Gone Too Soon

In a large way, Kee-Ayre Griffin started this football turnaround at Temple University.

After sending someone I did not know a congratulatory email for getting 28 highly-rated commits in his first month on the job, Al Golden shot back a reply.

“Thanks, Mike. It’s not over yet. We’re waiting on a guy from St. Peter’s who might be the best of the class. It’s between us, Maryland and Boston College. Wish us luck.
_Al”

Griffin, who died last week, was that guy and Golden got him. Getting Griffin started a Golden run where he’d win a handful of recruiting battles with Power 5 schools every year.
That’s how you recruit at Temple University. You get mostly two stars that you “coach up” to four stars, but you reach up and grab a few four-stars–like Griffin–in every class. Temple certainly departed from the ingredients of that mix  in the most recent class and we will not know if the resulting cake will be delicious or flat until four years down the line.

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Griffin did not turn out to be the Mega Star back all of the scouting services had him being, but he was more than a serviceable running back who found his niche after being switched over to the defensive side of the ball.

Before that happened, he had a key fumble in an overtime loss at Navy that never should have happened and a young head coach who did not know any better threw him under the bus afterward. With 17 seconds left and on fourth down deep in your own territory against a triple option team with no time outs, you punt the ball, plain and simple.

That’s Coaching 101.


That’s how you recruit
at Temple University.
You get mostly two stars
that you “coach up” to
four stars, but you reach
and grab a few
four-stars–like Griffin–in
every class

In 2009, I was walking down the corridor of the fourth floor of the team hotel, the Renaissance Marriott,  in Washington D.C. and saw Griffin, dressed in a Temple warmup, leaving about three hours before the Eagle Bank Bowl. Knowing the team had left a couple hours before, I said:
“Kee, what happened to you?”
“I got suspended.”
Not wanting to know what it was for, I just said:
“Sorry to hear that. We need you out there.”
“Thanks.”

After hopping on the D.C. Metro, the entire car broke out into a loud “Let’s Go Temple” rhythmic chant that lasted the entire ride to RFK Stadium. Thinking about the “regular” commuters hearing that, it was one of my proudest moments as a Temple fan. In the rear of the same car, I saw Griffin taking in the whole scene and smiling. Hell, I got pretty choked up watching this scene unfold.

In 2011, while playing for Steve Addazio, he had the most athletic interception I ever saw a Temple player make, diving by the sideline to intercept a Penn State pass. It would have won the game, but Mike Gerardi returned the favor three plays later and Penn State went on to win, 14-10. If not for that, Griffin’s play would have gone down with Sharif Finch’s interception as two game-changing plays in wins over Penn State, but it was not to be.

While he might have hung with the wrong crowd after Temple, the Kee-Ayre Griffin I knew was a good guy who loved the school and his teammates and made a huge impact at Temple. Two other teammates, Anthony Ferla and Adrian Robinson, also did not make it to their 30th birthday and that is the very definition of gone too soon. The arguments about Kee hanging with the wrong crowd should be for another day. He’s gone and his Temple family is grieving along with his blood relatives. The same can be said for Ferla and Robinson, who died under different circumstances.

All of them deserved to be remembered for the significant contributions they made to Temple.
Wednesday: Sustainability

Timing Is Everything

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Any Temple football fan since the days of the MAC knows that planning ahead can be a tricky thing.

You set aside the day for the home games and hope you can get to at least some of the nearby games.

You very rarely know more than a few weeks, sometimes a few days, what the exact kickoff times will be.

Such is life in the television-dominated world of college football these days.

Something different happened this season, though.

Temple fans now know the kickoff times and the days for many of the games and that can be a good thing.

Of course, the most important game time is the one on Sept. 2 at Notre Dame, perhaps the highest-profile remaining game on the TU sked until 2024. That game will start at 3:30 on NBC and probably be on in every bar and tavern in the country.

