Rhule: Missouri's interest not a distraction for Owls

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Temple head coach Matt Rhule.

Temple football coach Matt Rhule wasn't thrilled with the question, but he had to know it was coming. A day after talking to Missouri officials about their vacant head coaching job, Rhule was asked if this would lead to any distraction heading into the American Athletic Conference championship game Saturday at Houston.

"Only if people keep asking it," Rhule said Monday during a conference call with reporters.

The Owls (10-2) earned the berth in the game Saturday with a 27-3 win over visiting Connecticut that clinched the AAC East Division. Houston (11-1) clinched the West on Friday with a 52-31 home win over Navy.

During Temple's win, Footballscoop.com reported that Rhule was planning to meet with Missouri to talk about its coaching job. The meeting occurred Sunday morning, according to a source.

Rhule said he wanted to make sure that any coaching news or rumors would not have a negative impact on this week's game.

"Our team and I, we consider ourselves family," he said. "So anything that happens, they know about and we talk about.

"This program is not about me, it has never been about me, I don't talk about me. It's about the kids. I would never dishonor our players by talking about myself the week we have a chance to win the conference championship game."

Both Rhule and first-year Houston coach Tom Herman have been subject of coaching speculation. Herman told Houston reporters that he had a new deal in principle with the university.

"Both teams are hearing the same things out there but this game is about our players, about our team," Rhule said. ". . . It has never been about Matt Rhule. It never will be; I have too good of kids. They certainly won't get distracted about anything with me."

Then for emphasis he added, "I am doing my part this week to make sure we play as well as we can play."

Temple faces a formidable task against a Houston team that suffered its lone loss to UConn, 20-17, two weeks ago when quarterback Greg Ward Jr. hardly played because of an ankle injury.

Ward returned last week and threw for 308 yards and three touchdowns. He rushed for 83 yards and another score.

"He is probably is, if not the most dynamic player in college football, one of them and a tremendous player in this league," Rhule said.

This season Ward has rushed for 893 yards and 17 touchdowns and thrown for 2,502 yards and another 16 scores.

Temple has had difficulty with dual-threat quarterbacks and Ward will present his own set of challenges to an Owls team that hasn't allowed a touchdown in the last two games.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard