ultimately the university has made a decision that they are comfortable with how the alignment is.”
LACKLUSTER NIL SUPPORT
The TUFF Fund’s only donation from a former Temple student athlete came this year from a member of the baseball program, which was cut in 2013. Donation requests from the fund have seemingly been shot down by former Owls in the NFL.
Carl, who teams up with Temple alumni Seth Goldblum and Chris Squeri to run the collective, can’t single-handedly change the university’s relationship with NIL. Without a collective approach to solving the problem, Temple will remain stuck in the mud and fall significantly behind its peers.
“There isn’t an all hands on deck, everyone pulling together, to say, ‘Hey, these are the expectations of the program, our department and the university and this is what is needed,’” Carl said. “There’s just no clear or concise vision.”
Temple’s Athletic Director Arthur Johnson has discussed improving Temple’s NIL landscape with Carl, but Johnson has not shared the same urgency for finding a solution. Carl added that Mary Burke, vice president for institutional advancement, doesn’t share the same vision, and that Temple has not been willing to provide resources or fundraising opportunities
Burke, who disagreed with the notion that the university isn’t willing to provide Carl and the TUFF Fund with adequate resources, didn’t comment on whether NIL should be a priority for Temple to compete in the modern landscape of college athletics.
“Members of the Office of Institutional Advancement just recently met with Mr. Carl,” Burke wrote in an email to The Temple News. “These were productive conversations, and it is clear that both the TUFF Fund and the university want many of the same things. We have made every effort to educate our alumni and donors about the TUFF Fund and the NIL.”
Despite Burke’s comments, Carl said he did not attend the meeting, Goldblum did.
Last week, key athletic stakeholders met with Temple’s Board of Trustees, without members of Temple Athletics present, to hammer home the importance of NIL, an anonymous source told The Temple News. The discussions were highly productive, and the Board admitted that athletics had fallen by the wayside at the university.
The Board also acknowledged that athletics can exist as a remedy to some of the broader issues facing the university, like declining enrollment. There is reason to believe the Board will prioritize athletics, and more specifically NIL, moving forward, the source said.
Burke also said the university provides links to The TUFF Fund on its athletics donor communications and websites, and they plan to engage in continued conversations with Carl and The TUFF Fund.
NIL has become such a large discussion that President Joe Biden met with college football stakeholders to discuss the importance and legalities of NIL and athlete’s rights. Among the participants was ESPN broadcaster and Temple alumnus Kevin Negandhi.
Other local universities, like La Salle, have surpassed Temple in the NIL space. The main difference is La Salle’s leadership showing a willingness to take the reins and compete with its rivals in the NIL space, Carl said. Where Temple has dragged its feet, rival universities have strategized ways to financially compete.
“We are kind of on our own,” Carl said. “Where I see a lot of strategic alignment at other universities where the university and administration is assisting to the maximum capacity that they are legally allowed to, we just aren’t seeing that at Temple, and that’s a decision Temple has made and the outcome is the outcome.”
Former Temple president Jason Wingard hired Johnson as the university’s next athletic director in October 2021. At the time, many fans viewed Johnson as nothing more than a career facilities manager. Though he did not have previous director experience, Johnson leaned on people who did, including his college roommate and Maryland athletic director Damon Evans.
“I was privy to probably more conversations about everything in the business,” Johnson said. “Some even outside of my areas of responsibility. From then on, it was just trying to do things to prepare for it. But it’s hard. A lot of really good, qualified people are out there trying to get the jobs.”
Johnson hired six new head coaches in his first year in the role, including football coach Stan Drayton and women’s basketball coach Diane Richardson. While his coaches have found mixed success, Temple has lost a step to its peers in Johnson’s time, mostly due to its lack of fundraising.
In the current climate of the NCAA, fundraising has negatively separated the Owls from their peers. The Temple Owl Club, Temple Athletics’ primary avenue for fundraising, has paled in comparison to other American Athletic Conference schools in money earned, which hurts the program’s chances of competing.