Three-thirty is perhaps the best time for a home Temple game and the Owls lucked out by hosting Villanova on 3:30 on Sept. 9. That game will not be on over-the-air television in Philadelphia, which is probably a good thing because that means there will be more fannies in the seats than usual. If the Owls don’t get at least 35,000 for this one it will be a major disappointment considering they drew 34,000 for the home opener against Army last year.

On Sept. 15, the Owls host UMass on ESPNU at 7 p.m. The less said about that game the better.

On September 21, the Owls travel to hot Tampa for a 7:30 (or 8) ESPN game. Probably best for them that game is not being played in the daytime.

Another time etched in zone is the revenge match against Army, high noon, on Oct. 21. That game will be on CBS Sports Network. Owls also host Navy in another revenge match (for them) on Nov. 2 on ESPN. That is either a 7:30 or 8 p.m. start.

The final known starting time is the Nov. 10 game at Cincinnati, 7 p.m., on ESPN2.

Still unknown are the times of games against Houston, East Carolina, UConn, UCF and Tulsa but winning the AAC championship certainly seems to have put the Owls in a position where a lot of their game times are already known.

You could not say the same thing this time last year.

The Lineup

Sept 2 @Notre Dame 3:30 NBC
Sept 9 Villanova 3:30 ESPN3
Sept 15 Umass 7:00 ESPNU
Sept 21 @USF 7:30/8 ESPN
Oct 21 @Army 12:00 CBSSN
Nov 2 Navy 7:30/8 ESPN
Nov 10 @Cincinnati 7:00 ESPN2
Houston @East Carolina Uconn UCF @ Tulsa TBD

Wednesday: Sweet Home Recruiting

Honesty Is The Best Policy

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With Temple football, the only thing “forever” is the fans, not the coaches or players.

When my mother was alive and I was in my more formative years, she used to repeat two phrases over and over to me which were not original, but at least profound.

“Honesty is the best policy.”

“If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

Temple first-year head coach Geoff Collins’ mom must have said the same thing when he was growing up because, in the six months or so he’s been on the job, he’s been both honest and nice. I haven’t heard him say a negative word about anyone and he’s seemed to avoid the proclamations of loyalty to Temple that got past coaches criticism for hypocrisy, let alone lack of honesty.

I guess Temple fans should be thankful for that much, but the questions about what impact this will have on recruiting have yet to be answered.

Maybe that’s what Collins was thinking back in December when he answered the best question of the introductory press conference this way:

“I’ll tell them I concentrate on the here and now.”

rhuledenial

In true Jeopardy fashion, we will now give you the  question was posed by Temple-made 920 The Jersey sports talk show host Zach Gelb.

“Can you honestly tell kids you are recruiting you will be here when they graduate?”

It has been part of the sidebar of this website to print what I determine to be the best quotes about the program on the sidebar and I have included two quotes from in the past from former Temple coaches.

One, was this one from Matt Rhule:

rhulelast

That was last year after Rhule signed his second five-year contract.

Another was from Al Golden on the day he was hired. “I’m going to build a house of brick, not straw.”

While Rhule didn’t keep his promise of a year ago, Golden pretty much kept his made over a decade ago. Golden built the program the right way, recruiting a highly-rated (compared to league foes) class every year and making sure the program sustained itself by redshirting a large group of players in order to build depth down the line.

He left after five years, owing Temple nothing, making no promises he would be here for the long haul.

Rhule left the program in good shape, too, yet a lot of fans wished he had been more honest.

If you want honest, you’ve got him in Collins. While it might be nice for recruiting purposes for Collins to say he wants to be “The Guy” who wants to stay and build something more substantial than Golden or Rhule did, honesty certainly is the best policy.

His Mom should be proud.

Monday: Outside Perceptions about the 2017 Owls

Learning From Wake Between Now and C&W Day

It was hard watching in person but even harder watching on TV but a necessary exercise.

