Matt Rhule’s mission for Temple: Stay focused, stay together

For the second straight year, Matt Rhule took his football team to the movies.

On Sunday night, Rhule, his wife, Julie, and the Owls saw “Straight Outta Compton.” (Yes, Temple contributed to the $60.2 million the movie made in its opening weekend.)

Rhule did not get a chance to talk with his players about the film’s message as of the conclusion of Monday’s practice, but planned on doing so at night.

But what possibly can a biopic about N.W.A. teach a college football team?

“One of our messages to our guys is when you make selfish decisions, you go through your life and you do things for yourself, you end up alone,” Rhule said at Temple’s media day Monday. “If you do things for other people, you always end up with a lot of people at the end of your life that are there to love you. Trying to get our guys to play for each other.

“I think that’s one of the messages of that movie. And I think one of the other messages is you have to have a vision, a dream of what you want to be, how you want to do it and you have to go do it no matter what the adversity is. … Football’s a great game. We have kids from the inner city, we have kids from the suburbs and we have kids from farms.

“They all come in these rooms. We have kids with high SATs, low SATs, all these different issues, good, bad, indifferent. They all come together and they sit here under one standard that they learn from each other.”

Entering his third season as the Owls’ head coach, Rhule is still learning. He no longer talks about championship with his team. He did early on.

He doesn’t even want to talk about Temple’s season opener against Penn State at Lincoln Financial Field on Sept 5.

“We want to talk about us for the next two weeks and then we’ll talk about them next,” the 40-year-old said. “Just trying to get our guys to focus on us because we got so far to go.”

The Owls have 18 returning starters with a solid group of senior leadership and a junior quarterback in P.J. Walker hoping to take the next step in his progression.

But if there has been one constant in the Rhule era, it’s been inconsistency on a week-to-week basis. That’s something he wants to address. He cited last season how they forced seven turnovers in an impressive season-opening win at Vanderbilt only to see the Owls give up 517 yards against Navy the next week as an example.

What Temple has to do is learn to tune out the outside noise. Rhule says the team — coaching staff included — listens to everything. He sees a difference so far during summer camps, but as he said, it’s not easy to get student athletes to disconnect and focus on the game on hand.

“I know they’re excited to get started, but as I said to them, we had a great opening win last year and the season ended another way,” Rhule said. “I want us to really just be great today, great tomorrow. I’ve been trying to get myself to do that. Believe me, I get hyped up about playing games. Just trying to get all of us really good day in and day out. That’s our mission.”

Listen closely to senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich and it sounds like Rhule’s message is getting through. The focus isn’t on the opponent, but how the Owls execute.

“Never worry about your opponent,” Matakevich said of the season opener. “Your opponent won’t beat you. You’ll beat yourself and Coach has really been preaching that.”

And for the team’s signal caller?

Walker isn’t paying too much attention to national rankings, the Nittany Lions or whether he’s on any preseason watch list. The dual-threat QB, who added he needs to stay focused throughout each game this year, mimicked his coach about caring for his teammates.

“We’re not really talking about other teams,” Walker said. “We’re talking about us, the guys in this room. If you’re on the field with us, we don’t worry about the other team. We’re not worried about Penn State, Cincinnati. We’re worried about each other.”

Under Rhule, Temple has gone 8-16 in his two years on North Broad Street. When he took over, it was a young, inexperienced team. He won just two games that year.

Last season, the Owls finished the season 6-6 and were bowl eligible. This year, Rhule expects his team to compete for the American Athletic Conference championship.

“All the other major conferences except for one have a conference championship game,” Rhule said. “Football is a game that should be settled on the field. Settled on the field in high school, settled on the field in the NFL, so I think it’s a great for us to have that opportunity. For us to get into that game would be wonderful.”

“That’s the goal every year. Our goal is, we want to win or compete for the conference championships every year. You’re not going to win the conference every year, but you want to be relevant. You want to be in the mix, you want to go to a bowl game every year. You want to graduate all of your seniors every year.

“Are we there yet? I don’t know. I really don’t know. There’s a lot of really good teams, but I want us to be a team in the mix for it.”

Part of Rhule’s message is to tunnel out distractions, a reason he had his players turn off their phones during the movie. Team-building activities are common practice, and while Sunday night’s viewing of “Straight Outta Compton” was positive for the Owls, there was some disappointment for Rhule.

“I’m sitting there like I’m the coolest guy in this movie right now,” he said, “because I’m the only guy who knows any songs.”

*Story originally published on on Aug. 18, 2015.