Coach Hardin: A Life Well-Lived


Coach in this great Sheldon Morris photo taken Saturday.

Nothing is ever given in life on this earth, especially the knowledge of the time that you have here.

All of us know what day we arrived; none of us knows the future day we will depart. All we know is to do our best to live the best life we can.

No one lived a better life than Wayne Hardin, the legendary Temple coach who passed away Wednesday, a couple of days from attending Alumni Day at the Edberg-Olson Complex on Saturday. By all accounts, coach was in good spirits and gave a great speech about “filling the stands” for future Temple football games to the 120 or so alumni players in attendance.

On a personal note, I have known coach Hardin since I was 17 and covered his football teams for the Temple News and for the Doylestown Intelligencer later. He was the greatest college coach I have ever known (hell, the greatest coach, period) and this was something I was convinced of since my college days. Sadly, his death came two months after the greatest high school coach I ever knew,  Central Bucks West’s Mike Pettine Sr., passed away.

I had always been convinced of Hardin’s greatness, but it was nice to get affirmation from other writers, too.

During a game in which Hardin put a big-time scare into Penn State for only what seemed like the umpteenth time, John Kunda, the sports editor of the Allentown Morning Call and a Penn State beat writer, broke the silence in the press box.


How fitting was it that the last championship game coach saw was Navy vs. Temple?

“Hardin’s out-coaching Joe again,” Kunda said.

The press box erupted in knowing laughter.

Later, when Tubby Raymond schooled a young Bruce Arians in a Delaware upset win over Temple, Philadelphia Inquirer writer Chuck Newman similarly broke the silence in the Blue Hen stadium facility.

“Will Wayne Hardin please report to the press box?” Newman said  over the public address system.

More laughter because Hardin had beaten Raymond in eight of the 10 previous years.

I was overwhelmed with pride, knowing that my school was the smartest school on the field every Saturday afternoon that Wayne Hardin was on my sideline and, because this was college football, that meant a lot.

Maybe everything.

Hardin always out-coached Joe Paterno, the way General Robert E. Lee always outcoached Ulysses S. Grant. Paterno, like Grant, always won because what those guys had at their disposal was more than what Hardin and Lee had.

Still, it was fun watching Temple move those chess pieces around and checkmating the bad guys time and time again.

Bill Belichick followed Hardin around as a 7-year-old son of an assistant coach to Hardin, and then followed Hardin’s teams at Temple. He took copious notes and is admiration for Hardin is documented for posterity.

“I’d say Wayne influenced me more than anybody else,” said  Belichick in a recent article by CSNNE’s Phil Perry. “Honestly, I saw other coaches at Navy take a different approach, and looking back on it, even though I didn’t know it at the time, but I would say looking back on it, I would rather be like him. I’ve seen these others, but I would rather do it the way he did it.”

I was there in the press room underneath the stadium at Colgate the day Hardin quit. I asked him why and he said simply: “Mediocrity is not my cup of tea.”

He was a very young 55 at the time.

It was Hardin’s idea to take the goofy-looking Owl off the helmet and spell out TEMPLE on the side.

“We want people to know who we are,” Hardin said. “We’re Temple.”

That “TEMPLE” became the brand during the winningest TEMPLE years and, when Al Golden arrived, he changed the ‘][‘ back to TEMPLE because, as Golden said, “that’s the brand Temple football had when it was respected throughout the country.” Perhaps a fitting tribute to Hardin this fall would be to bring back TEMPLE at least on one side of the helmets.

People in sports like to talk about records that will never be broken, mentioning Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Heck, I’m convinced no coach in Temple history will ever do what Hardin did, which is win 80 games in 13 years at the school. No coach might ever get Temple into the final Top 20 again because a Temple coach who gets the Owls on the brink will probably be gone by the bowl game. Hopefully not but that’s the reality of college football today.

Joe Morelli, a former Temple quarterback who never played for coach Hardin, made sure he drove coach to the games and that’s why we were all able to enjoy his company over the past few years.

“Joe takes good care of me,” coach said.

Last year, I asked coach if he still golfed at 90.

“Last time I did that was last week,” coach said. “I fell three times. I don’t do it any more.”

He asked me to walk him over to where his ex-players, led by Steve Conjar, moved their tailgate and I was more than happy to do that.

Look who I found!” I said to the guys.

