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December 17, 2012

Reunited and it feels so good

Somewhere along the way, Matt Rhule caught the bug.

Somewhere along the way, a guy that grew up in State College, played at Penn State and had assistant coaching jobs at places like Albright, UCLA, Buffalo and Western Carolina fell in love with Temple.

The courting began when Rhule, his wife, Julie, their son, Bryant, and their pets - two dogs and a cat - climbed into the car and drove 11 hours north to see their parents. But along the way, the Rhules made an important pit stop at the corner of 10th and Diamond Streets.

Rhule parked his car there, climbed the stairs as Edberg-Olson Hall and asked to see Al Golden, who had just taken the Temple head coaching job and was now charged with rebuilding a program that was nearly dropped a few years earlier. Although Rhule and Golden both played at Penn State for the late Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno, Rhule is six years younger than Golden and the two had never met before, but Rhule knew that needed to change.

"I knew this was a place I wanted to be and I knew he would win here," Rhule said.

Rhule, then an assistant head coach at Western Carolina, talked to Golden about why he wanted to work for him. Golden listened. Thirty days later, Golden called Rhule to tell him he would like to hire him to be his defensive line coach.

Six years later, Matt, Julie and Bryant drove south this time, along the New Jersey Turnpike, came across the Delaware River, up Girard Ave. and north on Broad Street and parked in a spot of their choosing outside the Liacouras Center.

And instead of asking to see the head coach, Rhule was being introduced as the head coach in a Monday afternoon press conference at the Liacouras Center's Fox-Gittis Room. The room was packed with students, fans, current players and former players. Temple men's basketball coach Fran Dunphy was there and others peered through the doorway to get a look because they couldn't push through the overflow crowd.

The 37-year-old Rhule, who spent six seasons as a Temple assistant before becoming the New York Giants' assistant offensive line coach this season, replaces Steve Addazio, who left Temple after two seasons to become the head coach at Boston College.

From the moment Addazio left town abruptly, several of Temple's players and fans voiced their support of Rhule. Temple Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw and his search committee interviewed several candidates over the last two weeks, including Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator and former Temple safety Todd Bowles and Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, but everything kept coming back to Rhule.

"This diamond was right here in our own backyard all the time," Bradshaw said Monday, paying homage to Temple founder Russell Conwell's Acres of Diamonds sermon.

Rhule interviewed for the head coaching position two years ago after Golden left to take the head coaching job at the University of Miami. He didn't get the job, but Addazio retained him as an assistant offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. Last March, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin hired Rhule to be his assistant offensive line coach.

Two years ago, Rhule said, he held no ill will about not getting the job because Bradshaw and his hiring committee were straightforward. And by Rhule's estimation, he wasn't ready for the job just yet. He learned more from Addazio, and being part of the Giants' staff, Rhule said, has been akin to receiving a PhD in offensive football.

Two years later, Rhule was ready for the job and proved it by getting it. Rhule's first interview took place last Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J., and he interviewed with incoming Temple president Neil Theobald last Thursday night in Philadelphia. Rhule was offered the job Friday, the details were worked out over the weekend, and Rhule was there Monday, emitting an elation that was nothing short of genuine and unrehearsed.

Rhule said with a smile Monday that he told Bradshaw he would be willing to sign a 10-year contract to give the program some much needed stability. Although the university did not disclose the terms of Rhule's contract, it's probably closer to a five-year deal.

Either way, even as he helped coach and prepare the defending Super Bowl champions each week this fall, Rhule's heart never strayed from Temple.

"It was during this year that I realized how much I wanted to be here. I remember sitting there watching the South Florida game, watching you guys come back at the end," Rhule said, looking in the direction of the players in attendance. "I was just overcome with emotion."

Lots of emotion.

"My wife and I were crying in Ridgewood, New Jersey," Rhule said, "watching you guys win that game."

Rhule helped recruit a lot of the players who helped win that game, including freshman linebacker and Big East Rookie of the Year Tyler Matakevich and sophomore wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick. Another Rhule recruit, kicker and punter Brandon McManus, made sure he was one of the more than 20 players in attendance Monday.

And during the weekend of Nov. 17, the one weekend he had off during the Giants' bye week, Rhule knew he had really fallen in love with Temple because he just couldn't stay away. At Addazio's request, Rhule made the trip to West Point, N.Y., to address the Temple players before they beat Army.

"I got up in front of the team and I looked out at those faces," Rhule recalled, "and I said, That's my team. Those are my guys."

Now Rhule can say it again -- this time as Temple's head football coach.

OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at jgdicarlo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.


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