How tough times at Temple and Baylor made Matt Rhule the coach he is today

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CHARLOTTE – When he showed up at the Temple football offices out of the blue to inquire about any openings on the staff, they thought he was crazy.

When he left the New York Giants after one season as an assistant O-line coach to become the head coach at Temple, he was told it was crazy.

When he decided to leave Temple to take over the Baylor program … you know where this is going.

"People thought I was crazy," Matt Rhule recalled.

Well, that crazy coach is now leading the Carolina Panthers.

This man knows how to turn a program around.

Temple went 2-10 in Rhule's first season in charge in 2013. He left four years later following back-to-back 10-win seasons.

Baylor went 1-11 in Rhule's first season in charge in 2017. He left three years later following an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl appearance.

That first year at Temple was challenging. It was even harder at Baylor, which was still putting the pieces back together in the wake of Art Briles' toxic tenure.

Winning one or two games in a full season is brutal. It tests your fortitude, your wherewithal.

"It's really hard. It's not fun and no one is having fun," Rhule said. "People have a tendency to fracture, so that's where you do your best coaching. It takes the confidence to know that what you're doing is right. In those times, that's when players really find out about you as a coach. Everyone gets along when you're winning. When you're losing, do you change? Do you blame others?

"There were low points. When I first got to Baylor, before that first season, all the off-field strife – it just kept coming and it got harder and harder. At times, I thought, 'Am I going to be able to do this?' Not just win, but can I withstand all of this? But it made me a way, way better coach. Made me a better leader and a way better man. The lesson that I learned and what I shared with my players – the things in life that we think are the worst things that have ever happened, or we think is adversity – those are really the things that cause us to be great. Those 11 losses that first year, that spurred them to 11 wins. I've learned to not try to avoid obstacles, but accelerate through them and use them as something that propels me forward."

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Rhule has proven that his process leads to victories.

"It's about putting a process in place that guarantees you are going to be successful in the long run," he said, "and having the guts, having the toughness to stick to it in good times and bad."

Follow his lead, and you'll have a lot of fun along the way.

As we learned in this story from Yahoo's Pete Thamel, this is a guy who would splash coffee on his face to fire up his Temple defensive linemen at the end of meetings.

"Full disclosure, the coffee had cooled down quite a bit," Rhule said with a laugh.

Another time at Temple, he decorated the offensive meeting room like a nightclub and called it "Club 72" after the Owls rushed for a measly 72 yards against Kent State. They responded with a 55-point outburst the next week.

Later in his tenure, he put on pads and a helmet and took on defensive players in a one-on-one hitting drill to prepare for a game.

OK, maybe he is a little crazy.

"Letting the guys have a chance to hit me – it maybe wasn't fun for me, but it was a cool moment for them," Rhule said. "I don't take myself too seriously.

"You go through the ebbs and flows of a season and different things come up. I just think it is important as a coach to show the guys that you're in it with them. And it's also important to laugh at yourself sometimes."

Ask people who know Rhule, and they'll tell you he's just a regular guy. A brilliant football mind with elite management skills and seemingly boundless energy. But just a regular guy.

Panthers owner David Tepper liked that about him. Both Tepper and Rhule are self-made successes who, believe it or not, started out as short-order cooks.

"I was the fry cook and the grill guy at Chili's," Rhule said. "My wife – she was a waitress there. It was one of my summer jobs – one of the best jobs I ever had."

His new job pays a little more.

But this new job won't be easy. The Panthers have a lot of issues to address. The team lost seven straight games after a 6-2 start in 2018. This year, it was eight consecutive defeats after a 5-3 start.

But there are pieces to build around. And Rhule knows how to build.

"I know there are going to be tough days ahead. But we'll use them to become better," Rhule said. "This is a game of relationships. I'm looking forward to getting to know the guys. I'm not one of those guys that says, 'Hey, we have to win this way.' I believe that great coaches and great coaching staffs take advantage of the players that they have and let them go shine, let them go be great.

"This is a great opportunity," he added. "And I'm ready for it."

View pictures of Matt Rhule during his time as head coach at Baylor (2017-19) and Temple (2013-16). Photos courtesy of Baylor Athletics and the Associated Press.

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