It’s no secret that things are going poorly in Philadelphia. The Temple Owls went 1-6 in Rod Carey’s second season, after going a solid 8-5 in 2019. That 8-5 had been consistent across coaches for Temple, as Geoff Collins got hired away after goin 8-5 in 2018. Before Collins, Matt Rhule seems to have hit Temple’s current ceiling, with back-to-back ten-win seasons. It was in his first season, of 2013, that Temple last had a losing record.
So, what happened in 2020? Was it as simple as the pandemic made for a weird season? Temple was certainly hit hard, not even playing game until mid-October. That could explain some of the issues they had, but the Owls were getting blown out. By the end of the year, even ECU beat them by four scores.
It’s not that Temple didn’t have any talent. It’s that they gave up, and seemingly quit on their coach. Head coach Rod Carey's tenure appears to be trending downwards into a nose dive. It’s a worrying pattern, as he slid Northern Illinois from being an Orange Bowl team to a just above average MAC team. If he slides Temple from about an eight-win AAC team to a team at the bottom of the conference, the Owls are going to need to move on quickly.
Here’s the issue that Temple, and frankly most AAC teams have. They found out that they’re a stepping stone to better jobs. The five head coaches before Carey all got “better” jobs, as Al Golden went to Miami, Steve Addazio landed the Boston College job, Matt Rhule got the Baylor job, Geoff Collins went to Georgia Tech, and finally Manny Diaz left for Miami after less than a month on the job.
Now, that’s an extreme amount of turnover from the Power Five poaching your coaches, but it’s also not uncommon in the AAC. Memphis and UCF both lost two coaches to the P5 in the last decade. Houston and USF have had similar issues. Meanwhile, Tulane’s Willie Fritz and Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell are commonly rumored for every available job. Cincinnati, of course, is used to turnover as they had Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly, and Butch Jones in succession.
So, in a move to gain stability, Temple offered Rod Carey a massive contract, six years and $2 million annually. The first two seasons had a $10 million buyout. It’s down to $8 million going into his third season. That’s too much for Temple to be able to afford as they slide into the bottom of the conference under Carey, even though the design was to prevent a P5 team from poaching him.
They’re not the only team to do something like this in the conference in the name of stability. After Josh Heupel’s first season, UCF extended him in a move that included a $10 million buyout, which it was reported kept Florida State from having legitimate interest in Heupel. In the two seasons after that extension, UCF slid under Heupel before he got hired away with a smaller buyout.
Here’s the thing, in most cases, stability is overrated. Yes, it’s nice for Cincinnati to know that they have Fickell long-term, but more often than not stability looks more like George O’Leary, where one coach goes from average to good and back again every season. Instead of settling for a coach who either isn’t good enough to be poached or has some baggage that causes them to be ignored by P5 jobs, hire the next big thing who leaves after two or three years.
These coaches want to work in the AAC, because it’s a launching point. Don’t hire scared that they’ll leave. Hire anticipating what they’ll build before they do. It’s vital who have a healthy and good program, not necessarily a long-term coach. Look at what Memphis has been able to accomplish. Yes, Justin Fuente left, but he built a foundation. Mike Norvell took that foundation and raised the program to the top of the AAC. Now, it’s Ryan Silverfield’s job to maintain and expand upon that. They didn’t hire a coach on the back swing or who only had modest success to maintain stability.
Temple has a major issue with Rod Carey. They can’t afford to fire him and they can’t afford to fall into mediocrity. In other words, they desperately need him to rally and improve his team, which in his career he hasn’t shown a tendency to do. And, while it may not be fair to single Temple out, as this is a conference wide issue, they should have gone after an up and coming name in coaching, even if they’re going to leave after a few seasons. It’s time for the conference to put the health of their program over stability in the coach’s room when they’re faced with the choice between the two.