The Gold Standard: Wayne Hardin

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Steve Conjar talks to Wayne Hardin with my elbow and Mark Bresani’s back not being far away.

A few years ago, Eagles’ owner Jeffery Lurie stepped into some deep dog poop when he said his team was “the Gold Standard” of the NFL. “When I’m talking to other owners or other GMs in the league, we’re kind of the gold standard,” Lurie said on Aug. 8, 2003.

Hmm.

That was a year BEFORE an Eagles’ team he was owner of appeared in the Super Bowl.

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Bill Belichick sent this note to coach Hardin with the game ball from Super Bowl 49.

Since the Eagles had not won the Super Bowl yet, that got some fans to thinking that there was some higher standard, like Platinum or Uranium.

The Eagles are claiming they are something they never were, or what the New England Patriots are right now.

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That’s why it was fitting that the real gold standard of the NFL coaches, maybe forever (sorry, Vince Lombardi), took time out of his precious summer vacation on Friday to say a few nice words at The Union League about someone most of us knew and loved, Wayne Hardin. (Owls’ TV really needs to put that celebration of life on YouTube so that it can reach a much wider audience.)

As much as Bill Belichick is the Gold Standard of NFL head coaches, that what Temple was lucky enough to have in Wayne Hardin. Belichick studied Hardin closely as a kid, then more as an adult and took copious notes on how Hardin attacked opponents. When Belichick was an assistant coach with the New York Giants, he sat in the stands of the Garden State Bowl and marveled how Hardin attacked California in a 28-17 win.

Those who watch Belichick’s teams can see a lot of Hardin in Belichick and it is a beautiful living tribute to the greatest head coach in Temple history.

Hardin will forever be The Gold Standard as far as Temple head coaches are concerned. He was not only the most successful, but also the most loyal. Despite being the only coach to ever have Temple FINISH in the Top 20, he remained for 13 years.  Think about it: Two great schools, Navy and Temple, have only finished in the Top 20 under one head coach. Those were both schools that coaches have to overcome significant hardships to achieve. For Hardin at Navy, it was no scholarships and a five-year military commitment. For Hardin at Temple, it was moving from one level to another despite not having the facilities of the major Eastern powers he faced. There was also the issue of loyalty. How many future Temple coaches will turn down a higher paying job as a football coach in Texas to remain at Temple? Hardin did when Tom Landry offered him the offensive coordinator job with the Dallas Cowboys.

If Lurie wanted to see what a real Gold Standard was all about, living or passed, all he needed to do was venture out of his office and make his way a couple miles North up to the Union League on Friday.

Not surprisingly, Lurie–ironically from Boston–declined the educational experience. His loss, but he must be used to that four-letter word by now.

Wednesday: Beginner’s Luck

The Big Uglies Have A Lot to Prove

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Any team that utilizes a fullback like Nick Sharga has an extra blocker for the run game.

When you win a championship and have a group of guys who contributed much to that championship, the conventional thinking is that there is not much to prove.

For the Temple offensive line, though, there’s plenty.

You are only as good as your last game and, for the Owls, that wasn’t very good. True, much of what the offensive line did or did not do in a 34-26 loss to Wake Forest was due to an ill-advised offensive game plan. (The Owls ran a grand total of 16 running plays and 14 were to the right side. Meanwhile, on the left side, NFL second-rounder Dion Dawkins was holding up his hands and saying, “Hey, guys, I’m over here.”)

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When all is said and done, Matt Hennessy could have as good a career at center as Dick Beck (above), Alex Derenthal or Kyle Friend and that’s high praise indeed.

Still, would have liked to watch Jahad Thomas put his hand on Nick Sharga’s back as Sharga wiped out any Wake defender lead blocker Dawkins was not able to mow down.

That’s water under the bridge now, though.

At that point you did not wonder why Ed Foley went 7-15 sandwiched between two of the most successful head coaches in Fordham history, one the guy, Dave Clawson, who coached the pants off him that night.

