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Friday, November 04, 2005

Temple University's Search For A Football Coach

Temple hasn't had a successful head football coach since Wayne Hardin left Broad and Columbia in the early 1980's. Hardin coached Heisman winners Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino at Navy, then had a hitch at Pacific (hard to figure out how he landed there) and then ended up at Temple. In the process, he put Temple on the national map (they were a reasonably formidable team), coached some excellent teams in the 1970's that did the equivalent of tugging on Superman's cape by taking good Penn State teams down to the wire two years running (one was a 26-25 loss at Penn's Franklin Field, the other a 10-7 loss at Veterans Stadium that had the Owls driving for a winning score with the game tied at seven in the final three minutes, only to have star RB Anthony Anderson fumble, Penn State gain possession, and have Matt Bahr kick a game-winning FG in the final minute). There was excitement with those Owls then. Joe Klecko played for Wayne Hardin. So did Cowboys G Jim Cooper, Falcons K Nick Mike-Mayer, Steelers TE Randy Grossman and many others.

Since then, though, there has been a serious drought. To replace Hardin, the Owls opted for an up-and-coming Alabama assistant, the Tide's then RBs coach, Bruce Arians. Heralded as a wunderkind, Arians wasn't the next Hardin, let alone the next Bryant. Hardin was as crafty a game coach as there was, and Arians just couldn't bring his superpower methods to bear at Temple. After several years, he was gone -- with a losing record. Enter Jerry Berndt.

Berndt started his head coaching career at DIII DePauw, subsequently to become nationally known for being the alma mater of one-time VP, Dan Quayle (who no one ever accused of having gone to class much). Berndt then surfaced at Pennsylvania in the early 80's. Penn, a glamorous national program in the 40's and 50's, had sunk to new lows in the late 70's under Harry Gamble. Brought in to revive the Quakers, Berndt did just that. Rice, thinking that hiring a successful coach from a "smart" school like it would help revive its program, lured Berndt away. Berndt couldn't replicate his success at Penn in Houston, and the Rice Owls let him go.

A favorite in Philadelphia, Temple hired him to be head coach. Unfortunately, Berndt couldn't rekindle the magic that people thought he had left behind at Penn (which, to this day, is on a 20-year streak of excellent teams that Berndt's turnaround inspired). So, Berndt was given the gate -- with a losing record, replaced by one-time Penn State assistant Ron Dickerson.

Figuring that Penn State magic might rub off on North Broad Street, Owls' backers were optimistic. Wrongly, as it turned out, as Dickerson wasn't as successful as Berndt, who wasn't as successful as Arians, who wasn't nearly as successful as Hardin. Dickerson was something like 6-41 in four seasons. The Owls were near the bottome of the 117 or so DIA football programs. Finally figuring out that they should opt for a different route than former DI head or assistant coaches, the Owls went the DII route.

They brought in Bobby Wallace, who had coached teams to relative national prominence at at North Alabama, which became a DII power when he was there. Figuring that winning begets winning, they thought that Wallace could inspire a group of DI wannabes who, pretty much, no other DI school wanted, into a winner. Wallace's teams had their moments, including a memorable upset of Va Tech several years back in Blacksburg, but this year particularly they've been cannon fodder for all sorts of DI programs. So bad has it gotten on North Broad that Wallace resigned earlier in the season -- effective at year's end. Another losing record, and this season has been particularly awful.

It used to be that the Owls were able to draw stellar players from the Philadelphia Public and Catholic leagues, as well as from up-state Pennsylvania, particularly former coal country. It also used to be that they were recruiting against both Penn State and Pitt alone, both of which, at least in the 70's, were national powers. Meanwhile, many other DI schools left these parts alone, so Temple could recruit good kids from the city and the suburbs.

Unfortunately, a few phenomena unfolded. First, Philadelphia, which has a 2.1 million population in 1950, only has a 1.4 million population today, and 1/3 of those people live at or below the povery line. Socieconomic problems bring more educational challenges, which, translated means that the kids who are in the public schools have more difficulty qualifying for college scholarships than they might have twenty, twenty-five years ago. So, part of the base from which Temple used to draw well has gone somewhat dry. Meanwhile, the kids from the Catholic, Inter-Ac (i.e, elite private school) and suburban leagues are being recruited elswhere, to Virginia (RB Wali Lundy is from South Jersey), Maryland (QB Sam Hollenbach is from Bucks County, Pa HS Pennridge), Michigan, Wisconsin, Notre Dame (WR Maurice Stovall is from suburban HS Archbishop Carroll, while frosh LB Steve Quinn is from St. Joseph's Prep) and on and on. Now, some of these kids are high DI kids, but there are those who might go elsewhere -- even IAA, because Temple has an urban setting that doesn't afford the campus life that I-AA neighbor Villanova does, for example. Put another way, there is no real well from which Temple can easily draw, and given the campus's limitations, it's hard for them to draw from a national pool.

