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

 

ECU: Throttle The Known

This was Zay Jones versus Temple last season.

A couple of great Temple coaches have shown at least there are two ways to build a respected program.

John Chaney did it in basketball by playing the best non-conference opposition and paying particular attention to stopping the player or thing that makes the opponent formidable. Matt Rhule has done it with a slightly less challenging schedule and not so much of a focus on the foe but on the “process” and not worry all that much about what the bad guys are doing.

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Both have worked pretty much, but the Owls would be wise to take a page from old Doylestown Intelligencer colleague Steve Wattenberg’s terrific “Winning Is an Attitude” book about Chaney in preparation for an all-important game on Saturday night (7:30, don’t worry about TV, just be there) with visiting East Carolina. In that book, Chaney said the key to the Owls’ success was defensive preparation and “stopping the known over the unknown.” By that, Chaney meant studying what the opponent does well by taking that away and mixing in accentuating what you do well. Chaney would concentrate on taking away the opponent’s top threat and challenge lesser threats to beat him. On his side, he would yell at players who took shots when people like Eddie Jones, Rick Brunson and Aaron McKie (among others) could have had better ones.

That was a formula that took Temple to the top of the basketball world.

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It is a philosophy Rhule would be wise to adopt against ECU on Saturday. East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones is good enough to hurt the Owls, but he won’t do it if the Owls’ can cover him with a corner and rotate safety Sean Chandler to his side of the field for help coverage.  That’s the known. If the Owls are going to get hurt, they should take away the known and challenge the unknown to beat them. If the unknown was any good, that guy would be talked about as a future NFL staple. Other than Jones, no such player exists on the Pirates’ squad.

If Temple football has had an Achilles’ heel over the last three or four years, it has been the occasional lapse in preparation as shown in this year’s loss to Army and other losses in the past.

The Owls had eight months to prepare for the triple option and came up with a defensive game plan that defied common sense, let alone football sense.

Sometime common sense in the best currency and that will be the case on Saturday night. Jones is the all-time Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) leader in receptions with 392. The old mark of 387 was set by former ECU standout Justin Hardy, now with the Atlanta Falcons. This season he has 151 receptions for 1,685 yards and eight touchdowns. With four more catches, he will tie the FBS single-season mark set by Freddie Barnes. You do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the Pirates will try to get Jones going early. By rotating Chandler—who himself has terrific ball skills—over to help, the Owls might be able to come up with a pick six or two.

Sometimes, the “process” includes being able to borrow from other successful processes and the one the Owls should pilfer this week is from a guy who is a part of their own Acres of Diamonds.

Sunday: Game Analysis

… and now for a word from Fizz …

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... Dave “Fizzy” Weinraub’s views here could be considered contrary or constructive criticism … I will let you decide in the comments below ...

By: Dave (Fizzy) Weinraub

Two shutouts in a row, a five game winning streak, more talent than almost everyone we play, bowl game and conference championship possibilities, that’s not too shabby, right?  The program is in great shape, so what’s to bitch about?

I’ll tell you what; it’s the play-calling in the first half.

Most every week before the game, Coach Rhule announces our game plan to the world.  The plan is usually the same, we’re going to run the football and keep the other team’s offense off the field.  (Even if we are going to do that, I sure as hell wouldn’t tell everyone else.)  Of course, the opposing coaches then design their first and second down defenses to stop the run.  Tulane certainly did that.  Led by number 77 (Smart), Tulane gapped and run-blitzed the stuffing out of the Owls, and rendered our run game mostly ineffective in the first half.  It ended at 10 – 0, and woulda, coulda, shoulda, been at least 24 – 0.

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Until nearly the end of the first half we ran the ball on practically every first down, and usually on second down too.  This puts tremendous pressure on Phillip Walker and our receivers, as they always seemed to be facing third and long.  Of course, the defense then dials up some blitzes to put the heat on.

Walker and the receivers, especially Ventell Bryant, were phenomenal.  Walker’s passes were mostly crisp and accurate, and our receivers seem to be gaining more confidence in each game.  With Tulane playing man-to-man, it was obvious from the get-go, they couldn’t cover our guys.

