PHILADELPHIA -- It's lunchtime in the Temple football offices, and first-year coach Matt Rhule is talking about broccoli rabe. Outside on the corner of 10th Street and Diamond Street in North Philly, there are yoga studios popping up in the neighborhood where tenements used to be.
Rhule, 38, isn't letting Temple lose its edge. He's been sleeping on the couch in his office for the past month while his family closes on a home in South Philadelphia. And few know the drastic overhaul the program has undergone better than Rhule; as a former Temple assistant, he helped Al Golden raise the Owls from such a pitiful state that Rhule said passersby would throw rocks at players during practice. (Golden referred to the revival as a "revolution," and Rhule had Che Guevara as the screensaver on his computer for years in honor of that term.)
Golden brought the program to respectability both on and off the field. Then Steve Addazio, who has since left for Boston College, delivered its first bowl win in 30 years. What will the next phase look like?
"I was watching Florida Gulf Coast last night," Rhule said on Monday. "I said to myself, 'I want a football team that plays like that.' Those guys were having fun."
Amid the revolution, Rhule became an area foodie, as his rabe came atop a hot roast pork sandwich from DiNic's in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal. His favorite local spots are Osteria, Parc and Amada -- not bad for a guy who met his wife, Julie, while working as a fry cook at Chili's in State College. (Julie, a waitress at Chili's at the time, is now a dietician who works at Temple.)
Rhule spent last year as an assistant with the New York Giants and the previous six in a variety of positions at Temple on both sides of the ball. After walking on at Penn State, Rhule took the decisively non-silver spoon route to becoming a head coach. He's worked everywhere from UCLA as a grad assistant to Buffalo to Western Carolina.
Along the way, he learned the importance of personal touches, so he added a barber chair in the locker room and, on Monday morning, had his coaches play a 7-on-7 football game in the driving snow. (The film clips of the game were chopped up and shown to the players, who reveled in them.) Rhule's energy and connection with the players have resonated as his early trademarks. His staff jokes that he drinks 18 cups of coffee a day. (Julie wishes he drank more water.)
An over-caffeinated Rhule sat down with SI.com for a wide-ranging interview that touched on Temple's opener at Notre Dame, the things he learned from Joe Paterno, the Tao of Tom Coughlin and the origin of the term "pro-spread" offense, among other things.
SI: Why are you sleeping on your office couch?
Matt Rhule: Since we practice early in the morning, I like to be here. My family is still up in northern New Jersey. My son is going to finish school there. I didn't want to waste a minute in traffic or in the hotel. We sleep here and jump up, and tell the players that's what building a program is all about is working all night. That's what grinding really is. ... We do football every night until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. and then wake up at 6 a.m. It's a really fun time. Mike Leach wrote about that in his book (Swing Your Sword), about the fun time when a staff first comes in. I told our guys, 'We'll never get this time back.'
SI: How far has the program come since you first arrived in the 2006 season?
MR: I remember my first spring practice out on the field. I had just come from a [Division] I-AA school, and I remember saying to myself, 'Oh my goodness.' From the work ethic to the talent level to the expectation level and mindset. We'd practice and people would walk by and yell how bad we were and throw rocks at us. It's to the point now where the community and people around here have embraced us. I would say everything from top to bottom was uprooted. Al used to refer to it as a revolution. I actually had a picture of Che Guevara on my screensaver for a couple years. You were literally fighting a revolution in the mind of a team and changing their mindset saying, 'We will win.' Now we're at the point where kids expect to win.
SI: I saw your offense characterized as pro-spread. How did that come about?
MR: Our offensive coordinator, Marcus Satterfield, probably coined that term. That's really what we want to be. The fundamental basis of what we do is what I brought back from New York. It's professional drop-back football and professional drop-back protection schemes. And then in the run game, the offensive line plays pro football. ... I was on the staff when we played the Washington Redskins last year. They are running their traditional offense with just enough spread, zone-read stuff that's all you think about the whole game. Your $17 million pass rushers are worried about squeezing and taking RGIII and not hitting the quarterback. That's our mindset, we are going to have some spread principles. But the basis of what we do will be a pro-style offense. We'll have a fullback and tight ends. At the same time there's times where we'll be in four wide and the quarterback will be reading it.
SI: You have three veteran quarterbacks this spring -- Chris Coyer, Juice Granger and Kevin Newsome -- and a talented freshman on the way. How's that competition shaping up?
