Unexpected success raises stadium, coach issues at Temple
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Temple can picture the scene now: Set to open his eighth year as coach, Matt Rhule bursts through the tunnel on opening day of another brisk football Saturday to lead the Owls out in front of 35,000 fans packed in a sparking $100 million stadium.
Temple students can simply walk to the on-campus game. Alumni who never cared for the antiseptic gameday feel at Lincoln Financial Field can hop the regional rail and get pumped for a true home game. Even neighbors who whined about the possibility of beer cans kicked around their yards are on board as Norman Fell Memorial Stadium helps make North Philly rock for seven weekends each year.
Buoyed by this year's surprising success that has made Temple matter, the university has big dreams - and friends with deep pockets - of making sure the No. 21 Owls aren't a one-year wonder.
The first step, gaining approval for an on-campus stadium that could be ready for the 2020 season.
Then, making sure Rhule has the stadium and fat contract needed to entice him to eschew potential Big Five offers in favor of sticking around and building the Boise State of the American Athletic Conference.
Temple has Rhule, but maybe not for long. The Owls play in the Linc, but maybe not for long.
''There is no surprise in what's happening,'' Temple athletic director Patrick Kraft said. ''Absolutely we can maintain this success. Matt's done a great job of building a culture of success.''
The Owls would love to dump a rental payment at the Linc and move into their own digs for the first time in program history.
Temple's board of trustees is set to meet in December and a stadium is on the agenda, but what will come out of the meeting is unclear.
''Right now, it's trying to find out if we can even feasibly do it,'' Kraft said this week. ''We've got to work with the city. Can we raise the money? We're having conversations and that's good. But we're on a fact-finding mission.''
Rhule, in his third season, is all for a stadium.
''Anything we can do to bring people to our campus, whether it's basketball, symposiums, arts, whether it's football, if we can bring 30,000 people here to see our campus, then I think our campus grows,'' he said. ''Students have great memories on campus. I think our university grows. But that's way above me.''
But would Rhule stick around to see a stadium open? The 40-year-old Rhule has become one of the hottest coaching prospects in the game and has a program long one of the worst in football set to clinch a berth in the AAC title game with a win Saturday against USF.
Rhule hasn't shied away from talking to his team about the potential of clinching a spot in the title game.
''I always talk about things like that because they're always hearing it,'' Rhule said.
They're surely hearing about the stadium deal. The Owls and the Eagles reached an extended rental agreement in August for use at the nearly 70,000-seat Lincoln Financial Field through the 2019 season. The Owls pay roughly $1 million a year in rent to the Eagles.
Temple president Neal Theobald wrote an op-ed this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer that stated the reasons why the university needed an on-campus stadium.
''By any measure - academic reputation, admissions and enrollment, facilities, giving, research investment - Temple is red-hot on and off the field,'' he wrote. ''We have a dynamic young coach who wants to stay at Temple and build a national program. A new, on-campus football stadium is a logical next step not only for football, but - in my view - for one of the nation's leading urban research universities located in one the nation's great cities.''
Kraft said there was a deal with the Eagles to play a potential AAC championship game Dec. 5 at the Linc.
The Owls gave Rhule a four-year extension in the summer through the 2021 season for a seven-figure salary each season. With his success, Rhule has been linked to potential openings at Maryland and Virginia Tech and could be a top target for other power conference programs.
''We're committed to keeping coach Rhule,'' Kraft said.