In between riding as a passenger on a helicopter and making up catchy slogans to give to a newly minted graphics coordinator, hopefully new Temple football head coach Geoff Collins found time to break down some film in the E-O’s spacious viewing room.

Specifically, the film of the one Temple game in 2016 that Collins saw in person, the Military Bowl against Wake Forest, because, as horror films go, it’s right up there with Poltergeist as scary TV-watching.

NCAA Football: Military Bowl-Temple vs Wake Forest

                   Temple football must resolve not to let the season end like this again.

Over the last month or so, I eschewed some Temple basketball watching (ECU, for instance) to fast-forward past the commercials on my DVR and watch the Wake Forest game tape. The results pretty much confirmed what I saw with my own eyes: It was a poorly coached game from a poorly prepared staff that was too preoccupied with Baylor recruiting to devote their full time to the kids who needed them.

Eight days of missing defensive practices led to some gaping missed assignments (specifically the tight end) and those assignments probably would have been installed into the game plan by, say, the fourth missed practice. As a result, Owls found themselves down, 31-10, and that was too big a hole against any Power 5 team.

me

“I thought you had him?” “No, we never went over that in practice because only the offense practiced that day.”

Looking at the film, though, and the camera doesn’t lie when it showed the offensive line being beaten up by a pretty good Demon Deacon defense.  If Collins needs to work on anything this spring leading up to the Cherry and White game (which should at Horvath Field, but will be at the E-O), it’s instilling a toughness in the returning offensive line members.

In all fairness, that could be a talent problem and not something that can be solved in a couple of months. It also explained why Collins is going hard after Georgia Tech grad transfer Trey Klock to replace NFL first-round pick Dion Dawkins but the alarming physical beating of the Owls’ OL that night has to raise some eyebrows.

Ed Foley brought much of that upon himself by running to the right side on 14 of the 15 running plays, perhaps forgetting that he had a first-round NFL draft pick at LEFT tackle and perhaps the best blocking fullback in the country to overload one side.

Still, it was hard seeing the Owls’ line beat up, even if it was only on one side. They will need both sides this fall and that’s a fix that should begin now and probably the biggest learning curve the Owls between now and then.

If the Owls master this lesson, they won’t have to watch as another team celebrates the end of their season again.

Wednesday: Geoff Collins’ Best Job

An Open Letter To Coach Collins

belltower

Dear Coach Collins,

Welcome to Philadelphia and I hope your stay here is both long and successful, although recent coaching stays have been partly successful and not as long as the fans have wanted.

Temple University is a great institution with a special mission and that mission has been so important to a lot of great coaches that they have considered it an honor and a privilege to make it a last stop on the way to Hall of Fame careers. As a favor to yourself, while you still can, please sit down and discuss why with football’s Wayne Hardin, basketball’s John Chaney and Fran Dunphy and 1,000-plus win baseball winner Skip Wilson. You will certainly do both yourself and the university a favor if you do. Start telling recruits you will be here four years from now when they graduate and leave the obscure answers for coaches recruiting against you. Plan to attend the alumni tailgate at the bowl game. Since you will not be coaching, stop by and have a brewski or two in front of the largest two tents of Temple fans ever assembled in the history of the school. That’s some damn good networking right there.  Once back on campus, get to know and love The Bell Tower. It is to us what the Golden Dome is to the Fighting Irish.

Oh, by the way, that’s who we open the season with next year.

Also, keep Matt Rhule’s number on the rolodex and in your contacts and consult with him whenever you have a question about the current personnel. Leave the upward mobility discussions for coaches Chaney and Hardin, though.

The Roster

What Matt Rhule is likely to tell you is this: Although this roster is suffering significant losses, specifically a four-year starting quarterback in P.J. Walker, the program was built with an eye on staying him here a long time so there is sufficient talent in the cupboard to move forward. He did not burn redshirts, like his predecessor, so this is the guy who will likely be your quarterback for the next four years:

You’re welcome. Ask Trent Dilfer if he’d like to be your quarterback coach. If not, Adam DiMichele comes cheaper and would do just as good a job. Consider keeping good guy coaches and consummate professionals in Ed Foley (special teams) and George DeLeone (offensive line) to ease the transition.

