The State of the Program:
In 2005, the Temple Owls were among the worst FBS football teams in the country and were a program considering a step down to 1-AA. They had been on a consistent downward trajectory for 15 years and were screaming down a path towards obscurity in the conversation of Philadelphia sports fans. But, what gives? The school is located in one of, if not the most passionate football cities in America. It’s a city that is consistently sending its best players across the country to top college football programs. Why couldn’t Temple have a bite of that apple? The program decided it needed to go down a different path and made a decision that changed the direction of the program.
In 2006, the Temple Owls brought in Al Golden, the defensive coordinator for the Virginia Cavaliers, who had never held a Division 1 head coaching position. Al spent the first few years picking up the pieces from the previous regime and eventually led Temple to their first winning season since 1990, with a 9-4 record. A few more years under his belt, and he was in the crosshairs of bigger and better programs, leaving for the University of Miami.
Then came Steve Addazio, and the cycle repeated itself yet again with Addazio leaving for Boston College. Matt Rhule followed after, perhaps the best coach in the history of the program, who left for Baylor. Collins to Georgia Tech. You get the point. Temple had become a stepping stone program to some of the top programs in the country and had finally built a sustained level of relative success. They were consistently flipping lower recruits grounded in toughness and grit into guys ready to play on the next level. They were pushing the best teams in the American, perhaps the most competitive Group of 6 conference that college football has to offer. So where do they go from here? Let’s get into that a bit.
Have a Good Offseason (HAGO)
Temple had a bit of a roller coaster of an offseason. First, their two year head coach Geoff Collins left for green pastures to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Collins was from the South and, like Temple’s last few coaches, didn’t seem to long for the Broad Street life. The Owls went back to the well that was serving them so well and hired Manny Diaz, electric defensive coordinator and inventor of the Turnover Chain from the U. Diaz brought excitement and youth to the position and was one of the stronger recruiters for Miami. National and local types alike lauded the hiring, and things were looking up for Temple yet again. Then, Mark Richt decided it was time to hang them up, a few weeks after letting his young stud defensive coordinator walk.
Just like that, Diaz had spurned the Owls and returned to Miami to take the head coaching job there. You can’t really blame Diaz, Miami is one of the 30-35 programs in the country where you can lead your team to a title and is in the middle of fertile recruiting grounds. Temple was left scrambling with a lot of the best candidates in the country already grabbing open positions. They landed on Rod Carey, the former Northern Illinois head ball coach. The hire falls outside of the formula that Temple has built its program on; young unproven assistants had brought this program back from the dead. Carey, a coach with head coaching experience, had already proved himself and earned a shot at a MAC school. Those bright Tuesday and Wednesday nights have already prepared Carey for the Thursdays and Fridays of the Americans.
So what does this mean for the program? It’s hard to say. It’s a departure from the instability of the position in the past, but also the sustained success of the program over the last 10 years. Perhaps Carey is more likely than most for a longer stint with the program, but he doesn’t have the upside of those young assistants. There have been positive signs so far. Carey has already secured 5 commitments to the 2020 recruiting class, the most in the American thus far. He retained Gabe Infante, multi-time state champion high school football coach, who was brought in by Diaz who should know the area extremely well. I’d imagine there are few coaches better equipped to recruit the Philadelphia area at this point than Infante.
Looking into the Crystal Ball
I am optimistic about the future of Temple football and think they can continue to build into one of the strongest Group of 6 programs in the country. Why can’t they be a UCF or a Boise State? Between Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the DMV, the program is an fantastic position to continue to recruit and grow local talent. They will never get the physical freaks or pre-made pros, but will continue to succeed in finding those diamonds in the rough. Their best quality as a program is the level of toughness that defines their guys, and those traits will always be appealing in the eyes of NFL decision makers.
Will Temple ever be in a position to make the College Football Playoff though? Not exactly. Especially, if the field does not expand beyond 4 teams. At this point (and for the foreseeable future), I can’t really see any team outside of a Power 5 conference making it to the CFP. If the committee considers expanding the series to 8 teams with an automatic bid going to a Group of 6 team, things could get interesting for the Owls. As one of the best teams in the American, they sit among the group of 10-15 teams who would be knocking on the door at that point. Hey, anything is possible. You just need the right group of guys, get lucky a few times, and you find yourself looking down the barrel of the Crimson tide. It could happen.
It is likely that Temple will just continue being Temple, consistently good and scary to schedule for big programs. Penn State isn’t going to come knocking down that door again for a while, and I doubt others will follow suit. The Owls are in position to be a perennial spoiler, that early season loss that sticks out like a sore thumb. Let’s build a stadium in Philly or Chester (WaterFront everybody???) and ruin other teams’ seasons. What’s more Philly than pissing in the punch bowl of some arrogant team who thinks they’re better than you? Not much.