Courtesy of Mitchell Leff | Temple Athletic CommunicationsFootball
‘The new Temple’: Coming off a 9-4 season and bowl victory, the Owls are looking to prove they’re here to stay in their second go-around in the Big East
Atop a silver ladder, Derek Dennis and Morkeith Brown took turns conducting the Temple Diamond Marching Band at University Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M. His teammates sang along to the school fight song.
They were celebrating their victory in the 2011 Gildan New Mexico Bowl, the Owls’ first bowl win since 1979.
Eighty-one days later, Temple celebrated its return to the Big East. The conference announced the Owls would begin Big East play in football this fall with their other sports joining in 2013.
“It’s a tremendous natural step that we needed to have the opportunity to take, and we’ve taken it,” said head coach Steve Addazio. “Now we’ve got to go about the business of building it.”
Today’s Temple is nearly unrecognizable compared with its first run in the Big East from 1991-2004. The Owls won just 30 games during that stretch and were eventually forced to leave the Bowl Championship Series conference due to lack of attendance and investment in the program. But the team enters the Big East this season coming off three straight winning seasons and the bowl victory.
With state-of-the-art facilities and a foundation of success, the Owls are expected to compete with their conference opponents this time around. Though the preseason Big East media poll ranked Addazio’s team last, Temple is a far cry from the perennial doormat it was for 14 seasons.
“This isn’t their first barbecue, so to speak,” Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “You better be prepared to play Temple because Temple is going to play hard. They’re going to be well-coached, and they’re going to be capable of winning games.”
But when Bobby Wallace took over as Temple’s head coach in 1998, he saw why the program had struggled mightily for much of the decade. On campus, the team practiced without a fully modernized facility.
The field behind McGonigle Hall doubled as stomping grounds for local kids. One player nearly collided with a child on a bicycle while running down a punt on Wallace’s first practice. Wallace recalled seeing neighborhood kids shred his practice field while playing pickup football games on rainy Sundays.
The Edberg-Olson football complex across campus was completed in 2000. Wallace said it helped to calm down the circus-like atmosphere of Temple’s practices, but the program and its facilities still lagged behind their Big East counterparts.
In 2005, a relieved Wallace walked off the turf at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. A 0-11 season and his career at Temple were complete.
“I was thinking about moving back to the South,” said Wallace, who went 19-71 in seven seasons.
Wallace’s fate was partially sealed in January 2001 when the Big East voted to end Temple’s membership in 2004. The decision crippled recruiting efforts and the entire program. Wallace called it a “kiss of death.”
“We probably were the worst program in Division I-A,” said Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw. “Not just on the field, attendance, performance, but academically and the kind of disciplinary issues there, we probably were dead last.”
For two years, more than 90 percent of Wallace’s recruits were junior college players. Most high school seniors were off limits.
“It’s a tremendous natural step that we needed to have the opportunity to take, and we’ve taken it. Now we’ve got to go about the business of building it.”
Steve Addazio, Temple head coach
The reliance on junior college recruits meant the team’s talent had two fewer years to develop chemistry. Those recruits, while talented, often came with personal baggage that made them hard to coach, Wallace said.
“I rather would’ve just gotten voted out right away because it made it difficult to recruit when you couldn’t tell a young man and his parents whether we would have football or what level we’d be playing at in three years,” Wallace said.
Wallace and Bradshaw fought to keep the program’s Division I-A status. The university considered downgrading to Division I-AA or even ending the football program at one point.
Seven years after leaving the Big East, Temple football is thriving. Facilities are now a selling point to recruits already drawn in by the team’s recent success.
Former Owls offensive lineman Dan Klecko, who played seven seasons in the NFL, checked out the team’s new facilities on a visit back to the school this year. Bradshaw said Klecko told him he had never seen a nicer weight room in his professional career.
The players Temple has brought should also give the program high-level talent for years to come. Scout.com ranked the 2012 incoming freshman class the 55th-best recruiting class in the country.
Addazio is looking to use the combination of resources and talent to build on a 9-4 season in 2011.
His image can be seen in this year’s team. He emphasizes to his players energy and physical play.
“The fundamental starting point for our program is, No. 1, we have a group of players that respect the game,” Addazio said. “They understand it’s a privilege, not a right, and every day they’re going to take the football field, and they’re going to compete.”
The philosophy is a holdover from his predecessor, Al Golden, who led the Owls to a 17-8 record from 2009-10.
After Wallace’s resignation, Golden interviewed for the Temple job Nov. 6. Bradshaw had already interviewed several potential replacements. They planned on meeting 10-15 more candidates.
Fifteen minutes into the interview, Golden all but ended Temple’s search. By that time, Bradshaw’s yellow legal pad read, “This is our man.” One month after his interview in a Charlottesville, Va., hotel room, Golden was introduced as the new head coach.
Golden went on to lead Temple to a share of the MAC East division title and the team’s first bowl game in 30 years.
“Al came in to captain the ship over rough waters and he did — miraculously, according to some, and extraordinary, according to even people who aren’t given to hyperbole,” Bradshaw said.
Golden’s work made Addazio’s job easier, too. Now, with a bowl victory and his team’s jump to the Big East, the head coach said his program has taken the next step.
Yet Addazio refuses to let his players forget what the program went through. He brought in former players to tell stories of Temple’s struggles and motivate its current squad.
“We’re the new Temple,” quarterback Chris Coyer. “We like to play hard. We’re tough, and we’re going to do the best we can, and we’re going to give everybody what they want.”
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