The Running Game

While the Owls lose a great running back in Jahad Thomas, they still are deep and talented at that position with Ryquell Armstead, Jager Gardner and David Hood and have a Thomas-like threat coming up in four-star running back Tyliek Raynor.

 

Also, please keep the fullback in the offense because you have a great one returning in Nick Sharga. Watch this fullback:

 

The Case For the Defense

On defense, your strength next year is the line when single digit defensive end Jacob Martin becomes a starter, and medical redshirt Sharif Finch spends his sixth year here at the other defensive end. All Finch has done his entire time here is make plays like this one against a future NFL second-round pick:

newfinch

Finch has all the physical tools to become this year’s Haason Reddick. He’s going to have the spent the offseason continuing his rehab and putting up Reddick’s insane numbers in the weight room to set him up for the big payday ahead. The interior of the defensive line is in good hands with Karamo Dioubate,  Michael Dogbe, Greg Webb and Freddy Booth-Lloyd.

With that in mind, and with three starting linebackers departing, please consider revamping the defense and going from a passive 4-3 to an aggressive 5-2. Those five guys can cause a lot of havoc—or mayhem—and you will only need to replace two linebackers, not three. One of the starters should be Jarred Folks but, in a pinch, just know that your starting fullback, the shots fired guy, is a great linebacker as well.

Defensive backs should be in good hands as Artrel Foster (16) returns to start at one corner with four-star recruit Kareem Ali. Jr. at the other corner and Delvon Randall and playmaker Sean “Champ” Chandler at the safety positions. Ali really is the greatest because he’s literally Temple Made as he was conceived at Temple by two great athletes, his mom on the track team and his dad on the football team at the time.

Here’s The Kickers

Welcome to a place where there is an abundance of riches at the kicking position. Austin Jones, who will be a true junior in 2017, had a nation-best 17 field goals in a row before being taken out on a dirty hit at Memphis. He was replaced by a true freshman, Aaron “Boom Boom” Boumerhi, who had a good-enough half year to be named second-team All-AAC kicker. This is a good problem to have. Suggestion: Since Jones has not had a redshirt year, redshirt him in 2017, then redshirt Boumerhi in 2018 and have these guys hang around an extra year or two to get their Masters’ degrees. Or, better yet, PHDS.

Good Luck and see you at the tent one week from today.

Mike Gibson

Editor and Publisher

Temple Football Forever

Thursday: Eye on The Prize

 

Tell Me There’s a Chance

This is pretty much how I feel about the Cotton Bowl right now.

There’s a scene in the 2004 movie “Dumb and Dumber” where Jim Carrey asks a pretty girl to level straight with him and tell him if a guy like him and a girl like her can ever get together.

“Not good,” she says.

“Not good, like one out of a hundred?”

“I’d say, more like one in a million.”

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”

That’s kind of how I feel about Temple football’s chances of securing the G5 slot in the NY6 today.

tulaneweather

                                                It will be 70 in Philly on Saturday, but only 63 and windy in The Big Easy.

It’s a chance, not one in a million, but maybe one in 200 or 300, and that’s what I’m going to want to achieve first. We’re going to have to talk about “settling” later, but I’m not one of those people who say “don’t look past Tulane.” I’m looking past Tulane because the job of the kids and the coaches is not to look past Tulane.

Look past Tulane, and there’s East Carolina, the same ECU team that lost at home, 55-31, to SMU. That was the same SMU team that got smoked by Temple, 45-20 (and the Owls led, 35-0, at the half). So, yeah, I’m looking past ECU because it’s the kids’ job and the coaches’ job not to look past ECU and I am pretty confident that they are  as laser-focused on doing that job that they were on the Unfinished Business trip to New Orleans.