(I confess that I have written much of the above from memory, because, as I have lamented before, it's hard to find historical information on many schools athletic websites. The reasons, I think are several -- 1) schools want to focus, pretty much, on the present and 2) if your history is bad and you don't have a tradition, why advertise it?)

Based on all of that, the Owls are looking for a new head coach, and many names have been rumored to be part of the hunt. The Temple A.D. had said that he can't mention any names, because some of the candidates have jobs now, and it wouldn't be fair to surface their names. That's certainly fair enough, and I'll reiterate from memory what I read in the Philadelphia papers about the candidates.

1. Former Navy and UVA head coach George Welsh. Clearly a successful former coach, Welsh is ruminating whether to return to coaching. He is 72.

2. Baltimore Ravens QB coach Rick Neuheisel. Neuheisel played an expensive NCAA tourney hoops pool while head coach at Washington and lost his job. He surfaced on Brian Billick's staff in Baltimore, and would be an intriguing choice. There's one catch -- it doesn't appear that he's interested.

3. Bruce Arians, who, after Temple, became a career NFL offensive assistant. I don't know where he is today, but there are those Temple faithful who remember Arians fondly. What his recruiting base would be -- or his appeal -- is lost on me at the moment.

4. Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Rumored as a possible successor to Joe Paterno in a few years, Bradley wouldn't appear likely to trade Happy Valley for Sad City, at least any time soon.

There were other names, all less memorable, and I don't think those four contain a likely successor to Bobby Wallace. As a result, here are a few that I would suggest:

1. Baltimore Ravens Outside Linebackers Coach Mike Pettine, Jr. The name Pettine is gold in Southeastern Pennsylvania. His dad, Mike Sr., for whom he played, was perhaps the best coach in PA HS history, winning over 300 games in a thirty-plus year career while losing about 32 in the same span. Pettine Sr. coached Central Bucks West, which was a dynasty in Pennsylvania until his retirement. Pettine Jr. went to UVA and has a degree in economics, which should impress the parents of some recruits. He was a head coach at North Penn, where he turned around a fast-growing and once sleepy former farming community HS into a powerhouse that remains today (his former top assistant, Dick Beck, played for his dad at CB West and started for 4 years as an offensive lineman at Temple; Beck is head coach of North Penn today). Pettine is a fiery guy and a builder, and he has great roots in the area plus the street cred of having coached in the pros. I'd put him atop my list fast.

2. St. Joseph's Prep HS coach Gil Brooks. Brooks, a Swarthmore grad and partner in a Phila law firm, turned around a once-proud but middling program and made it a national power, as the Prep is in the USA Today national rankings conversation every year. He's a tough, focused coach who seems to blend some outstanding recruits with some hardworking kids who turn out winners. I watched a game featuring the Prep against rival Roman Catholic on TV about a month ago, and it seemed that Roman had 5 athletes on the field who were better than the Prep's best one. Final score was something like 41-0, the Prep. Brooks also would seem to be able to build a network of recruiting within Pennsylvania that could draw some good kids.

Unless you can draw a Neuheisel or a big name with enough stature to build an oasis in the football desert that otherwise is the northeast corridor of the United States, the Owls would be wise to focus on Pettine and Brooks. Instead of "having to have" someone with a link to a Penn State or a Top 10 power, look for the guy who can make the most of what there is in your own back yard.

And, I would submit, they wouldn't have to look very far.

7 Comments:

Anonymous tim in tampa said...

As someone with two degrees from MAC schools, I find it pretty vital that Temple distances itself from the role of nation's laughingstock. Of course, that doesn't excuse the MAC for letting them in football-only, perhaps one of the worst decisions in conference history.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes your right.. The MAC conference's name is high on the list of the power conferences.. the Buffalo Bulls and the directional Michigan schools are on the tips of everyone's tongues

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice job. Temple didn't pick any of your candidates. They got a guy, Al Golden, who took only one month to recruit the top-ranked recruiting class in the MAC (according to collegefootballnews.com) for Feb. 2006 and this current one is blowing that one completely off the charts. Temple has commitments from players who have de-committed from BCS schools (Daryl Robinson, North Catholic, West Virginia) and transfers who have started at BCS schools. Golden is a star recruiter and soon Temple will dominate the MAC and be back in the Big East.

12:23 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

I hope that you're right. I'm glad that they picked Golden, and I was surprised that they got him. Coach Paterno said publicly he didn't think that the Temple job is a good job. It may take a couple of years for these recruiting classes to pan out, however, and it could well be that the Owls finish below .500 for one or two more seasons. I don't know how much stock to put into recruiting reports, however.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes for Mike Pettine. He has what it takes. Think right for the Qwls,

5:58 PM  
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