Coach Hardin’s Big Night

Wayne Hardin, Roger Staubach, Navy,

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There will be a program given out on Tuesday night at the brand new College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta listing the accomplishments of the latest class to be enshrined.

Next to one name should be the description “greatest college football head coach ever.” No, Pop Warner, Bear Bryant and Amos Alonzo Stagg are already enshrined, but if greatness in a head coach is getting the most out of the talent he had, Wayne Hardin is the greatest head coach ever, period, end of story. Tuesday’s event will be rebroadcast on ESPNU on Wednesday night.

Pure coach Hardin. After the 1962 win over Army, reporters asked him what was the turning point: "When we walked onto the field." Classic. Love it.

Pure coach Hardin. After the 1962 win over Army, reporters asked him what was the turning point: “When we walked out on the field.” Classic. Love it.

Hardin was the last guy to coach two schools to Top 20 national rankings and both of those schools, Temple and Navy, do not travel to that stratosphere often. At Navy, he had the Midshipmen ranked No. 2 in the country and playing No. 1 Texas in the 1964 Cotton Bowl. Think about that for a moment. Navy did not give football scholarships in those days—technically, it does not now, either—and required its players to serve five years in the military after graduation. On top of that, the academic requirements just to get into the Naval Academy were Ivy League level. Interestingly enough, Hardin played for Stagg, coached at a school where Warner coached (Temple) and was succeeded at Temple by a guy, current Arizona Cardinals‘ head coach Bruce Arians, who was an assistant to Bear Bryant.

Yet Hardin had Navy competing and winning at a big-time level and that’s the very definition of a great coach. Hardin left Navy to coach in a fledgling professional league, the Continental Football League, and led that team, the Philadelphia Bulldogs, to a championship in 1966. That team played their games in Temple Stadium, which led to a 13-year-association at Temple, where Hardin was 80-52-3, the only winning coach in that program’s history. These days there are 39 bowls. In those days, there were only 15 and Hardin had the Owls in one of them.

In the 1979 Garden State Bowl, Hardin’s coaching directly led to Temple’s 28-17 win over California of the then PAC-10. Hardin found out by grading the Cal film if he pulled his guards up the middle (instead of right or left), there was no one to block. He pulled the guards straight ahead and the back followed through and, before Cal knew it, Temple had a 21-0 lead. The Owls out-rushed the Golden Bears, 300-23, in that game—a more than 200-yard advantage.

On the other side of the ball, Hardin discovered that Cal quarterback Rich Campbell was taught if he did not see his first read, to throw blindly in the flat to the fullback. Hardin developed a two-man pass rush and had one guy (all-time leading tackler Steve Conjar) meet the fullback and eight others into coverage. There was nothing to read, except a lot of Cherry-colored jerseys.

That kind of coaching was the norm, not the exception, for Hardin both at Temple and Navy. Before an Army-Navy game, Army had a group of defensive backs who led the nation in interceptions and who got the politically incorrect nickname “Chinese Bandits.”  Hardin had the Navy helmets painted to read “Beat Army” … in Chinese. Navy routed Army that day.

Nothing describes great coaching better than stories like that and perhaps that’s why next to Wayne Hardin’s name in Tuesday’s night’s program should be the words “greatest college football coach ever.” Guys like Stagg, Warner and Bryant did it with a maximum of talent. Hardin got the most out of what talent he had and that should always remain the standard for evaluating coaches.


8 thoughts on “Coach Hardin’s Big Night

  1. Great piece Mike. If he had the resources the current coach has, there is no doubt that his teams would have been perennially in the top twenty. It was mush tougher to win back then because there was no scholarship limit prior to 1974 and was 120 thereafter, which enabled the better teams to stockpile kids to keep them away from opponents. He picked up the little things like if someone’s feet were at the wrong angle or a guy couldn’t go in a certain direction and then exploit it. Three times he almost beat PSU and lost simply because they had superior talent.

    • thanks, john. haven’t heard a “Hardin-like” game planning story about a Temple coach since Arians, who by 1986, was scheming and game-planning the pants off coaches. wish MR and company would have told us what they devised to stop Navy. I’m sure the coaches from Western Kentucky could. There’s no way … no way … you can convince me Western Kentucky has better talent than Temple.

      • Thanks for the great memories.

      • The one thing I believe Hardin’s staff did better than most was prepare a scouting report. his were at least 40-50 pages and covered almost everything about the next opponent. I always kidded that it told you when the opponent each player faced went to the bathroom. I was shocked when I saw one of Dickerson’s. It was barely ten pages and covered very little. It was no surprise to me that he was a disaster.

  2. I don’t think we had one for two games last year. On to the future, though. Reading the report and seeing a little of texas state vs. tulsa, I think MR has a pretty good handle on Tulsa’s team. Hope it shows up in our game plan. Would like to see us try to establish the run and pass off play action in addition to the 1- and empty-back looks we’ve shown in the past. this won”t be del. state but this won’t be navy, either.

  3. Getting to 4 wins now is essential. Given the fickle nature of football seasons and that Temple hasn’t “proved” much yet, can’t see more than 8 wins. But after Tulsa, anything could happen this year. Getting another 2 wins after Tulsa may be an adventure – hopefully not, but who knows. This season will tell a lot about where this program is headed, especially after last year. If these coaches can pull off a coupke upsets and get to 8 wins, things will be looking very cherry.

  4. That’s a “couple” upsets.

  5. Great piece. Hardin always had a surprise up his sleeve for many of his games.

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