Departures And Arrivals

 

There have been two visceral reactions to my learning of the departure of the last two Temple head football coaches and both occurred while listening to the radio and driving in my car.

The first came when Steve Addazio left and Harry Donahue broke in with the news on the 5:45 p.m. sportscast at KYW with these words: “There has been a coaching change at Temple … “ That perked me up a little because there is never a coaching change at Temple. I thought it might be Tonya Cardoza or some other minor sports coach moving on but instead Harry followed that slight pause with “Steve Addazio is headed to Boston College.”

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Hiring an assistant can go one of two ways.

As I made the left turn on Susquehanna Road near the Rydal train station, reaction was pure joy, pounding on the steering wheel and yelling, “Yes, yes, yes!!!”  That also had something to do with Temple never firing head coaches and I felt that Addazio would have to have many 4-7 seasons, not just the one he was coming off of, to be let go at Temple.

I did not want to live through that misery again, and Addazio’s future at Temple had a Ron Dickerson, Jerry Berndt and Bobby Wallace type quality written all over it.

On Tuesday, though, turning into the parking lot at work, the guy on one of the sports talk radio stations said at 11:40 this morning: “This just in:  Philly.com is reporting that Matt Rhule is leaving for Baylor.” The reaction had nothing to do with joy or sorrow and was just a knowing sigh.

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I knew this was going to happen last year with the Missouri dalliance when Rhule said he will always listen. I knew it was going to happen when he told a reporter who goes by the name “New Jersey Mike” in June that he cannot make promises, ostensibly to stay at Temple, and I really came to grips with it on Saturday when he told a press conference this telegraphed sentence: “It was a pleasure to have coached these kids.”

Notice the “have coached” part of that statement, which meant, at least to me, that he was not coaching the bowl game.  That’s OK, too, because the sanctions under which he will have to work with are crippling enough. He needs to recruit for Baylor and someone else needs to keep the current Temple recruiting class together (maybe Francis Brown).

I wrote Matt an old-fashioned handwritten letter upon returning home from work and placed it in the neighborhood mailbox after working out at the gym. I hope he gets it:

Dear Matt,

Thank you for giving me last Saturday, the very best of many great days I have spent as a Temple football fan over the last 40 or so years. Thank you for the way you and your wonderful players represented this terrific university and I wish you and your family many similar joyous days like Saturday in the not-too-distant future.

Good Luck,

Mike Gibson

That deals with the departure part of it, and now we get to the arrival area. To me, the university needs to no longer roll the dice with the hiring of an assistant coach. Being an assistant is not the same as being a head coach. It is a totally different job. You can be a great assistant and a terrible head coach. The world is littered with such examples. UConn found that out the hard way by hiring the “hottest” assistant coach available in Bob Diaco and that hiring turned out to be a train wreck.

NO MORE ASSISTANT COACHES. I don’t care if they are hot assistants, cold assistants, lukewarm assistants. Temple University should hire a proven winning head coach who has done it for multiple years at the FBS level, preferably at Temple University.

Al Golden, who has won here as a HEAD COACH, knows how to win and recruit here, is available and the current tight ends coach with the Detroit Lions. Ask yourself if you would rather coach the tight ends at the Lions or be head coach at Temple. He was 32-25 as a head coach under brutal sanctions at Miami and got fired for not achieving unrealistic expectations. He, above all other people, knows the grass is not always greener on the other side of the 10th and Diamond fence. If Golden can make written assurances with an astronomical buyout that guarantees a longer second stay, he is, as Bill Bradshaw wrote on that yellow legal pad in 2005: “Our guy.”

Thursday: Finished Business

The Wrong 6-6 ACC Team

This is the ceremony we stayed for despite being told to leave for the bus right after the game. Me and a fellow great Temple fan made alternate plans of Ubering it home if the bus left without us.

Obviously, the people who make the matchups on NCAA basketball Selection Sunday with an eye for storylines do not work on the NCAA football bowl side.

For years, the NCAA hoops people have been accused of pairing foes based on what would make a better story over legitimate seeding bracketing.

