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.”