“God bless you, Wayne,” Mark Bresani said. “I love that you come to the games. I’ll tell you what, when I’m 90, I will probably be here, too.”

About 20 years ago, Hardin finally introduced me to his wife, Jane, who stopped and grabbed me by the arm.

“We like you,” Jane said. “It’s not just because you have red hair like we did.”

She remembered my articles on the coach and said she appreciated all of the nice things I wrote.

I told her I meant every word and did.

Now coach and his beloved Jane are together but those of us who remain behind and knew him are grieving now. Perhaps the most important lesson he taught us was how to live a life well.

Monday: 5 Questions Kraft Needs to Answer

Mediocrity Is Not My Cup Of Tea


Coach Hardin during game at Temple Stadium.

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.


About as bad a series of play calls as you will ever see at TU

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.


Hall of Fame story

Bill Belichick on coach Hardin

Lou Holtz on coach Hardin

Tuesday: 5 Reasons Why You Roll Phillip Out

Monday: What’s News?

A pretty good recap of how James Madison exploited SB for 38 points.

They say bad news comes in threes, and so it was on Friday for the Temple University football team.

The first bit of bad news was in the form of a story on that the stadium is a non-starter, at least from City Council’s point of view. The second showed up on, quoting an AP source saying that Temple is now out of Big 12 consideration. A few hours later, the worst news came in the form of an ill-prepared and poorly-coached Owls’ team losing to team that posted a 2-10 record the year before. A 10-win team with plenty of starters back lost to a two-win team with only 14 players back from its two-deep depth chart. There is no way to sugarcoat or minimize how bad that looks, feels or is.

“We had 21 points
on the board before
we even started.
We probably would
never have discovered
that, had we not
graded all the film.”
_ Wayne Hardin
on how film study
won the 1979 GSB

This is not where we should be, but this is where we are. Maybe they are not related developments, but certainly all coming on Sept. 2, 2016, a day that will live in Temple football infamy.

Temple fell into recent bad Temple habits of “worrying about what we do, not what the other guys do” and “just concentrating on what we do best and the process will take care of itself.”

Will it?


The entire Owl coaching staff needs to go into a room and listen to guys like Wayne Hardin and Bill Belichick tell them war stories of how they picked up this tendency and that tendency of an opponent and how they delighted about exploiting said tendencies.

Then, for their homework assignment, take three game films from last year’s Stony Brook schedule—William and Mary, Maine and James Madison—and determine just what the William and Mary and Maine defenses did well and what the James Madison offense did well, have every assistant and head coach contribute and apply those same principles to Saturday’s game plan. William and Mary shut out the Sea Wolves, 21-0, on Sept. 15, and Maine held them to 10 points a month later. In between, James Madison scored 38 points in a 38-20 win.

Then, for their
homework assignment,
take three game films
from last year’s
Stony Brook
schedule—William& Mary,
Maine and
James Madison—and
determine just what
the William&Mary
and Maine defenses
did well and what
the James Madison
offense did well

It’s probably no coincidence that Belichick followed Hardin around as a 7-year-old son of a Navy assistant coach. The current Temple coaches need to listen to this story about the Garden State Bowl and how the Owls had it won before the California coaches knew what hit them.

“Cal wanted to exchange films of every game,” Hardin said in a 2009 Inquirer story. “Usually you just take the first one, one in the middle and the last one. So I said, ‘Find out which coaches on their staff want them?’ Turned out, it was the defensive coaches. OK. We spent night after night after night, digging and digging and digging. We came up with one or two things we had to do.

“We found out that if we pulled our guards up the middle, we’d end up with one of them going down the field untouched into the secondary. So did the back. Get the hell out of the way. There was no one to block. We had 21 points on the board before we even started. We probably would never have discovered that, had we not graded all the film. …

“On offense, their quarterback [Rich Campbell] was taught, which we knew, to read when he didn’t see anything [to] throw blindly into the flat to the fullback. I mean, game after game. The fullback was catching the ball and making big yards. So we developed a two-man [pass] rush, which we wouldn’t have done. We’d have one guy come up to meet the fullback, whichever way he went, 5 yards deep in the backfield. And eight guys would drop into coverage. So there’s nothing to read, except a lot of jerseys.

“Those are the type of things that can happen. That’s how upsets are made. People study.”

Does anyone really think the Temple brain trust did enough study of Army? Were the A gaps left uncovered? (Err, yes. That’s where the fullback got his yards.) Did the Owls even try to make Army throw the ball to beat them by loading the box with eight?  Nothing on the field indicated it. (Duke beat Army, 44-3, last year by loading the box with eight and daring the Cadets to throw.) The Temple linebackers were 4 or 5 yards off the ball. You play Penn State that way, not Army.  In fact, nothing on the field the past three years indicates Temple does enough film study of any opponent.

Stony Brook might be a good one to start with.

Mix in a little Tribe defensive scheme with a dose of successful Madison plays and away we go. It’s all right if part of the process involves doing what you do well, but the ingredients for winning include a little of this and a little of that and if that’s not part of your process, you’ve got to get a new process. There’s a lot of chess and checkmating in football to be done these days, just like those days.

Otherwise, the bad news of last week could get a whole lot worse.

There would be no dishonor in Phil Snow stealing part or all of this game plan.

Wednesday: Unintended Consequences


Happy Birthday, Coach Hardin


Very classy tribute from Temple football video guys.

As an undergrad at Temple, Wayne Hardin was the only head football coach I ever knew at my school. As a result, winning was the only thing I ever knew. From the time I entered Temple to the time I graduated, Temple had four-straight winning seasons.
The Owls have not accomplished that feat since.


Joe Mesko (left), Hardin’s first TU captain, shakes hands with Roger Staubach, Hardin’s last Navy captain, last night  with coach and Steve Conjar in between.

Now that coach Hardin turned 90 yesterday, a group of his former players both at Temple and Navy honored him with a dinner last night in Florida, and it was a fitting tribute because they got to tell him again how much he meant to them and that was important.

I got to know coach Hardin as a reporter for the Temple News. Al Shrier, the then Sports Information Director, arranged for me an interview when I was a junior who was given the football beat.

To me, it was like getting to interview The Wizard of Oz.

One of the questions I asked him was about fun and football.

“The only fun in football is winning,” Hardin said.

That’s pretty much the way I felt then and my entire life and pretty much why I take losing so hard.

People talk about Bill Belichick’s coaching tree but, in reality, Belichick is one of the small branches on Hardin’s tree. Belichick’s dad, Steve Belichick, was a longtime scout and assistant for Hardin at Navy. When Hardin was head coach there, Belichick was just a kid. Yet Belichick tagged along at Navy practices and soaked up as much as he could.

Hardin was noted for outsmarting other coaches not only with everyday schemes but with trick plays and a keen eye on exploiting opponents’ weaknesses.

Patriots quick kicks, unique punt and field-goal rushes, certain trick plays — Belichick credits Hardin for many of them.

This from Comcast New England on Temple’s Garden State Bowl win:
“In 1979, when the Owls took on heavily-favored Cal in the Garden State Bowl at Giants Stadium, Belichick was in attendance. The Giants special-teams coach at the time, Belichick sat with then Giants assistant Ernie Adams, who now works alongside Belichick as the football research director for the Patriots. The pair of young and talented football minds were completely baffled as they watched Hardin toy with Cal’s linebackers, who were taught to read the guards in front of them.

“Ernie and I were sitting up there watching the game, and on the first series of plays, one guard pulled deep, the other guard pulled short,” Belichick said. “And they just folded around to get the linebacker, but they pulled. And the two inside linebackers ran into each other. I looked at Ernie, and he looked at me . . .”

Did Temple just screw that up, they wondered?

“Four or five plays later, same thing. The two linebackers,” Belichick clapped his hands together loudly, imitating the collision, “because they’re standing right next to each other. They went right into each other. [Temple ran] straight down to the safety for, like, 20 yards. They must’ve run that play six or seven times and it was 20 yards every time . . . At the time, I’d never seen that before.”

The result was the first bowl win in Temple history and a wide-eyed and impressed New York Giants’ assistant coach named Belichick.

Later, after graduating from Temple, I covered Hardin’s teams for Calkins Newspapers. While in the press box in State College, Hardin was driving Penn State head coach Joe Paterno crazy with similar schemes and play calls and Temple took a lead late into the third quarter against the heavily favored Nittany Lions. The Owls had several close calls before that game and it was only because Hardin was able to close the talent gap against the Nits with his brilliant mind. John Kunda, the long-time sports editor of the Allentown Morning Call, broke the silence in the press box.


Bill Belichick is from the Hardin tree, but coach Hardin is from the Amos Alonzo Stagg tree. Must be a Redwood.

“Hardin’s outcoaching Joe again,” Kunda said.

The press box erupted into laughter, but it was a laugh of respect. I just sat there beaming with pride in the knowledge that the smartest guy on the field every Saturday was coaching my team and everybody in the room acknowledged something I already knew.

Fortunately, coach Hardin was there last year to see the Owls finally get that monkey off their back. Happy birthday, coach Hardin, and many more healthy and happy ones.

One thing I’m sure both the Navy and Temple guys agreed on last night were two words:

Beat Army.

Saturday: We’re Talkin’ Practice

Arians’ Reaction to Win Was Classy


When Bruce Arians led the Arizona Cardinals to a late-season upset of the Seattle Seahawks two years ago, it was the final loss of the season for the Seahawks on the way to winning the Super Bowl. The question for Arians then was a natural one as someone in the press room asked him if that was his biggest win as a head coach. Arians paused for a second and said, no, his biggest win as a head coach came at Temple when the Owls broke a 39-year losing streak to Pittsburgh in the 1984 season.

So, of all the congratulatory messages pouring into third-year Temple head coach Matt Rhule after a 27-10 upset of Penn State on Saturday, the one posted by Arians on his twitter page was priceless:

Rhule had one-upped Arians in the sense that he broke a longer streak over another in-state rival in Penn State (after a 74-year drought), so the two men have been in the same shoes at the same place. No one knew more what a win over Penn State could do for the Temple program than Arians, who said the first question asked of him at his first Temple press conference was, “Why does Temple even play football?” Like the presser after the Seattle game two years ago, Arians paused before a thoughtful response: “To beat Penn State.” Arians came close twice, losing to nationally-ranked Nittany Lions’ teams, 23-18, in 1983 and 27-25 to what would become an 11-1 PSU team in 1984, but never quite got over the hump.

Now that Rhule did, Arians used both twitter and the phone to express his satisfaction with the result. Rhule took the call and said, “Yes sir, thank you sir.” to a guy who was a young coach at Temple once, too. Rhule said he did not know what else to say to the NFL coach of the year. Then Rhule went out to the parking lot at Lincoln Financial Field and presented the game ball to another former Temple coach, College Football Hall of Fame member Wayne Hardin, who came close a few times against Penn State but, like Arians, could not get over the hump.

In the fraternity of college coaches, and the circle of life, all three coaches will now share a pretty neat memory forever because only those three fully understand the magnitude of the moment.

Tomorrow: Still Not Focusing on Cincinnati (but we are sure the team is)

Tortured History

There is a LOT more Cherry than blue in this photo and, even if there is more than that today, I expect more than one blind, deaf and dumb nitwit to write it was like a PSU home game. So wear Cherry and be loud.

There is a LOT more Cherry than blue in this photo and, even if there is more than that today, expect a blind, deaf and dumb nitwit to write it was like a PSU home game. So wear Cherry and be loud.

One of those shows on the Comedy Channel that serves as filler programming between the few good offerings on that network is something called “Drunk History” and, from watching about a minute of an episode here and there, the gist of the thing is that a perfectly sober narrator tells a story from history acting like a drunk.

Here is the Infamous quote by Joe Paterno.

Here is the Infamous quote by Joe Paterno.

No thanks.

A better program for that Channel would be something called “Tortured History” and they can narrow that down to the last 40 years of the Temple vs. Penn State football series. The word “drunk” would also apply to this one because that’s how the renewal of the series began in 1975 with then Penn State head coach Joe Paterno saying “the guy who scheduled Temple must have been drunk.”

In effect, he was saying his athletic  director was a drunk.

“Why does Temple
even play football?
To beat Penn State.”
_ Bruce Arians

By the time the teams actually played the game, though, Temple could have said the same thing about Penn State. The Owls doubled up Penn State in yards from scrimmage, 402-201, and were clearly the better team but lost on two long kick returns, one a punt, one a kickoff.

Before the game, head coach Wayne Hardin and then athletic director Ernie Casale placed 30,000 Cherry and White pom-poms on the Franklin Field bleachers.

“I told Ernie we might lose the game, but we were not going to be out-pom-pomed,” Hardin said. The first play of the game was a simple handoff to a world class sprinter named Bob Harris. He put his hand on the back of fullback Tom Duff, who pancaked a PSU linebacker and that left a gaping hole. Seventy-six yards later, Temple led, 7-0. Thirty thousand Cherry and White pom-poms were waving proudly and, to this day, that was the loudest I have ever heard a Temple crowd.

Losing that game 26-25 was sheer torture.


The last glorious victory. Note the use of the word “rivals” which would have continued to have been used until today had Temple kept up its end of the bargain.

The next year, the Owls went for two and the the pass slipped off the receiver’s hands. More torture, a 31-30 loss.

In 1979, the Owls were 10-2 and went up to State College, led, 7-6, at halftime and lost, 22-7. More torture.

When Bruce Arians took the job at Temple, one of the first questions he was asked in his initial press conference was “Why does Temple even play football?” He repeated the question and gave a great off-the-cuff answer that drew loud applause: “To beat Penn State.”

Arians gave the school its first win over Pitt in 39 years and he probably would have added a Penn State scalp had the school not be so quick to fire him. In his first year, with coach Hardin’s players, he lost, 23-18.

Another year under Arians, Paul Palmer rushed for 226 yards, and scored a pair of touchdowns, but the Owls lost, 27-22. More torture.

In 2010, the Nittany Lions could not stop Bernard Pierce who had 115 yards and two touchdowns at halftime and the owls led, 15-13. A broken ankle stopped Pierce and the Owls lost, 23-15. More torture.

The next year, quarterback Mike Gerardi was managing the game nicely with a 10-7 lead when he was pulled for Chester Stewart, who did nothing. When Gerardi was reinserted, he was either cold or trying to force a play to keep his job. Whatever, he threw an interception that led to a 14-10 loss.

Those were not the only times Penn State teased the Owls before taking victory from the jaws of defeat, but those were the ones I remember most.

Unless, of course, something gloriously different happens today.

Requiem For a Heavyweight: Wes Sornisky

Wes Sornisky says something to Wayne Hardin after a 17-17 tie at  Cincinnati.

Wes Sornisky says something to Wayne Hardin after a 17-17 tie at Cincinnati.

Every once in a while, somebody sees something that needs to be done and makes a difference.

Meet the undisputed heavyweight champion of the Temple spirit, which Wes Sornisky was and someone who I had the honor to know well for at least a few years of his all-too-short life.


Wes died tragically in a fire in Delaware a few days ago and I cannot help but think much of the football tailgating scene at Temple now, a scene that went from dreadful to really good, was due to him making a difference.

During the darkest of Bobby Wallace days, Wes organized a group of ex-football players into something called the “Fourth and Goal Club” and they picked the Jetro Lot at 11th and Damien as their headquarters. It started out with a few and ended with many and eventually made the move over to Lot K, where the ex-player group thrives under all-time tackle leader Steve Conjar.

Wes finally made Sports Illustrated for this fact in the weekly college roundup.

Wes finally made Sports Illustrated for this fact in the weekly college roundup.

Wes would bring one of those food trucks you’d see at Temple and make it tailgate headquarters. Eventually, word spread and other tailgaters would join the group.

There’s something extra special about the kickers and their connection to Temple. Almost all of the ex-kickers make it regularly to the games and I’m sure Brandon McManus would, too, if he didn’t have a job kicking in the NFL.

Wes and Cap Poklemba, another kicker, separated by 30 years or so but united by a common spirit, even held a tailgate at a Temple basketball game. That idea never caught on, but that was more due to the weather than the idea itself.

Wes could have been a big part of history in the 1976 Penn State game when Temple went for a two-point conversion to win at the end instead of allowing him to tie it with an extra point. Wayne Hardin told me last year it was a mistake because a tie would have been viewed as a win for Temple. (I disagreed and told him he absolutely did the right thing.)  After that game, though, Hardin said a tie “was like kissing your sister.”

The next year, at Cincinnati, Hardin allowed Sornisky to kick a field goal to tie, 17-17. After the game, Sornisky is seen in a photo saying something to Hardin. I asked Wes what he said. “How’s kissing your sister feel?” is what Wes told me he said.

Wes knew of my affinity for the old “TEMPLE” helmet and wanted me to have his a few years ago and we decided to meet a couple of miles from his home at the Montgomeryville LA Fitness Center. Something came up and Wes had to cancel but said we would meet again somewhere along the line.

And that was the last I’ve heard from Wes, who moved to Delaware, which was like moving to Kansas. He never came to a game again, but he made a big difference in his life at a time when a difference needed to be made.

RIP, Wes.