“I absolutely think that’s the case,” Temple head basketball coach Fran Dunphy said after the Owls were slotted down a couple of notches from what they should have been (2010 season) in order to play No. 12-seeded Cornell, coached by his old assistant, Steve Donahue.

That wasn’t the only instance on the basketball side, all you have to do is look at this year when Shaka Smart’s Texas team was paired against his old team, VCU, and Sean Miller’s Arizona team was placed in the same bracket as Dayton, coached by his younger brother.

Boy, they could have used that formula on the football side this year because they got the wrong 6-6 ACC team to face Temple in the Military Bowl in Wake Forest. They swung and missed on this one.

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It was a no-brainer to invite Boston College and old Temple coach Steve Addazio to the Military Bowl party. First of all, there is no love lost among the current Temple players for Addazio. Haason Reddick was not even allowed to take reps in practice under the Addazio regime. He will now be a first-round NFL draft pick or at worst a second-round selection.

The sight of that bald head on the other side of the Temple sideline probably would be enough to motivate even more Temple fans to go because there is also no love lost for a guy who was full of baloney the two years he was here. Addazio said Temple was his “dream job” and talked about how he wanted to stay in Philadelphia forever because he was an Italian guy who loved the South Philly macaroni. He never saw his third year and did the Owls a favor by leaving and taking his three-yards-and-a-cloud of dust offense with him. As soon as he got to the podium in Boston, he talked about BC being his dream job. A Delaware County Daily Times’ writer then came up with this clever line: “A football coach calling Boston College his dream job is a little like a chef calling  Boston Market his dream job.”

Instead of being sent to Annapolis on Dec. 27, Boston College was banished to Detroit to face Maryland the day earlier.

That’s too bad because the more compelling storyline is with a BC-Temple game and not a Temple-Wake Forest one. The ratings would have been off the charts because two large TV markets (Philadelphia and Boston) would be involved and not just Philadelphia and the small Raleigh-Durham market. Plus, there is a history between BC and Temple that dates even before the Big East. There is no history between Wake and Temple, other than one game played in 1930 that probably no one remembers. There also is a history between Wake and former ACC partner Maryland, so that’s a trade that benefits all four ball clubs.

It’s probably too late to send Wake Forest to Detroit to face Maryland, but it is a nice thought. While we’re at it, here is another one: Football should adopt the basketball version of the “eye test” because, if that were used, Temple’s wins over Navy and USF plus the championship of the sixth-best conference would have vaulted the Owls into the Cotton Bowl over a Western Michigan team that has no such credentials.

As far as Selection Sundays go, in at least a couple of important areas, football has a lot to learn from basketball.

Thursday: Elephant Hunting

Saturday: It Could Have Been Worse

Monday: The Clawson Cutoff

 

There Are No Words

The morning after arguably the greatest win in Temple football history, there are no words.

Literally no words are coming out of my mouth, at least in the sense of being able to talk this morning.

The throaty and hoarse condition is more than OK because it was the result of cheering for the Owls at beautiful Navy-Marine Corps Stadium as they captured what really is their first-ever major football championship. The 1967 MAC title was admirable, but that was a day when the school played to a level of football that was beneath their status even then as one of America’s great public universities.

So this was it.

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Walking out of the stadium and into the concourse, I let out a very loud primal: “THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT!!”

Fortunately, I got a few high fives and smiles from my fellow Temple fans and not fitted for a straightjacket. It also put the voice out for 24 hours, maybe more.

When it comes to Temple football today at least, you cannot think in terms of a national championship—the deck is stacked against G5 teams in an unfair system—so what happened yesterday was the pinnacle of Temple football success. Thousands of Temple fans, easily in excess of 10,000 Temple fans, made Navy’s 14-game home winning streak a moot point by turning that stadium into a Temple home field advantage and to get to that mountaintop and look down from it is incredibly satisfying.

Hey, it’s a pretty spectacular pinnacle. The only thing that would have made it better was a G5 slot in a New Year’s Six bowl against Penn State, but that’s not happening for a number of reasons that are not important today. (Objectively, would you take a team for the Cotton Bowl that has won seven straight against this schedule and beat a Navy team, 34-10, over a Western Michigan team that struggled to beat a four-loss Ohio team? I would but I don’t expect the bowl committee to be that objective. I can also grudingly see the WMU argument.)

