Sports: Golden Boy

Temple’s football coach isn’t just turning his historically awful team around — he’s got a vision for North Philly, too



You’d like your son to be Al Golden. You’d like to be Al Golden yourself. That’s a big help when he’s trying to coax young men to North Philly. “From the first time we met Al and his staff,” says Kennett Square restaurateur Lou Caputo, whose son Steven is now a Temple lineman, “we liked them. He’s eye-to-eye with you. He’s not above you, he’s not below you. Everything he said, I believed.”
Al Golden insists his job is easy because Temple sells itself these days. Sitting in his office during football camp in August, he reels off a tsunami of plus points: a capital improvements campaign that’s pumping $500 million onto North Broad Street. The nation’s fourth-largest media market. America’s most diverse college campus. The Mid-American Conference’s best attendance last year. And Temple plays its home games at Lincoln Financial Field, on turf hallowed by Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb.
 “What has happened on this campus in the past decade is incredible,” Golden says. “Temple was a penny stock when I came here. But I knew if people learned about its assets, they would want that product.” Still, for a winner like him to take on Temple football … “It looked like career suicide,” he admits. The attitude of the university toward the team was a profound apathy. It ranked 109th out of 119 major college programs in the nation in attendance, drawing a paltry 12,700 fans a game. Fellow students mocked the players. Faculty wanted football dropped. “There were only a few diehards like me who tried to promote it,” says Temple alum and longtime fan Peter Chodoff. “I have a brother who’s a very well-known psychiatrist, and when I kept on rooting for Temple football, he offered to treat me free of charge.”
Bill Bradshaw, who came on as Temple’s athletic director in 2002, managed to get the board of trustees to commit, once and for all, to keeping the football program. He negotiated a long-term lease at the Linc and landed Temple a new conference, the Mid-American. He drew up marketing plans to increase attendance. Then he turned to the matter of a new coach.
Universities have formal hiring processes in place. In high-profile searches, though, “You throw them out,” Bradshaw says. Applicants don’t want the press or fans to know they’re looking for new jobs; that’s why interviews require secret drop-offs in the Liacouras Center garage. In this case, Temple’s search committee — it included Clay Armbrister, then a university VP and now Mayor Nutter’s chief of staff; faculty rep JoAnne Epps, now dean of Temple Law; university counsel George Moore; and an alumnus and a student, among others — held interviews, then brought three candidates back to pitch their plans to resurrect the team. Half an hour into Golden’s, Bradshaw knew. “We needed a savior,” he says, “and that’s what we got.”