The Owl Club has around 2,000 members who raised roughly $2 million last year. UCF, who left the AAC for the Big 12 in July, raised more than $43 million through 10,000 donors. Charlotte, who joined the AAC during the summer and whose recent athletic success is comparable to Temple’s, had about 500 less donors but still raised $4.16 million.
“We’ve got to get better,” Johnson said about fundraising. “The better we get, the more eyes we get on our program. The more people want to get you there. Can we get there in our conference? We should be able to compete in our conference because, again, a lot of them are dealing with this same thing.”
During an Aug. 8 information session with the Temple Owl Club and The Temple University Alumni Association, Temple Athletics announced a partnership with Fanatics to produce co-branded individual Temple jerseys for fans to purchase. The collaboration severely lagged, and Temple’s marketing department blamed Fanatics for the delay.
On Nov. 20, the university shifted gears and announced the Temple NIL Store, which will provide officially licensed NIL merch opportunities and payouts to participating athletes. The official launch date has not been released to the public.
Despite admitting the need for improvement, not much has been done to change the trajectory of the department.
Nearly every coach employed prior to Johnson’s hiring in October 2021 has been replaced. Former women’s soccer head coach Nick Bochette, one of the last remaining pre-Johnson hires, was dismissed from the role on Nov. 1.
Former football coach Rod Carey, men’s soccer coach Brian Rowland, men’s basketball coach Aaron McKie and women’s basketball coach Tonya Cardoza were all let go since Johnson was hired.
Johnson has consistently brought in coaches with little-to-no ties to Philadelphia or the Temple community; something he has been heavily criticized for. He hired Drayton, an assistant coach at the University of Texas, where Johnson worked prior to Temple, as the program’s next football coach and Richardson was hired from Towson. However, Adam Fisher, a Bucks County, Pennsylvania native, was hired as the head men’s basketball coach after recent stints with Penn State and Miami.
“On [my] watch it becomes, their success is tied to [me],” Johnson said. “Early on, I wasn’t here. I hadn’t been here long enough to hire a football coach so we put together a committee and that committee consisted of some people from campus, letterwinners, people in the department. So they knew Temple and knew the profile and then I do my own work.”
Volleyball head coach Linda Hampton-Keith has arguably been Johnson’s best hire. She took the program from a 10-21 record in 2022 to a 17-14 record in 2023. She also brought a Temple Volleyball game to The Liacouras Center for the first time in program history.
Men’s Soccer has also shown flashes of success. Despite narrowly missing the AAC tournament, the team played meaningful soccer late in the season, and even knocked off Syracuse, the 2022 NCAA national champions.
Drayton, Johnson’s most important hire, was painted by some as Temple Football’s saving grace following the tumultuous Rod Carey era but is looking at back-to-back three-win seasons. The Owls have yet to win a road conference game under Drayton.
During the 2022-23 athletic season, Temple went a combined 101-109-7 in all win-loss athletic events. Football went 3-9 in 2022, and the team looked arguably less competitive this season. Basketball failed to produce a winning record with a roster that had the talent to contend for a conference title. Women’s soccer hasn’t won a conference game in more than two years.
Football in particular has gotten so bleak that fans have even called to cut the program on social media. While it’s a dramatic reaction, a team who made five straight bowl games from 2015-19 and won a conference championship just seven years ago shouldn’t be in this position.
“Since NIL became legal, we have had some of the worst winning percentages in the history of Temple Athletics,” Carl said. “We are seeing declining results on the competition surface and I don’t think it is a coincidence that we’re seeing that.”
In July, CBS Sports used a weighted formula that combines athletic success at Division I universities, ranking them from most to least successful. Temple was ranked third to last, ahead of just Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas State.
The solution isn’t cut and dry, and it will take time for Temple to dig out of the hole they’ve put themselves in. But if higher ups in the athletic department are willing to rally behind NIL, there still might be light at the end of the tunnel.
“My hope and optimism is that at some point we will have a full-time and engaged president, Board of Trustees, administration, athletics and NIL collective all in one silo that works together to provide both robust athletic endeavors, academic endeavors and NIL endeavors,” Carl said. “It’s not just about someone cutting a check. We need understanding from the highest levels of the university that NIL is of significant importance.”