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

 

THE NEW COACH’S initial hurdle, in December 2005, was to recruit: “We had 22 scholarships to give, and six weeks to do it in,” Golden says. He and his staff tapped their connections to local high schools to fill empty slots. He combed the campus for ex-players and got them to try out. He promised his sad-sack veterans change was in the air. He bombarded them all with blizzards of paper: mission statements, overviews, cautionary news clips about athletes gone bad, a 300-plus-page “Owl Code” handbook. He told them he was out to win the MAC championship, talked to them about values, honor, tradition. He promised to make them the best they could be.
 
Then he set out to permanently alter the culture of Temple football. Only he didn’t start with football. In keeping with his business paradigm, Golden began by reshaping his players’ lives off the field. “We had to find things they could be successful at,” he explains. “Measure and reward.” Those who got good grades found their names posted on the walls. So did those who did good work in the community. Golden talked to his squad about the opportunity they’d been given, the sacrifices their families had made for them. He set standards: no gambling, no drugs or underage drinking, no hats or do-rags indoors. His coaches checked that players were in classes. He checked that players were in classes. “We needed to take them somewhere they hadn’t been, socially, academically, athletically,” Golden says. “We had to give them life skills. Football is the residual. Football is the by-product of that.” Lou Caputo’s right: When Al Golden says things like that — and he says things like that a lot — you believe him.
 
The new commitment is year-round. At spring practice, players are rated in categories like “Makes Good Daily Life Decisions” and “Considered a ‘Warrior’ by Peers.” They’re expected to know the exact number of days until the team’s first game. And Golden stresses community service; last year his “Owl Outreach” had an NCAA-leading 1,000-plus hours of service performed. If players don’t buy in, he replaces them. In 2006 and ’07, he played 42 freshmen — unheard of in Division I-A.
 
In Golden’s first season, Temple only won once. But! It was homecoming, and it snapped a 20-game losing streak. Last year, the Owls dropped five in a row before winning three straight. Their NCAA defensive rank jumped from 117th to 44th.  They had the top-ranked red-zone defense in the nation. Average attendance more than doubled, to 28,858 per game. The team’s final record: 4-8 overall, 4-4 in the MAC.  
 
And they should have won one more. At their road opener against UConn, everyone at Rentschler Field saw wide receiver Bruce Francis catch Dy’Onne Crudup’s tipped pass in the end zone with 40 seconds left. Inexplicably, an official ruled Francis out of bounds. Final score: Connecticut 22, Temple 17. “There was no question in anybody’s mind it was a touchdown,” Golden says, “except for that official.” He shrugs.
 
After the game, he didn’t blame the loss on the ref, or the call. Instead, “I told the players sure, we had that last chance — but on the play before that, our receiver was wide open, and we missed an opportunity. We missed a double-team block on the play before that. We had the chance to block a long kick. If we had, we could have kicked a field goal to win.” He laid the fault squarely with his team, he says, because unless they took responsibility, they’d never become “agents of change.”

1 2 3 4 5 6 < Previous Next >View as One Page

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • John and Phyllis

    Your article about Al Golden was so true. My Dad
    played for Temple in the '20's and the whole family
    has been following Temple since. We told everyone
    about this article ! We do hope Golden and the MAC
    will be the positive answer to the program.

  • John

    My family and I enjoyed reading your article about Al Golden. My Dad played for Temple football in the mid-'20's and the whole family has been following Temple football and basketball since. I told everyone about this article and we hope Golden
    and the MAC will be the positive answer to the program.! Thanks for an article about TEMPLE.