Well, what was obvious to me, wasn’t obvious to Glenn Thomas and Matt Rhule.  Sure, it ended up as a romp, but we didn’t know that in the first half.  Twice, on first and twenty, we ran the ball on both first and second downs.  At first and goal, three times, we ran the ball on first and second downs.  When we lined up in I formation, I thought for sure they were going to run the play-action to our outstanding Nick Sharga in the flat. No dice!  Speaking of play-action against a man-to-man pass coverage, OMG, how successful would that have been on first down?

All of the above may not seem important after a blow-out, but it is.  In the three losses this year, all woulda, coulda, shouldas, it seems our coaches stubbornly stuck to the game plan until it was too late.  More imaginative and flexible play calls, might have staved off those losses.  But now, if we’re to win a championship and a bowl game against very good teams, we’re not going to have the luxury of out-manning our opponents in the second half.  We have to be nimble and strike quickly.  If we waste opportunities against good teams, we will lose.

In closing, I’d like to congratulate Phil Snow on putting together an exceptional defense.  However, a word of caution.  We couldn’t  stop Army’s triple-option, and Navy runs it better.  If we get to play Navy, I’d like to suggest he get together with Wayne Hardin.  At our tailgate after a loss to Navy years ago, Coach Hardin, drew up his plan on how to stop it.  If we can’t, we’d better score a lot of points.

Tomorrow: The Seniors

Trap Game My Butt

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                                                                              This book could be written about only one Temple team and it is this one if it is able to avoid traps.

There are very few things that cause me to shake my head on social media these days—heck, we’ve all just come out on the other side of a bizarre Presidential election process–but one of them was the title of this post on OwlsDaily.com the other day:

“Tulane Strikes Me As A Trap Game.”

Huh?

First off, there are two games left in the regular season and there could be nothing bigger on the line for the Temple Owls than the task right in front of them. This is only a “trap game” if they build the trap and then fall into it.

Trap game my butt.

While there is confidence coming out of New Orleans, the Owls themselves should dictate the tone and tempo of this game. A poster named “Waverider” wrote this on the Tulane message board: “I think we can win this game. Temple runs a pro-style, I formation offense. That works well for our defense.” Another, named, “Gawave5” predicted a 24-21 Tulane win, writing: “Finally, I predict the defense will give us two turnovers in Temple territory and we convert these for 14 points.”

None of those forecasts map out what this game means to the Temple players and the school in general.

Arguably, there is more on the line here than the Penn State game (either this year or last) or the Notre Dame game last year. There is not a FBS-level league championship trophy in the Edberg-Olson Hall trophy case and the trophy they got last year for finishing in second place will be about as memorable as the one the Baltimore Colts’ 1966 team got for winning the NFL’s second-place game, called the “Playoff Bowl.” The vanquished team was the then 9-5 Philadelphia Eagles. If the Owls win on Saturday, they get to play a AAC East championship game at home the next week and, if they win that one, they get to play the overall AAC championship game on Dec. 3.

Maybe even at home, if things break right, but certainly before a lot more of their own fans than they had supporting them last year in the same game. This season is all lined up for the Owls to run the table. It’s up to them to do it.

So they have THREE championship games coming up in the next three weeks and there is no reason or excuse whatsoever for a letdown. Temple head coach Matt Rhule indicated as much earlier this week when he said the team knows that “every game is a playoff game” and that’s the approach everyone inside the E-O seems to be taking now. It is the right one. It is the only one.

To be truly memorable in this day and age of leagues, it has to be a championship season. The play “That Championship Season” written by Jason Miller in 1972, did not win the Pulitzer Prize in drama (1973) for nothing. The theme centered on the bond men on that team had 20 years after cutting down the nets as a championship basketball team.

Win on Saturday and the subsequent two Saturdays and the young men who run on the football field for Temple now will walk together forever in a way really no other Temple team can say.

With those kinds of stakes, the word trap should never pass through anyone’s lips or random keyboard.

Picks this week: UConn upsetting BC (getting 7), Northwestern covering the 2 at Minnesota, Duke upsetting at Pitt (covering the 8), West Virginia covering the 3 over visiting Oklahoma, Wyoming covering the 9.5 against vistiing San Diego State, and Old Dominion laying the 8.5 at Florida Atlantic. Also like Tulsa covering the small 1.5 at UCF.

Sunday: Game Analysis