Still, the right side of the line getting dominated by Wake physically has to be the biggest concern going into the season.

The only key departures are Dawkins and center Brendan McGowan.

The starting lineup, like with quarterbacks, is a work in progress but it appears that redshirt freshman Matt Hennessy is a future star at center and Leon Johnson will be a fixture at tackle.  I had one ex-Temple offensive lineman tell me that Hennessy already reminds him of Dick Beck in the way he played and said that he is the Owls’ next great center.

Brian Carter, who started the 2014 game against UCF at DEFENSIVE tackle, is in the mix for one of the guard spots and Cole Boozer, a redshirt senior, could be the other tackle depending upon whether head coach Geoff Collins is more comfortable with the more experienced Johnson at LT to protect, say, Logan Marchi’s blindside.

Collins set the spring as an opportunity for what he calls “position flexibility” so just about every offensive lineman can be counted on as a backup or starter at every other OL position. In addition to those just mentioned, Adrian Sullivan, a redshirt senior, is in the mix as well as redshirt sophomores Benson Israel and Jovahn Fair. Darian Bryant, a redshirt freshman from Chestnut Hill Academy, should see his first significant time. Another highly regarded recruit, Aaron Ruff, has been an enigma so far but could turn into a  factor down the line. There are others down the depth chart who may be above or below the line.

The bottom line is that the starters will be a pretty experienced group but there is work to be done filling in the backup spots.

Whatever happens, that last ugly game has to be washed out of the Big Uglies’ mouths and the sooner the better.

Monday: The Gold Standard

Wednesday: Beginner’s Luck

Friday: 5 Training Camp Questions

Media Day: Sign Season Not Far Away

When I used to vacation in the Poconos, there was no more significant sign the summer was coming to an end than ads along the side of Route 209 promoting the West End Fair or the Carbon County Fair.

Since I wasn’t interested in county fairs but was very interested in an endless summer, those were always signs of trouble up ahead like, you know, the  end of vacations and the beginning of a long, cold winter.

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The last time TU was picked to finish third in the East, it won the division.

I always had Temple football to fall back on, which was nothing to write home about—or even blog about—during the Dark Ages of 1991 through 2005. Now, that’s much different.

College football’s way of telling you the summer is coming to an end are the various Media Days.

The American Athletic Conference held two of them the last two days so as one door closes another opens and it was the AAC’s way of telling you that before the long, cold, winter comes is some exciting football ahead.

Players on the way into the facility at Newport (R.I.) were greeted with the photo of the P6 helmet. The AAC likes to market itself as a P6 Conference. That’s a little silly. While it is the best of the rest, it is still a G5 Conference. What is the Power 5 to do? “Oh, yeah, that helmet reminds us that you are just as  good as us, so here is your invite to join us.” Not happening. As George Carlin says, “it’s a big club and you ain’t in it.”

Commissioner Mike Aresco inadvertently made news when he said that Temple and Miami have signed a home-and-home and Temple quickly denied that a contract had been signed. Temple needs to add more ACC schools to its schedule and Miami would be a nice addition with Duke and Boston College. Maybe Aresco misspoke; maybe he jumped the gun. Hopefully, Miami replaces Bucknell or Idaho.

Even Cincinnati, Temple, Houston and UConn—the four most likely future P5 schools—are stuck in this conference for a long time and they might as well make the most of it.

From Temple’s perspective, even after a championship, there is still a lot left to accomplish and those were basically the answers the players provided on Tuesday morning. There is a great opportunity to beat Notre Dame on Opening Day, and a chance to beat even a more hated rival the next week. There’s a chance to prove to the people picking South Florida and Navy to win the AAC that, not so fast, Temple is really the Gold Standard of this league.

Then there is the challenge of going to a bowl and winning one for a change, a reminder that all this could be accomplished before the real cold part of winter.

Friday: The Big Uglies

Monday: The Gold Standard

The Magnificent Obsession

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Recently, we’ve been accused of “obsessing” with the Notre Dame game.

