The last time I saw Wayne Hardin in his official duty as Temple University head football coach we were both in a side interview room of the Andy Kerr Stadium in Hamilton, New York.
There was me, coach, and two other reporters, and it was there that he dropped his bombshell announcement that he was retiring from coaching at the all-too-young age of 55.
That came after a season-ending 24-17 loss to host Colgate, which gave the Owls a 4-6 record. It was only the third losing season for Hardin in his 13 years as head coach at Temple (he never had one in his five years at Navy), but this one stung a little bit more.
I was stunned, but it was a stunning afternoon.
“Why?” I said.
“Mediocrity is not my cup of tea,” he said.
I remembered that exchange late Thursday night after Temple’s 34-27 loss at Memphis because a 3-3 record is the definition of mediocrity.
I mentioned this quote to coach Hardin, who is now 90, two weeks ago when I caught up to him for a 45-minute talk prior to the SMU game. Since that Colgate day in 1982, I’ve spoken to him about 20 times, but the resignation day never came up.
Now, prior to SMU, it did.
There were some extenuating circumstances that day that made this loss more painful than some of the others. One, Colgate was then, as now, a 1-aa (FCS) team and Temple was then, as now, a FBS team. Two, and more importantly, Temple quarterback Tim Riordan completed a 31-yard pass in the corner of the end zone on the game’s last play. The Temple receiver—whose name escapes me—clearly caught the ball with both feet (you only need one) inbounds, but the home cooking got to the ref, who ruled it out. There was no replay in those days; otherwise Wayne might have been in a better post-game mood.
“The Monday after that game,” coach said two weeks ago, “the Colgate coach called me and asked if I was OK. He said, ‘You are not retiring because you lost to us?’ I said, no, I just thought it was time.”
Even though his sense of time came much earlier than other coaches who retire at ages considerably older than 55 years old. The conversation touched on a lot of topics but he told me not to quote him only on one subject and that was the proposed new stadium at Temple. He had an interesting take on it, and maybe someday he will be comfortable making it public.
Former Temple quarterback Joe Morelli accompanies coach Hardin to the games, even though Joe never played for him.
“Joe takes good care of me,” coach said.
I mentioned to Joe and coach how great it was that Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick, who never answers questions with more than one or two words, went into this long detailed answer about how Hardin’s coaching influenced his.
Hardin was thrilled many of his old Temple players get together before and after every game. “The fact that they have remained close all of these years is great,” he said. I then walked him over to where they were and he got to shake hands with many of them.
“God bless him,” former great Mark Bresani said. “In 30 years, if I’m still around, I will be here, too.”
That, and the fact that Temple won, 45-20, made it a very good day.
Ironically, while mediocrity was not Hardin’s cup of tea, it is the brand Temple is drinking now with a 3-3 record. Watching the Memphis game, I could not help but think that Hardin would have called a much better series after recovering a fumble on a kickoff at the 5. He would have probably pitched to Jahad Thomas because he always wanted to put the ball in the hands of his best player. If that did not work, he probably would have rolled P.J. Walker out a couple of times to give him a run/pass option on the goal line and create space for Temple receivers in the end zone.
There was a reason Temple had only three losing seasons in those 13 years and that reason was Wayne Hardin. Hopefully, he will keep coming to Temple games for as long as he is physically able to do so.
Tuesday: 5 Reasons Why You Roll Phillip Out