What is important is that the Owls have gone from being a perennial Bottom 10 team and laughed at nationally to being ranked in the Top 25 for two straight years and going to a title game one year and winning it the next. When you think of the success P.J. Walker and Jahad Thomas have had here, there is a Twilight Zone quality to the parallel between this success and their success at Elizabeth (N.J.). In their freshman year at Elizabeth, they won one game; in their freshman year at Temple they won two games. In their sophomore year at both schools, they won six games. In their junior year at both schools, they reached the title game and lost and, in their senior year at both schools, they lifted the ultimate hardware together.

Truly amazing and I will miss both of those guys.

Back on Cherry and White Day, I wrote that this team will be better than last year’s team while people on other websites—notably, Rutgers and Penn State fan boards—insisted that Temple would take a step back. I was consistent in my belief that this was the STEP FORWARD year, not the step back one, and that belief was rooted in knowledge that both the defense and offense were significantly upgraded despite graduation losses. Only a Temple fan who follows the team closely would know that, not the know-it-alls who make assumptions on subjects they have no idea what they are talking about.

Today at noon, the Owls will know where they will go for a bowl game. They can finish the season in the top 25 and set the record for most wins in Temple football history.

It won’t be the cake because we saw that yesterday, but it will be the Cherry on top of that white cake and it will be delicious even going down past what promises to be a future sore throat.

Tuesday: The Bowl Game

Game Day: Thanksgiving Plus 10

 

A lot of you experienced your Thanksgiving Day nine days ago.

Mine is today.

When you live long enough to see your brother, then father, then mother, pass on  all in a period of four years and realize that there is no place to go on Thanksgiving anymore, the feeling of loneliness can be overwhelming on that day.

That’s why I am thankful for my Temple football family and today’s championship game, no matter what the result, will be the best Thanksgiving Day ever.

I’ve always been at least a small part of the Temple football family and decided to step up to the plate a little over 10 years ago and give it a voice on the internet when the program was threatened by a short-sighted President. Over those years, it was a dirt poor family, then worked its way up to the middle class and now is on the verge of riches—all because of good, old-fashioned American hard work and upward mobility.

If the Owls win today (noon, ABC), they will have done it by beating a worthy foe and the trophy will be well-earned.

Temple would not have it any other way.

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The Temple football story is a great story because the Owls have been pushing that rock uphill in a BCS environment that is set up to reward the rich P5 schools and keep the G5 schools in “their place.” That’s why you see the same schools in the Top 25 just about every year.

If the Owls win today, they will finish the regular season in the Top 25 and might or might not be headed to the Cotton Bowl. Either way, a win will almost assuredly put them in a sweet bowl and assure another wonderful Thanksgiving with this beautiful family of friends, fans, players and coaches. Hoisting that trophy will be something no other Temple team can boast about.

There are a couple of things pointing to this victory. The Owls were just as impressive against SMU and East Carolina as Navy was and Tulane and UConn, while very competitive with Navy, were outclassed by Temple. The Memphis result was at Memphis, while Navy had Memphis in Annapolis. The distractions about possibly losing their head coach, which existed in the week before last year’s game, do not exist this year.

Most of the tea leaves are coming up Temple. That could all change in the first quarter, though, if the Owls line up in a 4-3 defense, but learning from mistakes should be part of any process.

It all comes down to whether the Owls can handle the road environment and, from what I hear, this will be as much of a home game from a crowd standpoint for Temple as it will be for Navy.

It should be a great trip for Owl fans and, if they bring the noise, a better ride home for a family that deserves a feast.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow: Game Analysis

 

Playing Possum?

Temple TV maps out road to the championship.

A possum plays dead when it wants to defend itself from predators and, in at least a couple of respects, the lead up to the AAC championship football game could be a case of the Temple football brain trust playing possum.

By extension, it also means to lay low to surprise the bad guys.

At least you’ve got to hope so.

