Temple's rise a story of survival
PHILADELPHIA -- Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw made his case, explaining to a blue ribbon university panel why the school should keep its struggling football program.
Ignore the past results, the winless seasons, the expulsion from the Big East, he urged.
Instead, look at the possibilities. Playing football in a major city, in a state-of-the-art stadium at Lincoln Financial Field, and the potential to win with a renewed commitment and steady leadership.
Bradshaw made his most compelling argument. Now came the vote on the future of Temple football.
That winter day in 2004 started badly.
First vote in: No.
Second vote in: No.
Third vote in: No.
One of those "nay" votes belonged to the school president.
Bradshaw started to shift in his seat. The confidence he'd had going into the vote turned into uncertainty.
"Talk about being down early in the game," Bradshaw said in a recent interview with ESPN.com.
In the end, Temple football survived.
By one vote.
That was not exactly a full-fledged vote of support, but Bradshaw was beyond elated. Not even in all that euphoria could he have known that eight short years later, the Owls would have engineered a historic turnaround.
Even more improbably, they are back in the Big East. As an all-sports member, no less.
"Exceptional, extraordinary: All those words apply," Bradshaw said. "This is as special a moment as I've ever had, and people at Temple said it was the finest day in the history of intercollegiate athletics. I really don't know if it is or not. That's for historians to decide, but I would say it is a special accomplishment."
So how did this happen? How did Temple go from 0-11 in 2005 to Big East member in 2012? The turnaround is nothing short of miraculous, a modern-day "Rocky" story in the very city that spawned the champ.
Much of the credit goes to Bradshaw. After Temple survived the vote, he found the football program a new conference home in the MAC.
That at least helped solidify the future.
He then found the right coach at the right time for Temple. After Bobby Wallace stepped down in October 2005, the pressure fell squarely on Bradshaw to make a home-run hire.
"This was our last chance," he said.
Résumés poured into his office. Temple eschewed using a search firm, instead relying on recommendations and those expressing an interest. One name kept coming up throughout discussions Bradshaw had with close advisors.
It was late November. Temple played at Virginia, where Golden served as defensive coordinator. The day after the Cavs handed the Owls a 51-3 loss, Bradshaw met with Golden.
After a few moments, Bradshaw wrote a simple message on a sheet of paper.
"This is our guy."
"Al Golden didn't come in and apply as much as he came in as the coach," Bradshaw said. "He told us what he was going to do. He knew everything; he knew the warts, he knew the blemishes, he knew how low down we were. This was no pie-in-the-sky thing. He understood what the job was, and what he needed, and gave very specific responses to what he was going to do, and the rest is history."
Make no mistake, Golden wanted that job. Badly.
"The reality was that program was one vote away from extinction. It was going to be a dinosaur," Golden said in a recent interview. "We saw something in it that a lot of people didn't see. I watched that place. I knew what we could do there."
When Golden arrived to begin preparations for the 2006 season, Temple was the worst program in all of Division I-A football. Temple had won 30 games between 1991-2005.
Though Temple football survived, Golden was not given increased financial resources. That meant he had a budget that ranked in the bottom 10-15 percent of all schools in the country. There was no great windfall in the salary department, either.
He had a roster filled with junior college transfers and players who could best be described as having character issues. Temple also was hurt because of poor performance in the APR. In 2006, the Owls had 54 scholarship players.
In his first season, Temple went 1-11 and lost by an average of 30 points a game. In his first 30 games, Temple went 6-24.
"It was hell," Golden said. "I don't think there's anybody who would say it wasn't. But in moments like that, you find out what you're made of and who you are. You can't flinch. You have to stay the course. Not only were people telling me I was crazy to take the job, but believe it or not there were a lot of people who were impatient there. There were a lot of people jumping ship after Year 3."
Golden sold a vision to his players, and got them to buy in to his plan and his blueprint. Players who came to Temple could play early.
They could play a top-notch nonconference schedule in an NFL stadium in a city and campus experiencing a renaissance.
But before they could win on the field, they had to win in other areas of their lives. In the classroom. In the community. In the locker room, where Golden made it a point to recruit players with high character, many of them captains on their high school teams.
They not only had to believe in Temple football and Golden and their coaches. They had to believe in each other.
"He did it like no other coach could," Bradshaw said. "He sold the vision. He sold young people on that ability to come in and be a pioneer, to be someone, to be a part of something very special."
Temple finally saw the results in 2009, completing a 9-4 season with an appearance in the EagleBank Bowl against UCLA. It was Temple's first bowl appearance since 1979, and soon everybody knew all about Golden.
After another winning season in 2010, Golden left for Miami. Several months earlier, Bradshaw began informal discussions with Big East commissioner John Marinatto about a future role for Temple in the conference.
But now there was a second home-run hire to make. Bradshaw could not miss on hiring his second football coach, not after Golden brought Temple all the way back from the brink of extinction. He needed a coach who could elevate this program even higher, to win the championship that eluded Golden in his five seasons with the Owls.
Bradshaw hired Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, with deep roots in the Northeast.
"I remember when this job opened and Al took the job, talking to a couple prominent high school coaches up here, I remember them telling me 'This is a diamond in the rough,'" Addazio said in a recent interview. "Then you fast-forward, and I'm at Florida. Coincidentally, we're playing Penn State in the Outback Bowl. I remember watching Temple play Penn State and I'm saying, 'Wow, this is a good team.'
"Then of course, the job came open and I said this is a great opportunity. I felt coming in here there was tremendous potential. In my heart when I took this job, I said, 'I want to get this program back to the Big East.'"
There was a perception problem, though. Temple won 14 games in its time as a Big East member. Though resources and support had increased, though facilities improved, though Temple was a markedly different program -- the Owls could not quite shake their history.
"I would say it like this," Addazio said. "I would tell you that even though a lot of people knew how far Temple had come, I don't think they understood how different we are right now. It amazes me how people don't know how different we are. It blows my circuits in this day and age. We really are so radically different."
So now Temple is back in the Big East, light-years from a past that is not so far away. Temple has come to embody everything Philadelphia represents. The Owls are tough. They are proud.
They are survivors.
Andrea Adelson covers the Big East for ESPN.com.
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