That brings us to the AAC title game against a more beatable foe, where it’s Navy or Tulsa, than the Houston team the Owls had to face a year ago.

Win there, and even then the Owls will need help but if Western Michigan or San Diego State falter, which is possible (look at the MAC championship game upsets over the last decade or so), and the Owls’ seven-game winning streak in essentially a Power 6 league, is as strong an argument for a high ranking as any other G5 team.

That would put the Owls in an extremely attractive bowl, the Cotton, against a marquee opponent. One of the possible opponents is LSU, another is Penn State. Since PSU-Temple will not be on the schedule for a long, long time (possibly ever), I vote for that game as the best-case end to the Temple season. (For those of you who say they try to avoid regular-season rematches in bowl games, Temple-Army is one of the projected games by a major news website so you can have that rematch, I want this one.)

While a game against someone like Wake Forest in Annapolis or Georgia in Birmingham is more likely and not all that unappealing, as long as there’s a chance to get a date the best-looking girl in the room, that’s what I’m going for now. That would give the Owls a league title, a top 25 ranking, and a chance to end the Penn State series with a win if that’s how the game falls.

That’s a pretty smoking-hot date.

Just do not give me Rosie O’Donnell (a MAC team) or Amy Schumer (a CUSA team) when you are telling me there’s a shot at Jessica Alba (NY6).

One in a million maybe not, but as long as there is a chance we can float that out there as a nice dream scenario. OK, now back to thinking about Tulane.

Friday: Trap Game My Butt

The Path Forward

Thanks to Paul Palmer for the audio file and Ricky Swalm for the YouTube work.

For someone who never used a drug harder than an occasional Coors Light and never understood the power of drugs or addiction, I’ve been overdosing on a couple of things over the last 48 hours.

Strawberry (I call them Cherry) Twizzlers and the 32-second drive.

I can’t get enough, eating the Twizzlers and snorting the video below. There are a couple of things worth noting in the video, the smarts and sheer courage of Ventell Bryant in both getting out of bounds and getting up and staggering to the line of scrimmage before the final play and the presence of mind of his teammates to get him lined up. If Bryant stays down, a 10-second runoff happens and the Owls lose. Also, P.J. Walker made four great throws and the last one under a significant amount of duress and, of course, the Keith Kirkwood great catch. Also, Anthony Russo’s participation in the celebration is noteworthy. One whiff of any of those things creates a significant high combined with the munchie Twizzlers.

My addiction, though, is harmless. If the team and the coaches have not moved on from Saturday night’s high, going to rehab will be a necessary trip on the way to a six-win season. What the victory on Saturday purchased in currency was very valuable, their own destiny, with regard to an American Athletic Conference championship and a possible double-digit-win season. They need not rely on anyone else but themselves to win the title. If they had lost, they would have needed help.

That cannot be understated because of what is ahead of them in the very next game.

South Florida will come into Lincoln Financial Field on Friday not only as the preseason favorite to take the AAC East title, but as six-point favorites over the Owls. If the Owls can somehow make one more play than USF, like they did against UCF on Saturday night, the path to an AAC title opens as wide as a six-lane highway in rural Montana. USF is the toughest game left and the teams after USF, like Cincinnati and UConn, have serious flaws than USF doesn’t have. If the Owls can somehow win out—and there are only five games left—they will LIKELY host the AAC title game in Philadelphia. (West contenders Houston, Navy and Memphis could not each other out of hosting the game.)

Houston, which was ceded the title by most a few weeks ago, does not seem so unbeatable anymore. Navy beat the Cougars two weeks ago and Tulsa—a team that struggled against SMU—probably should have beaten them on Saturday night.

The Owls’ defense appears to be coming around, shutting out a UCF offense over the last two quarters (19-0) that scored 47 on ECU.

Anything is possible if the Owls focus on Friday and stay away from the munchies and that anything might be a championship.

Thursday: Game Preview

Saturday: Game Analysis