Divulging an injury to P.J. Walker—err, walking around on a boot all week—could be a way of the Owls sending a signal to the Navy that their star quarterback will not play. I am not buying it. Walker will play and he will play at a high level. You heard it here first. I don’t think Ken Niumatalolo is preparing to play against Logan Marchi.

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                                                                        49 in Philly, but 54 in Annapolis. C’mon down and join us in the warmer weather.

The more concerning case of “possum playing” are the comments coming about defending Navy’s triple option. They indicate that the Owls have not learned anything, or at least much, from their season-opening experience against Army.

“It’s not the offense, it’s the players,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said in the Daily News today.

Err, Matt, it’s not the offense or even the players as much as it is the defense. Air Force proved that by taking care of the A gaps and putting a nose guard over the center. If Temple lines up in the same 4-3 it lined up on Opening Night, it will get carved up like a turkey. Navy had the same players against Air Force it will have against Temple and it scored 14 points on Air Force. Temple has better athletes on defense than Air Force.  It better not score more than, say, 24 against Temple.

SMU tried to play a 4-3 against Navy and allowed 75 points.  Of course, SMU’s players on defense are nowhere near as good as Temple’s or Air Force’s.

It will not matter if Temple attempts to defend the triple option the same way it did on Opening Night.

Hopefully, Rhule is playing possum here or Temple is in trouble. If so, I can understand where he is coming from. Even if Temple tries to put eight in the box, you do not expect Matt to say: “We screwed up in the opener. We’re going to put eight in the box and dare them to pass and disrupt their ass and hit their quarterback in the backfield.”  All Matt has to do is look at this Temple vs. Navy film from 2009, where the Owls tightened the A gaps and stopped a 10-win Navy team numerous times on third-and-short and fourth-and-short in a 27-24 win in Annapolis. That Temple team, and this year’s Air Force team, provided a blueprint for the Owls to win. Matt still has Al Golden’s phone number. I wonder if he has Mark D’Onofrio’s? The Navy team Temple beat that day was good enough to beat No. 21 Notre Dame (23-21) and lose to No. 6 Ohio State, 31-27.

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow also said something equally as concerning in the same article: “Any time you run the quarterback, you outnumber the defense in the running game.” No, Phil, you don’t. All 11 defenders are allowed to tackle. Not all 11 offensive players are allowed to run the ball. Send more than they can block and you can disrupt the running game at the point of attack. Sit back in a 4-3 and you are asking for the offense to dictate the tone and tempo of the game.

Praise Martin-Oguike joined in the possum playing (hopefully) with this comment: “When we played Army, we missed a lot of assignments.” Praise, you didn’t have the right assignments. Clogging up the middle against the fullback and stringing the option sideline to sideline can be done a lot better than in a 5-2 or “44 stack” than it can in the Owls’ base 4-3. Hopefully, the Owls put this in against Navy this week in practice.

Playing possum or history repeating itself?

I sure hope it’s the former.

Actually, praying.

Saturday: Thanksgiving +10

Sunday: Championship Game Analysis

Mixing Things Up

Take the scenic route through Delaware and avoid most of I-95 hassles.

Take the scenic route through Delaware and avoid most of I-95 hassles.

While the notion about tackles in the A gaps and a nose guard over the center as the secret formula to beat Navy has been proven to work by Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, there is a strong conviction that a pretty good coach on the other side of the field has been breaking down Temple game film for the past couple of days.

Ken Niumatalolo has worked wonders at The Naval Academy since another great head coach, Paul Johnson, took his triple option to Georgia Tech.

Comparative scores indicate a close game.

Comparative scores indicate a close game, although the TU-USF score is a typo (real score was 46-30, not 20).

You do not overcome severe academic—getting into the Academy is like getting into an Ivy League school—and athletic (post-academy military commitment) without using your head for something other than a hat rack.