MR: Chris and Juice have both played. I was here when they were both here before, but I tried to go in with a clean slate. Kevin Newsome (a Penn State transfer) has also been playing some receiver for us. He hurt his shoulder the other day. I think he'll probably be out for most of spring. He'll be a very skilled athlete at another position. The one dark horse right now is Connor Reilly, who didn't fit in a true spread because he can't run. He's a very good drop-back passer. But in what we're doing, he can do enough. He's really entering the mix now after two days to challenge. P.J. Walker is coming in in the fall and the basis of our program is competition. Now matter who is the starter, when P.J. gets here he'll have reps with the one's and the two's and we'll compete all the way to the Friday before Notre Dame.
SI: There's a lot of buzz surrounding Walker. What can you tell me about him?
MR: The biggest thing I'll say about P.J. is the fact that he's a winner. With 98 yards to go and the state championship game on the line, he takes his team down 98 yards and scores the touchdown and two-point conversion to win the state championship. (This recap says 99 yards, and it obviously can't be longer than that.) The first time I met him in recruiting, he's lamenting the fact that they lost as a junior. He just won a state championship as a senior and he's still hurting from his junior year. That's really what I'm looking for. I'm looking for a winner.
SI: You spent a season with the Giants. What did you learn from Tom Coughlin?
MR: I've said it this way, he's leadership personified. Here's what I mean: He never allowed distractions to enter anything. He runs the team. What football is about is creating energy and eliminating distractions. If we could just spend all of our time on football, college football teams would be really good. He eliminated distractions and allowed the coaches to just coach football. He handled them. He never showed signs of weakness. He never didn't show confidence in himself or the plan. ... He says what he wants, and you're going to do it, and if you don't do it there's consequences. He's very fair about it. And he handles the players that way. I went in with one idea and left with a complete other. I just hope I'm half the coach that he is.
SI: You open the season at Notre Dame. That has to be a good way to keep everyone's attention.
MR: There's nothing worse than seeing a team that plays up and down to the level of its competition. Or a team that decides when to play. What's a better test for a team [than opening at South Bend]? Here's the venue. Can you play at the highest possible level and not be intimidated by this team and these great players and this great coach and this great venue? Can you go play the game the same way we play it up here in North Philly? That's the first true test. The next true test comes when you're playing Houston or Fordham at home. And they don't have as many fans. Can you play at the same level? ... I was watching Florida Gulf Coast last night. I said to myself, 'I want a football team that plays like that.' Those guys were having fun. It's supposed to be hard, but it's supposed to be fun. That's how we're structuring everything, so when we go to places like that, we play hard but we also have fun.
SI: How much have things changed on campus since 2006?
MR:Complete and total 180. Just Bill Bradshaw and the athletic administration and past presidents, I think they realized, 'If you build it they will come.' They've invested here in this building so that when recruits -- we had 130 unofficial visit prospects at practice the other day -- come and see this building they see a commitment to this university and football.
SI: What did you learn from Joe Paterno?
MR: Just a ton. The biggest thing I can say at Penn State, Joe held the best players most accountable. That's very different than most of college football. I shouldn't say most, but at some places they'll kill the sheep. The walk-ons like me, we get thrown off the team. At Penn State, it was day-in and day-out. Whether it was Kerry Collins or Ki-Jana Carter, those guys got held to such a high standard by him. He was so all over them that the rest of us just fell in line. If you were at the bowl game and so-and-so showed up late and got sent home, I knew that I was going to get sent home. ... At Penn State, there were a lot more Matt Rhules than there were Ki-Jana Carters. It made us all feel appreciated.
SI: When Steve Addazio left for Boston College, Temple made it clear it wanted someone with staying power. What are your plans here?
MR: I would just say this to you: One of my heroes is Joe Paterno. He went somewhere and built something and sustained it over a long period of time. And the happiness that brings. Look at John Chaney, an iconic coach who has talked to our team and who I look up to. If it's good enough for John Chaney to be here for a long time, it's probably good enough for Matt Rhule to be here for a long time. I think the biggest thing is, when Bill interviewed me, he asked me what my goal was. My goal is to see my son graduate from college. My son has several learning disabilities and school doesn't come easy for him. It's not fair for me to keep moving him. We were here six years and then moved to New York and are moving back now. I don't want over the next 10 years to go somewhere else and keep moving him. Because that's not what's best for my son and my family. My son is eight now and I want to see him at the age of 18 to have gone to the same school for the next 10 years. (Rhule also has a daughter who is less than a month old.) To me, that's a family decision. My wife works on this campus. It's not fair to me to ask my wife to move and take a new job.