For Temple football coach Rhule, homecoming at Beaver Stadium
Matt Rhule misses his former coach and mentor. But in some ways, the Temple coach is glad Joe Paterno is not around to see some of the methods he uses to keep the Owls loose.
“We’ve got things that would make Coach Paterno roll over,” Rhule said, “if he ever saw some of things I do before a game.”
A State College Area alumnus who walked on as a linebacker for the Nittany Lions in the mid-1990s, Rhule returns to Beaver Stadium on Saturday to lead Temple (5-4) against Penn State (5-4).
Although he was an assistant for four previous Owls games in University Park, this one will be different — and not just because it’s his first game there as a head coach.
Paterno, who was fired in November 2011 and died in January 2012, won’t be there.
“I know how special that was for Al (Golden),” Rhule said about coaching against Paterno. Golden, Temple’s former coach, is the only former Paterno player to coach against him.
“Any time you get an opportunity to go out there like I will this week, you’re going to miss having (Paterno) across the field.”
While Paterno’s image has been tarnished by the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Rhule, 39, called him “just a really good man” and said his early success in coaching is due, in part, from learning “hands-on from the best.”
“He was relentless in his pursuit of excellence, not just on the field but in the classroom and on campus,” Rhule said of Paterno. “He pushed everyone to be the best they can be.”
Rhule has pushed Temple to the precipice of bowl eligibility after going 2-10 in his debut season.
Temple has achieved its winning record much the same way Penn State has: with a defense propping up a struggling offense.
The Owls lead the nation with 17 defensive fumbles recovered and are seventh in FBS with 25 turnovers forced. Temple is also among the leaders in blocked kicks and punts. It is the lone FBS team with three of the latter.
“I’ve been very impressed with them all year long,” said Penn State coach James Franklin, who said he spent some time with Rhule this past summer. “I know it’s got to be cool for Coach Rhule to come back here.”
Rhule said he frequently is in Centre County to visit family. This trip, of course, is for business and carries an opportunity for a signature win.
Still, Rhule insisted he didn’t have different feelings about this game.
“This is a great opportunity this week, but I really haven’t had any special feeling about it,” Rhule said. “What we’re trying to get done has been so hard and so time-consuming and relentless that I’m trying to live day by day this year.”
Perhaps Rhule was sincere. Or maybe he was establishing a message for his players.
Although Temple is winless in its past 38 games against Penn State, its two most-recent losses were by an average of 7 1⁄2 points.
“If any of our guys are saying ‘This is Penn State week,’ that’s the wrong mindset to have,” Rhule said. “I promise you, no one at Penn State is saying ‘This is Temple week.’ ”