Ten years ago, the Temple University football program was on life support.
The school was not-so-politely asked to leave the Big East Conference in 2001 for a number of reasons, one of which included the notion that the Temple Owls were considered “non-competitive.”
Four years later, the school’s Board of Trustees agreed—by an 8 to 7 margin—to keep Temple football at the major college level. Along with that vote came a pledge to commit the resources needed in order to restore the program to its former glory.
That commitment appears to be paying off rather nicely these days.
Following Saturday’s 34-0 homecoming win over Buffalo—the team’s fifth victory this season by more than 30 points—the Owls have won 20 of their past 27 games.
In junior Bernard Pierce, Temple boasts one of the best players in the nation: a running back capable of breaking off touchdown runs reminiscent of those typically seen in video games. And the man who leads the latest iteration of the Owls—head coach Steve Addazio—previously earned two national championship rings as a member of Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida.
In a few short years, the Owls have risen from the proverbial ashes of the late 80s and 90s. Not only are the Owls dominating their own conference, they’re winning games against nationally-recognized programs that boast dozens of four-star recruits.
Even those who had completely written the team off are beginning to pay attention once again. The renaissance on North Broad is rapidly approaching its final stages.
When it comes to Temple football, everything is different now.
In the not-too-distant past, Temple gave away thousands of football tickets to area schoolchildren.
For the kids, it was a rare opportunity to watch a football game in an NFL stadium. For the university, it was a philanthropic way to fill the building.
Attendance was a priority for Temple in those days, especially since the Big East was threatening to revoke the school’s membership due to lack of fan support.
However, even with free tickets readily available, convincing people to spend their Saturday afternoons watching college football at Veterans Stadium was a hard sell.
It’s not hard to figure out why: Temple simply wasn’t very good.
From 1985 to 2006, the Owls had exactly one winning season. There were two years (1985 and 2005) in which the team didn’t even win a single game.
To borrow a phrase from Malcolm Gladwell, the tipping point for Temple football came on December 6, 2005. On that day, the school announced that their new head coach would be former Virginia defensive coordinator Al Golden—a fitting last name for the man who would spark the rebirth of the Owls’ football program.
Golden was all of 36 years old when he accepted the job, and the former Penn State tight end brought with him an energy and a passion that hadn’t been associated with Temple football in decades.
The season before Golden arrived on campus, the team finished 0-11. Four years later, Temple ended the regular season 9-3 and earned an invitation to the EagleBank Bowl—the school’s first postseason appearance since 1979.
Golden was showered with accolades for his work reviving a program many had left for dead. And with those accolades came job offers: last December, he decided to take his talents to South Beach to become the head coach the Miami Hurricanes.
Many wondered if Temple would be able to find a coach who could continue the success that Golden ignited during his five years in North Philadelphia. Those worries were put to rest less than three weeks later when Steve Addazio was formally introduced as the 25th head coach of the Temple Owls.
As a former offensive coordinator and associate head coach for the Gators, Addazio is keenly aware of what it takes to compete at the major college level.
He wasted little time in garnering his first major win—a 38-7 rout over Maryland in College Park on September 24. The victory marked the first time Temple had ever defeated an ACC school.
“[The win] was great for recruiting, and it was also great for the development of our football team in the big scheme of things,” said Addazio in an interview on The Broad Street Line last week.
The energy surrounding Temple this season is hard to ignore.
The team has been featured in a number of national articles, and the Owls routinely find their way into ESPN highlight packages, thanks in large part to the on-field exploits of Pierce.
The Bristol-based network seems to have something of an affinity for the Owls. When ESPN was forced to find alternative programming after the NBA canceled the first two weeks of its regular season, what did it choose?
Last week, the Owls’ early November matchups against Ohio and Miami University were moved from ESPN2 to ESPN. The Miami game will mark the third time that Temple will appear on ESPN’s primary network this year, and the contest is one of the school’s record-setting eight national TV appearances this season.
Seemingly overnight, the Owls have turned into appointment television. More than 1.9 million people watched Temple nearly upset Penn State earlier this year—a record TV rating for the university.
There are still a few things missing, however.
The pomp and pageantry that surrounds most other Division I schools isn’t yet present on North Broad Street.
There is no ceremonial walk through the heart of campus, nor is a singular hand gesture that unites the team with the fans. Traditions such as those will come with time and, most importantly, success.
Success is precisely what the Owls have enjoyed in recent years—barring an epic collapse, they will likely be bowl-eligible for the third consecutive season.
Even so, fans have been slow to warm up to the new-look Owls.
More than 57,000 came out for the Temple-Penn State game, but the Owls have averaged less than 27,000 for their other three home dates this season.
“I think [the fans] are missing out on a great experience,” Addazio told The Broad Street Line. “The atmosphere is electric.”
The recent revival of the Temple program has led to the belief that the school may soon receive an invitation to a major conference, possibly for all sports.
Temple would seem like an ideal candidate for the Big East, but according to several reports, Villanova (who competes in the conference in all sports except football) balked at the league adding another team from the Philadelphia market.
However it shakes out, Temple clearly has the credentials worthy of major conference membership.
This season, they’ve defeated a top-level ACC team (Maryland) and almost beat a nationally-ranked Big Ten team (Penn State). Last year, they notched a victory against Connecticut—the team that would eventually win the Big East title.
Off the field, the school’s Board of Trustees recently approved a $9 million expansion to the team’s practice facility. The upgrades will quadruple the size of the current complex, and will allow Temple to be more aggressive when it comes to recruiting.
It’s hard to imagine that the Big East—or any other conference, for that matter—would refer to the Owls these days as “non-competitive.”
The school’s mantra this season is “Philly Proud, Temple Tuff”, and Addazio and his charges do their best to fulfill that motto every time they step out onto the field. And with each passing week, the renaissance of a proud Philadelphia football institution comes closer to completion.Source: bleacherreport.com