Temple’s Matt Rhule is young enough that he may leave when the time is right, but give the 41-year-old head coach credit for returning to the Owls and guiding the Philadelphia school to a second straight AAC East football title.
Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo is still young enough at 51 to move on if he chooses, but the Midshipmen’s all-time winningest coach seemed to cast his future with Annapolis when he turned down a tempting offer last year from BYU. Navy won the AAC West and is in position to claim its first conference title just two years after giving up 134 years of independent status.
Temple (9-3) faces Navy (9-2) Saturday at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Midshipmen are ranked No. 20 in both the AP and USA Today polls. Temple is among others with points equal to No. 32 in both polls.
This may surprise Texas “oil bidnessmen” – in the words of the great sportswriter Dan Jenkins, author of Semi-Tough – that hired Houston’s Tom Herman this week at $5 million a year with $19.5 million in buyouts to Houston and payments to former Texas coach Charlie Strong and his assistants, but Rhule and Niumatalolo have been the AAC’s most successful coaches the last two seasons.
Included in their overall records are 14-2 AAC marks and two division titles. Niumatalolo won a share of the AAC West (7-1) in 2015 and outright division title (7-1) in 2016. Rhule won an outright 2015 AAC East (7-1) and a share (7-1) with the tiebreaker in 2016.
Herman won AAC West title in 2015 and division records of 7-1 and 5-3 the past two years.
Rhule and Niumatalolo are your kind of coach if you tire of hearing about LSU trying to steal Jimbo Fisher from Florida State in the middle of the season or Texas “oil bidnessmen” lukewarmly supporting Strong until they had a chance to heist Herman.
Herman was the hot name in the 2016 coaching carousel, thanks to coming off a 13-1 season and No. 8 national ranking with the Cougars one year after he was offensive coordinator of Ohio State’s national championship team.
But in 2016, Houston finished the regular season unranked and third in the AAC West (9-3, 5-3). Rhule and Niumatalolo may be underrated on the national scene, but they’re the AAC coaches with football teams playing this week for the conference title.
Niumatalolo has built Navy into one of the most stable programs in the country with a 77-39 record in his ninth year. He’s won so many big games he’s no longer identified as the first Samoan football head coach in NCAA history. He’s simply a successful head coach on a path toward the College Football Hall of Fame. He might still have made it if had he taken the BYU job, but a firm identity with Navy will help with the future voting.
This was supposed to be a year Navy took a step back with only one returning offensive starter. Then starting quarterback Tago Smith was lost for the year in the first half of the opener.
No problem. Senior Will Worth took over the new cast of Midshipmen as if he was the one designated as All-America Keenan Reynolds’ successor.
The defense lost captain and starting linebacker Daniel Gonzales in the fourth game, but the senior Micah Thomas shifted from SAM linebacker to fill Gonzales’ role at MIKE linebacker.
The pieces plug in smoother with a ninth-year head coach that has lost only five assistants in that time period.
Temple fans enjoyed Penn State’s ride to the Big Ten East title this year as much as Nittany Lions’ followers. That means head coach James Franklin is no longer on the hot seat. If that job opens, Rhule is a likely candidate as a Penn State alum that played for Joe Paterno (the only place Paterno’s name is still proudly said aloud).
But with Temple investing more money in its football program, Rhule was comfortable to return this season.
He’s in his fourth year since succeeding Stave Addazzio, who left for Boston College. Which coach has a better situation now? Rhule is a former Temple assistant from 2006 to 2011 who was retained by Adazzo for one year before he left for the New York Giants in 2012.
Temple brought him back in 2013 and started slowly with a 2-10 record. That’s not uncommon at Temple. What also is uncommon is his record since then: 6-6, 10-4 and 9-3 so far this season.
Those are two-year records that Tom Herman’s resume can’t match.
Follow Tom Shanahan of FanRagSports.com on Twitter @shanny4055