The State College native owned a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s in educational psychology while searching for his doctorate in the zany discipline known as football.
To obtain the advanced football training he needed, Matt Rhule hopped between major East Coast cities, leaving an assistant coordinator position at Temple to become a low-level assistant with the New York Giants.
His Ph.D. work didn’t last long. Rhule, a 1993 State College Area High School graduate and former Penn State linebacker, officially returned to Philadelphia on Monday to begin the job he wanted most: the head coaching position at Temple.
When Al Golden left Temple for Miami in 2010, Rhule, then 35, interviewed for the job, but Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw selected Florida assistant Steve Addazio over Rhule.
When Addazio left for Boston College earlier this month, Rhule met with Bradshaw again. This time, Rhule demonstrated the tenacity needed to secure one of college football’s toughest coaching assignments.
“He turned me down two years ago,” Rhule said of Bradshaw, “and he was right. I wasn’t ready then. But I’m ready now.”
Seeing his last two coaches bolt for Atlantic Coast Conference schools convinced Bradshaw he needed someone who viewed Temple as a destination instead a layover. Bradshaw said he receievd 119 “serious” inquiries about the job. Bradshaw trimmed his list to 36 candidates. Twelve candidates told Bradshaw they viewed becoming Temple’s head coach as a dream job. Seven of those candidates were in the process of interviewing for other jobs.
Asked whether he would be around when current recruits become college seniors, Rhule provided a witty answer.
“I told Bill I would sign a 10- or 20-year contract,” Rhule said. “He wasn’t willing to give me that contract. But I tried.”
Rhule is Temple’s 26th head coach. He might be the person to delay the process of hiring the 27th.
His wife, Julie, continued working for Temple two or three days per week even when her husband joined the Giants staff last spring. The couple raised their 8-year-old son, Bryant, in Philadelphia. The couple is expecting a second child in the near future. Rhule said his family enjoys city life.
“We didn’t go to school here,” Rhule said. “But every decision we made in our recent lives is for this university.”
Rhule became interested in Temple on a whim, visiting the school shortly after Golden was hired in 2005. Thirty days later, Golden offered Rhule, who was working at Division I-AA Western Carolina, a job as defensive line coach. A trio of former Penn State players, Golden hired former Penn State linebacker Mark D’Onofrio as his defensive coordinator, stabilized a Temple program facing a dire situation.
The Big East booted Temple for failing to field competitive teams. The Owls entered the Mid-American Conference — and started winning. Rhule’s career also accelerated. After spending the 2006 season coaching the defensive line, Golden promoted Rhule to quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator. By 2008, he was the Owls’ offensive coordinator. Addazio kept multiple key cogs from Golden’s regime, including Rhule, on his staff. Temple won enough to rejoin the Big East, ending last season with a 37-15 victory over Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl.
Rhule’s triumphs started early in his football career.
He was born in State College, and when his parents, Denny and Gloria, returned to the area in 1990, Rhule joined a solid Little Lion football program. A quarterback for most of his career, Rhule switched positions before his senior year because State College returned Mike McQueary, one of Pennsylvania’s top quarterbacks. Rhule bulked-up and played center, helping the Little Lions reach the 1992 PIAA Class AAAA semifinals.
“He was always a great thinker and good reactor,” former State College head coach and athletic director Ron Pavlechko said. “He had a great time interacting with his teammates. He was a student of his position and a student of the game. As a center, he brought all of those skills he had as a quarterback to the job. He used his intellect to get a sense of where the ball was going.”
Rhule is the first State College graduate since Mike Archer to land a Division I head coaching job. Archer, who was defensive coordinator for North Carolina State this past season, was 35 years old when he became the head coach at LSU in 1987. Rhule is 37.
Future coaches surrounded Rhule in high school. McQueary worked under Joe Paterno at Penn State from 2004-11. Jeff Nixon coaches the Miami Dolphins running backs. Rhule joins Golden and Paul Pasqualoni (Connecticut) as former Penn State players currently working as Division I head coaches.
“You knew he loved football and he had a real passion for the game and understanding of how things worked when we had him,” Pavlechko said. “I guess I saw him as a successful businessman. The fact that he went into coaching and is having success doesn’t surprise me.”
With the Big East’s instability and fierce competition for Philadelphia and southern New Jersey’s top high school prospects looming, Rhule has accepted a job laced with difficulties.
The past 36 years were the ideal primer for what awaits.
Guy Cipriano covers Penn State football for the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4643 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy.