Great Expectations

eolsen

Getting another one of these in 2018 is the goal.

While the football game that will be played on Sunday will be on the minds of most people who live in the metro area, the football games being played on Saturday a few months from now are never far from the mind of Geoff Collins.

As they should.

He gave a brief glimpse into his thinking with this recent email to Temple season ticket-holders like me:

collinsletter

I like the optimism. I like the salutation more.

“Dear Mike,”

It was a nice touch, although the guy sitting next to me probably got a “Dear Joe” and the one next him a “Dear John” and so on.

Now if he added a few paragraphs afterward that said this I would have been blown away:

Dear Mike,

Great meeting you at the season ticket-holder party last year. I remembered you said to me, “Do me one favor. Never take Nick Sharga off the field.” I remembered my response was something like, “Don’t worry. I’m his fullback coach and we’re going to use him even more this year than they did last year.”

I should have followed your advice and my own. We certainly would have scored against Houston on first and goal from the 7 instead of punting from our own 36. We would have scored at Army on first and goal from the 1 instead of coming away with zero points.

I let Dave Patenaude influence me too much instead of relying on Temple TUFF in those situations.

This year, don’t worry. We’re putting the round holes in in the round pegs and the square holes in the square ones this year. Look for Nitro to be our full-time three-down fullback leading the way for Rock, David Hood and Jager Gardner. Then look for Frankie Juice to fake the ball into the bellies of those guys and, with the linebackers and safeties up at the line of scrimmage, throw it over their heads into the arms of Isaiah Wright and Ventell Bryant for explosive downfield plays in the passing game.

We finally figured this Temple TUFF thing out and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Regards,

Geoff

Friday: The One That Got Away

 

 

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Attendance Goals: Cement Ceiling

mcHale

 

Recently, a hashtag has surfaced on the Temple football twitter page #fillTheLinc18 with photos of several returning Owls in action.

It might have had something to do with seeing that stadium vibrant and exciting and filled to capacity and sound for the Eagles’ season but, while an admirable goal, that ceiling is out of reach.

bestoftemple

 

A university with 40,000 full-time students, 320,000 alumni and 12,500 employees should be able to fill a 70,000-seat stadium

 

It should not be, but it is. A university with 40,000 full-time students, 320,000 alumni and 12,500 employees should be able to fill a 70,000-seat stadium but only a small fraction of those numbers are even interested in college football. (We have a great ex-Temple basketball player who posts photos of him and his sons at Eagles’ games every Sunday on Facebook but who I’ve seen at about one Temple football game in the last five season. #Sad.)

A glass ceiling is an Invisible but real barrier through which the next stage or level of advancement can be seen, but cannot be reached by a section of qualified and deserving individuals.

Temple football, though, does have a real ceiling of interest and it’s a cement one, harder than glass.

The 2016 Owls were set up for a nice season—which they eventually had—but fell flat on their faces before a crowd of 34,005 against Army. On the way out of that game, I heard several dozen fans saying “same old Temple” and “I’m not coming back” and these were the soft core fans, not the hard core ones. There is a reason why Temple always gets good crowds in the opener and it is because the soft core group is giving them one shot. Big wins in the opener usually mean good attendance years; big losses in the opener are almost impossible to recover from.

Getting that soft core wrapped around the hard core should be the goal and build from there.

Wayne Hardin was asked what it would take for Temple to fill Veterans Stadium—their long-demolished home then—on a consistent basis. “We’d have to go undefeated for 10-straight years,” Hardin said.

The comment was just a little tongue-in-check.

The ceiling of Temple football interest is about 35,000 fans and that’s why the university is creating a demand for tickets by building a stadium of exactly that size. So while the hashtag of #halffillTheLinc18 may not be as sexy, it certainly is a lot more realistic and the best the Owls can do until the new Temple Stadium is completed.

Meanwhile, a nice 52-7 win over Villanova would do much more to fill the Linc the rest of the season than another 16-13 one.

Wednesday: Great Expectations

Killing Two Birds With One Stone

coppers

Every year, I make a point of heading down to the Liacouras Center to check out one or two basketball games.

Not this year.

I’m just not as into basketball at Temple as I am football and never have been, but I love Temple and love the state-of-the-art arena the basketball team calls home so it’s always been an enjoyable venture the few times I could get out. The place seats 10,400 and is a spectacular modern facility as good as any on The East Coast. I can only pray the new football facility being built next to it is held in as high an esteem nationally but, for $130 million, I have my doubts.

After the basketball Owls beat Clemson, South Carolina, Auburn and Wisconsin early in the season, I thought it was going to be really enjoyable but then those wins were sandwiched around loses to George Washington and LaSalle, among others, and I said no more. Nothing in sports is more frustrating than a team capable of beating good teams losing to really bad teams so I thought I’d sit this season out completely.

Until something arrived in the email the other day: A Temple football event.

recruiting

On February 7, there will be a recruiting event—called a celebration—at 5 p.m. Since the event ends at 7 and a basketball game begins then, my streak of going to at least one LC game a year since its opening will continue. The cost of the recruiting event is $20 ($25 for non-Owl Club members) and you can get a basketball ticket for as low as $12 added on, which I did. Pre-registration is encouraged so check your emails.

Call it killing two birds with one stone.

The recruiting part should be a celebration of the great job Geoff Collins did in that department this season. While he hasn’t signed any four stars, the depth of three stars is far deeper than Matt Rhule’s last full class. Of the first 25 signed commitments, 22 were three stars and above. Rhule signed only nine three stars and above in his last “full” class, the one after the Houston championship loss.

This is a consistently good class with a lot of guys who turned down Power 5 schools—offers, not just interest—to play and be educated in one of the greatest cities of the world. This is a class certainly deep and talented enough to be capable of beating the P5 teams and former traditional Eastern rivals on the schedule in the next few seasons.

Hearing Collins talk about how it came about is certainly worth the trip to town. While there, you might as well kill two birds with one stone—even though the other bird is a once vibrant now sickly Owl that certainly needs the love and attention it is not getting this winter.

Monday: The Attendance Bar

Tea Leaves and The Coaching Shuffle

taver

Taver Johnson

You’ve got to hand it to Geoff Collins.

With some recent coaching assignment reshuffling, his vague “Above The Line” concept  at least has extended throughout the Temple football organization.

A cynic would suggest that Andrew Thacker’s “promotion” to defensive coordinator would indicate that Collins was not entirely pleased with the job former defensive coordinator Taver Johnson did. Yet, despite the promotion of Thacker, Johnson was named “co-defensive coordinator” in the shuffle. So we have a new defensive coordinator, yet the old guy is the co-defensive coordinator, and an assistant head coach to boot.

Like the depth chart that really isn’t a depth chart, the lines are further blurred here because this doesn’t indicate who will be calling the defensive signals.  Got to think this is a way to get Johnson a raise, as well as some of the other guys. Presumably not getting a raise last year’s offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude because the title Johnson “assistant head coach” had on defense went to a familiar name on offense.

folmeister

 

Foley, who knows Temple tough inside and out, must have pulled the remaining hair of out his head when Patenaude called for a pass on first-and-goal from the 1

 

That’s also the title Ed Foley got on offense and all of us at Temple Football Forever (all one of us) are thrilled with that promotion. That means that Foley is the new boss of current offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude and we might not see a pass on first-and-goal at the one with 3:16 left in the Army game. At least that’s the hope. Foley, who knows Temple tough inside and out, must have pulled the remaining hair of out his head when Patenaude called for a pass on first-and-goal from the 1. Foley would have lined Ryquell Armstead (who had 151 yards in that game) behind fullback Nick Sharga and pounded Rock home for six on first down. Patenaude went Coastal Carolina soft and got zero points and cost Temple a win.

All in all, coaching assignments, like depth charts, should give fans an indication of who rises to the top of the organization but this is how Collins wants to operate so let’s hope he’s successful with it.

Other changes:

Reggie Garrett was promoted to defensive analyst after spending two seasons as a graduate assistant, working with the defense. Tom Pajic moves from director of player personnel to senior offensive adviser. Larry Knight, who was in charge of quality control for defense and recruiting, is now the director of player personnel.

Last week, Adam DiMichele was named recruiting coordinator/offensive assistant, allowing him to become the 10th full-time assistant coach. DiMichele shares similar offensive principles with Foley, which is a good thing.

Here are the coaches who have different roles and/or were promoted:

Ed Foley: assistant head coach offense/special teams coordinator/tight ends

Taver Johnson: assistant head coach defense/co-defensive coordinator/safeties

Dave Patenaude: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

Andrew Thacker: Defensive coordinator/linebackers

Jim Panagos: Defensive line/run game coordinator

Chris Wiesehan: Offensive line/run game coordinator

Tom Pajic: Senior offensive adviser

Larry Knight: Director of player personnel

Josh Linam: Quality control – defense

Friday: Killing Two Birds With One Stone

Monday: Strange Hastags

Wednesday; Great Expectations

Friday: The One That Got Away

2/5: Temple’s Super Bowl

2/7: Signing Celebration Primer

2/8: Signing Celebration Recap

5 Unanswered Questions

tuff

The thing about coaching changes is that bumps in the road are going to be an expected part of the process.

No one—at least the people I talk to—expected to hit this many major potholes on the way to what was largely an under-performing season in 2017. Plenty of starters and key contributors returned from the AAC championship team and Matt Rhule did not leave the cupboard bare for first-year coach Geoff Collins. Talent-wise, this was a team that should not have lost to UConn and Army. You may say that is crying over spilled milk but leaving that milk there without cleaning  it up could make next season more sour tasting that it should.

Part of the process is asking hard questions and answering them honestly.  So far, no member of the Temple football media (to our knowledge) has asked any of these five questions of  Collins and getting these answers by Cherry and White Day would be nice:

sharga

5) What happened to the fullback position at Temple?

Matt Rhule said he had an Epiphany after his second season that the way to create explosive plays in the passing game was not by spreading the field with receivers but by establishing the run behind a blocking fullback and then using play action to get receivers open. That plan worked for two 10-win seasons and Collins seemed on board with it as late as the season-ticket holder party in August. What happened? Will Nitro be used as a fullback this year or is the fullback position done at Temple? (And don’t say the fullback isn’t used in college football anymore. Just because other teams don’t use the triple option, that doesn’t mean that Navy will stop using it. The fullback fits the Temple TUFF football philosophy as the triple-option is to Navy. Run the ball, play great defense and special teams and hit explosive plays in the play-action game is what got Temple consecutive double-digit win seasons)

4) What happened to Jared Folks?

How does a guy start in the AAC championship game for a great team one year and become a non-factor for a mediocre team the next? Inquiring minds need to know.

nutile

3) How could it have taken them seven games to figure one quarterback was better than the other?

Despite saying for nine months leading up to the opener that all four quarterbacks were “equal” Collins rolled out an under-performing quarterback for seven games before an injury allowed Frank Nutile to play. Fans immediately saw that he was the far superior quarterback in the Army game. How could a highly paid coaching staff miss that?

2) What did Collins mean by his “square peg, round hole” comment?

Before the bowl game, Collins said that the offense didn’t come around because “I think we were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole on offense.” What were they trying to do that was wrong and what fixes did they apply to make it work?

journey

1) How could they have screwed up the kicking situation?

All over college football, you could see kickers on Power 5 teams miss chip-shot field goals but Temple had two kickers, Austin Jones, and Aaron Boumerhi, who were elite. That was an asset they should have extended by playing the healthy one and redshirting the other.  Instead the Owls tried to use two kickers from the jump. The Owls could have used Boomer for the extra year. Now Jones is gone and odds are the next one probably won’t be as good as Brandon McManus, Jones or Boomer. Great kickers are hard to find as Rhule found out in his first  year on the job.

Wednesday: The Coaching Shuffle

Friday: Killing Two Birds With One Stone

Monday: Strange Hashtags

Stadium: End Of The Beginning

 

badurban

Seats here are too far away from stadium and not on top of the field like this other example of a great urban stadium within essentially the same square acreage footprint.

urban

Roughly six years ago, a Temple University Board of Trustees member told a friend of mine at the NCAA Tournament that a football stadium on campus was a “done deal.”

My friend has a lot deeper pockets than me and often traveled to see the football team in remote Middle Atlantic Conference places like Mt. Pleasant, Michigan and Oxford, Ohio, with reports about the Temple fan presence there.

Often, he was it–the guy who was invited to home tailgates by the Central Michigan and Fake Miami fans like an alien who landed in a flying saucer.

This December, his move to Coral Gables, Florida made him a more likely prospect than I to make the Gasparilla Bowl and he bellied up to President Dick Englert at a pre-game function and dropped the question about whether or not Temple will build a new football stadium.

“We’ll see,” the coy Englert said.

goodurban

Temple fans should accept no less than this kind of stadium

Well, we saw a little bit on Thursday when the university announced to the world that the stadium is presenting plans to the city for the building of a “multi-purpose facility.” Notice the word “multi-purpose.” If it had been “a stadium” the already negative view of many of the city pols would have been further polarized.

Make no mistake about what happened Thursday.

This is not the end of the stadium process but the end of the beginning. The end is a long, long way away.

It was nice to finally see an artist’s conception of the stadium. To me, that was disappointing. The seats are too slopped back and not on top of the field. Some tinkering needs to be done on the architects’ end. Make the stadium like Boston College here and we’re in; otherwise, where is the Temple home field advantage?

The timeline that many stadium proponents state continues to be: Shovel in the ground by August, stadium done by 2019.

For someone who has lived in Philadelphia all of my life and knows the ins and outs of the corrupt political system here, that’s a pipe dream.

Figure on two years of hassle with the city and a shovel in the ground by 2019 at best. At worst, figure a thumbs’ down from the city and an extended Linc lease. I’m a lean toward a stadium at Temple because I think the ceiling for interest in Temple football is 35K at best. That still looks horrible in a 70K stadium and perception to many is reality.  Still, to think that today’s announcement puts this on a fast track to completion is pure fallacy.

Plan on going to that stadium for the opener maybe 2021 but more likely 2022.

I will have to eat a lot more salads, drink a lot fewer beers and work out about two extra hours a day to definitively  say I will see The Promised Land with you but I promise to try.

From what I’ve been told by my Philadelphia City Council peeps, there are 10 elected members and seven at-large members. For this to pass in the county, there will have to be nine votes. Right now, Temple can count on four. Getting to nine will not be impossible, but it will be close to impossible.

This is not the end but the end of the beginning. The end of the end could be longer than anyone knows. In short, not a done deal by a longshot.

Monday: Five Unanswered Questions

Commitment Issues: The New Norm

 

A very familiar headline appeared in the papers the other day.

“Matt Rhule Turns Down Colts to Remain at Baylor.”

Familiar, because I’ve seen that headline somewhere before:

“Matt Rhule Turns Down Missouri to Remain at Temple.”

Now, the chances are that Matt Rhule was offered either job are about as good as I being offered the job of replacing Mike Francesa on his highly successful radio show.

None.

yeahright

Yeah, right after I turned down WFAN’s offer to replace Mike Francesa.

It was just floated out there, maybe not by Rhule, but by his agent to make him look better returning to his other positions.

dyingbreed

These two unfortunately are a dying breed

This is the new norm in college football these days and that’s one of the two reasons that college football is harder to get into for me with each passing year.

Commitment Issues.

Gone are the days when a great coach like Wayne Hardin can stay at Temple for 13 years or the days when Joe Paterno plants his flag down in State College and turns down being a millionaire as head coach of the New England Patriots for lesser pay and a chance to build something at Penn State.

Money talks and bullbleep walks, as the late-night TV commercial used to say.

hardo

Wayne Hardin, talking about Temple in 1976

The other reason—lack of a true all-inclusive national championship—has been covered in this space in the past and I don’t see that as changing any time soon, either.

Today, though, is about Rhule.

My issue with him was these proclamations of lifelong fidelity to Temple and then to turn around and leave the team that made him millions for Baylor and not even coach the bowl game. That was his decision and, while I didn’t agree with it, I have to respect it.

The bottom line for Rhule is that he gave Temple a great 10 years and if he felt that he had to leave before the bowl game, that should be his decision. God bless him and I hope he has a great career, but the latest dalliance with the NFL makes me think he’s got second thoughts about the mess he’s gotten into at Baylor. It’s a similar situation to Al Golden at Miami, who gave Temple a great five years.

Hopefully, both will straighten things out and have solid careers. Funny thing is they could have had good-paying jobs at Temple for life with a fraction of the headaches.

Maybe it’s something for Geoff Collins to think about.

Friday: Five Unanswered Questions

Monday: The Coaching Shuffle