I plead guilty of this so-called obsession, but I don’t think too much emphasis can be placed upon this one moment in Temple football history.

There are a few reasons:

  • It’s the next game and you take them one at a time. (We’ll probably obsess about Villanova the week before that game.)
  • Most people think Temple will “take a step back” this season. A win over ND would do a lot to debunk that notion.
  • Eyeballs. This game will be on the bar in every tavern in the country.
  • It’s a long walk through the scheduling desert to get to 2024 and that is the next “national” name opponent on the Temple schedule: Oklahoma. While there are some interesting regional opponents, like Boston College and Maryland and Rutgers, none hold the cache of Notre Dame or Oklahoma and probably none will for another seven years.
  • Seven years. That’s a long time. Does Pat Kraft strike you as a person who is seeking rid the Owls of the Bucknells and the Idahos and schedule more national games? I didn’t think so.
  • Nothing would give the Owls credibility with the Joe Philadelphia Subway Alumni fan as beating Notre Dame and this is likely their last shot to do so.

The Owls have done a lot since Al Golden took the job over a decade ago. They have soundly beaten an ACC team (Maryland) and a SEC team (Vanderbilt) and a Big 10 team (Penn State). They’ve been to two AAC title games, winning one. They have not beaten Notre Dame. Beating Notre Dame on NBC National television during the first week of the season and that’s the kind of promotion that money cannot buy—especially if Notre Dame goes on to have a decent season and beat Georgia the next week after losing to the Owls.

Win this one, and a lot of good can come out of it.

So, yeah, it’s a big game.

Obsessing over this game does not mean the other games are unimportant.

So consider this a Magnificent Obsession.

Wednesday: Owls at Media Day

Friday: The Big Uglies

The Mildcat Offense

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In a very strange way, Matt Rhule’s introduction of a wildcat offense a year ago might be a nice starting point for new head coach Geoff Collins.

While the biggest question going into the Notre Dame game could be who is going to start at quarterback, the prospect of Isaiah Wright coming out in the first series under center could probably throw off the Irish defense.

Last year, Wright ran a rather muffled version of the Wildcat offense for a couple of series each game. We’ll call it The Mildcat. When the very talented runner came in the game, you could bet that he would carry the ball.

If, though, Collins could jazz up the package with a pass or two–creating an equal threat and keeping the defense on its toes–that might work better for the Owls. People who watched in practice a year ago have related stories that Wright can throw the ball 65 plus yards on a dime.

Unfortunately, we’ve never seen that in a real game.

Maybe this year.

Maybe even on the first series.

One thing is certain: The Owls are going to have to find a way to get the ball into Wright’s hands, either as a slot receiver, running back or Wildcat quarterback. They have an abundance of good receivers, so creating some package which has him throwing the ball more often might make the offense harder to stop and give him more holes to dart through in the running game.

It could not hurt.

We’ve waited this long to find out who the starting quarterback will be. If Owl fans have to wait until the second series of the first game to find out the “true” starter, they would probably understand.

Monday: The Magnificent Obsession

Marketing Mayhem

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When Geoff Collins was defensive coordinator for Mississippi State, in his office was displayed an emoticon with a Philadelphia Phillies hat.

Other than the foretelling of his future geographical destination, the emoticon and the Minister of Mayhem are wedded in a couple of ways.

The Phillies, despite their recent cellar-dwelling habits, have done a nice job marketing themselves with things like Fireworks, dollar hot dog nights, ambiance and mascots.

Temple University would do well “borrowing” from that organization by marketing its new head football coach and his balls-to-the-wall system.

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Talk to any Temple fan and they will invariably tell you that the No. 1 way to market the team is to win.

