When Temple coach Matt Rhule arrived on campus two months ago, not only did he face the enormity of having his first job as a head coach, he all of a sudden had to recruit at warp speed.
Rhule had to re-recruit commits; he had to draw up a new list of players he wanted to go after; he had to start calling high school coaching contacts in the area, built during his years as a Temple assistant, hoping to find a few gems that had been ignored to that point. You can safely bet Rhule did not get much sleep over the past 60 days, but he did end up with a 23-man signing class Wednesday that will begin to lay the foundation for his program.
Time for a deep breath?
On Thursday, Rhule embarked on a barnstorming tour of the Northeast as part of Temple's National Signing Day celebration, speaking with fans and alumni to build excitement for Temple football, and this class in particular. Rhule started his day with breakfast in Philadelphia; lunch in Scranton, Pa., and then cocktails in New York.
Before he even took the mic in New York, his voice had faded to a scratch. But his enthusiasm had not. To Rhule, an exhausting 13-hour day on the road was worth every second, and every bit of losing his voice. He wants fans to get to know these players for more than just their football exploits. He wants them to understand that he is more than a football coach himself. He is a representative of Temple.
To that end, he shared stories and anecdotes about each player he signed. Personal stories, not football stories.
Like the one involving a tabby cat.
Rhule and offensive line coach Allen Mogridge went for a home visit to see offensive lineman Leon Johnson out of Plainfield, N.J. Former coach Steve Addazio had not recruited Johnson, so Rhule was putting on the full-court Temple press.
Rhule and Mogridge sat in one room with Johnson and his uncle. Johnson's mother sat in the next room, watching "Jeopardy!" refusing to come out. Johnson kept calling, "Ma, are you coming in?"
Ma: "I'm watching Jeopardy!"
As the four men sat talking, a tabby cat walked into the room.
"Finally, the mom came out to meet us," Rhule said. "She told me, 'I don’t come to to meet any coaches, unless the cat comes out to meet the coaches. Cats know people better than I know people."
So did a handful of other players who were not recruited by Addazio. That list includes running back Zaire Williams, previously committed to West Virginia; defensive lineman Brian Carter, defensive back Todd Jeter, and defensive lineman Julian Taylor. Rhule was able to keep commits from three-star linebacker Buddy Brown, who had offers from Penn State and Pitt; three-star linebacker Jarred Alwan; and from Averee Robinson -- Rhule recruited his brother, Adrian to Temple.
"I felt really strongly I could go into my old recruiting area and talk to the coaches I knew, secretaries I knew, and they would all say, 'Matt how ya doing?' Rhule said. "Under Al (Golden) and under Steve, I spent so many years recruiting Pennsylvania and built what I call a book of business, that when people say 'when Matt comes in here, he’s going to deal with you straight, and treat the guys the right way.'"
Now he will have much more time to assemble his next recruiting class, something he already is working on. All those connections will help.
"If you want to play big-time college football, you can do it in Philadelphia," he said. "You can set yourself up professionally and football-wise. We had Bernard Pierce -- he came to Temple, he stayed really close to home to his mother and his family, and here he is a year a later playing in the Super Bowl. Rod Streater went to junior college out of South Jersey and he came to Temple and he was trained on how to be a professional football player, and here he is starting for Oakland Raiders.
"People see you can come to Temple and play great football, get a great education, and go chase your dreams at the next level. I’m really excited what we can do here in the future."