When he breaks down Temple game film, Niumatalolo probably sees a team that will attempt to establish the run and throw off play action. He will probably attempt to counter that by stacking the box himself and forcing the Owls to throw first and try to establish the run later. The way to counter an over-aggressive defense is to take advantage of their aggressiveness. That’s why it is important that the Owls mix things up and they can do that with these five plays they have not shown so far. Some people call them trick plays; I call them innovative ones and, if the Owls hit on just one, none of these plays will be wasted.  While I would not recommend the onsides’ kick (hey, it worked against Cincy last year), these are five plays that come with the TFF Navy Seal of Approval:

The Double Reverse

The Owls have tried the single reverse with Adonis Jennings at Tulane. That’s part of the film Niumatalolo has seen and is ready for; he has not seen the double reverse and Jennings handing it off to Isaiah Wright coming around from the other side should open up the field against an over-pursuing Navy defense.  That will set up the next play, somewhat later in the game.

The Double Reverse Pass

Virtually the same play worked four years ago for the Owls at SMU four years ago, where former Big 33 quarterback Jalen Fitzpatrick threw an 85-yard touchdown to Robby (then Robbie) Anderson off a reverse. We’ve been told Wright can throw an accurate pass between 60 and 85 yards in the air. We know that. Niumatalolo does not. That could catch Navy with their pants down.

The Shovel Pass

The beauty of this play is that it not only creates space for a guy like Jahad Thomas but, if it fails, it’s an incomplete pass and not a fumble. It’s like a delayed handoff except when P.J. Walker goes back to pass, he draws the rush to him and shovels a pass underhand forward to Thomas, who uses the newly created space to work his magic. The last time Temple used a shovel pass, it went for a touchdown from Chris Coyer to Matt Brown at Penn State (September 22, 2012). It is not on any recent Temple film and does not take a whole lot to put it into the playbook.

Throwback To The Tight End

A perfect play in the red zone offense that worked for a touchdown against USF a few weeks ago and Walker sells this play well, rolling out to his right and pumping a fake into one corner of the end zone (and drawing the defense to that side) before looking left to a wide open tight end. That tight end could be Thompson, who holds his block for a second and then releases. In that scenario, usually no one is assigned to cover him and that’s why he is always open.

Screen Pass to Jahad

This is a staple of the current offense, but an antidote to a defense that commits to stopping the run and the Owls should mix in a few of these every quarter.  No one is able to make defenders miss in the open field like Thomas and he is a weapon the Owls should use while they have him for a couple more games.

Thursday:  Temple-Navy Preview

Mandatory Military Training Film

Hopefully, Phil Snow is breaking down this game film frame by frame.

About a year ago, give or take a month, the slogan the team adopted for the 2016 Temple football season was Unfinished Business.

If not original, it was unmistakable in meaning.

The “Unfinished Business” was getting back to the championship game and winning it this time. In many ways, while the Navy game (high noon, Saturday) on the road is a challenging assignment, much of the heavy lifting already has been done. To even get this far again is a huge accomplishment and maybe the hardest part of the job.

Now the Owls have one more piece of business left to do and it involves a well-thought-out game plan that involves adopting some free military intelligence, courtesy of Air Force.

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Hopefully, they learned something from the first game of the season that they can apply to the penultimate game. The Owls have to know by now that “business as usual” will not help them finish their overall business. Matt Rhule hinted as much post-Army game when he said his coaching staff will have to review how they attack a triple option team and change things up. The manual says nose guard (hint, Averee Robinson), tackles in the A gaps (Michael Dogbe and Freddy Booth-Lloyd), and eight in the box to string out the option.

Send more defenders than the triple option can block and create havoc in the Navy backfield. There is a little risk involved in this process that puts all the pressure on defending the pass on three players—the two corners and safety Sean Chandler, but that’s a low-risk and high-reward process the Owls will have to adopt on Saturday. They have the athletes to defend the pass with three.

One thing the Owls do know is that sitting back in their base 4-3 defense against this type of offense is not going to work, no matter how many times you say “Temple TUFF” or “Unfinished Business.” Of course, the Owls will have to remain true to themselves on offense, by running the football with a mixture of play-action passing.

On defense, though, they cannot be as stubborn as they were on Opening Night.

To win this battle, they have to do their good diligence in military intelligence and all the intelligence they need has been supplied by another branch of the fighting forces, the Air Force.

Tuesday: 5 Plays That Will Work For Temple