The 2015 team did a fairly good job of that and delivered an opening-day crowd of 34,005 for the Army game. Then, despite our warnings to use the nine months the good Lord has given them to develop a defense designed to stop the triple option (eight men on the line, employ a nose guard with A gaps plugged on each side by tackles), Humpty Dumpty fell and all the marketing in the world could not put that fan base together again. All the Owls needed to do was take a half-hour a practice in the spring and the summer to go over the triple option defense. They could have still concentrated the rest of their time on the 4-3 and have been as prepared for the season as they needed to be. But, as John Belushi would say, nooooo. They had to do it their way. The Owls played their base 4-3 defense and the Army fullback kept getting chunks of yards through the A gaps. Even the North Texas State coaching staff figured that out by mid season and played an eight-man line in a 30-19 win at West Point. North Freaking Texas Freaking State.

The Owls got caught with their pants down and did nothing to force Army’s vertically challenged quarterback to beat them. The NTSU coaching staff figured out what any group of professionals would have against Army: load the box and make them beat with the pass.

Let’s hope Collins and his staff are studying any weaknesses of ND right now and adjusting the game plan.

So you need winning based off marketing to get a big crowd for Villanova and more winning to keep that crowd coming back again. Beating Notre Dame will beget a crowd of 35,000-plus for Villanova but to keep them, you have to hammer Villanova as well. A win over ND would wake up a lot of softcore Temple fans who grew up as ND subway alumni and are not quite as impressed with, say, an AAC title.

Anyone who walked out after the Army game last year heard plenty of “same old Temple” comments from fans they never saw again the rest of the season.

Nothing would market the Mayhem like a Mayhem-based win at Notre Dame. Sack, not just pressure, the quarterback, hit him in the mouth and come away with fumbles and interceptions and a win.

Then market the hell out of this form of football, call it new, and get the Joe Philadelphia fan–and especially the softcore Temple fan–onboard. Plaster the I95 and I76 with Mayhem signs inviting Eagles’ fans who cannot get into LFF to watch some exciting football.

Even the Phillies would be impressed with that kind of marketing.

Friday: The Mildcat

Monday: The Magnificent Obsession

Wednesday: Whereabouts

 

House Money

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One of the things you always here on sports talk radio is the phrase “the line is telling me something.”

While there might be sound fiscal reasons behind the phrase, there are a couple of things wrong with that reasoning.

Take the Temple football opener at Notre Dame for instance.

The game opened way back in February with the Irish as a 6.5 favorite. Even one of the Notre Dame websites had a headline we published here: “Irish open as ONLY a touchdown favorite over Temple.”

The horror.

It is now 15 points, mostly moved by a John Q. Public that sees the brand “Notre Dame” as good and “Temple” as bad. A century of mostly success on one hand, failure on the other, has set the perception in stone, although in the last decade the Owls have started to chip away at the rock. It’s a big rock and there’s more chipping to do.

That’s the first problem with what the line tells you.

The second is that the people in Vegas cannot know how good or bad either team can be.

Temple is coming off a 10-4 season, while Notre Dame is coming off a 4-8 one. Different schedules for sure, but one of the four losses Temple had was at the Big 10 champion by a touchdown in a game where the Owls had 120 yards in penalties. While many of those yards were self-inflicted, a good number of them were the result of very bad calls—the replay showed Dion Dawkins clearly blocking from the side (legal) on a touchdown pass to Marshall Ellick, a play that was called back due to a block in the back (illegal). Unfortunately, holding calls are not reviewable or the Owls might be the only G5 champion with a win over a P5 champion last year.

That would have done a lot to change the perceptions of the bettors for this game.

Vegas does not know how, say, for sake of argument Anthony Russo or Logan Marchi are because they never took bets on Archbishop Wood or St. Paul’s (Conn.).

Vegas does not know what Collins’ famed “Mayhem” defense will look like.

They could find out on Sept. 2. (In all fairness, either way.)

That’s why another betting phrase comes to mind first when thinking about how the Owls play in this one.

House Money.

Notre Dame has more to lose and will play tighter than Temple, which will take this loosey goosey attitude into the game. Whether that leads to more fumbles and interceptions going Temple’s way is yet to be determined but that’s one thing the line cannot tell you today.

So, right now, 53 days before the game, no matter how loud that line yells in your ear, the best policy is not to listen.

Wednesday: Marketing Mayhem