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

AL GOLDEN CAN pinpoint the moment he realized he belonged at Temple. He was touring the campus in 2005, smuggled into town via a bit of skulduggery involving the underground parking garage at the Liacouras Center. As his guide led him out of the arts and entertainment center into the chill autumn air, Golden surveyed the scene before him — a mayhem of cranes and backhoes and mounds of dirt and girders of steel and acres of yellow warning tape, all set against a backdrop of the sad, sorry wasteland of North Philly.
Only that’s not what Al Golden saw.
What Golden saw was what would be: Avenue North, a complex filled with tony shops and lively eateries, anchored by the gleaming gem of the Pearl Theatre and surrounded by a North Philadelphia risen from the ashes. And he said to the guide, “If Bank of America, Qdoba, the Pearl Theatre, if all these private investors are developing around the university to the extent of $180 million, it’s time for me to come here, too.”
Never mind that Golden was being interviewed for the job of head coach of a football team that had gone nearly 20 years without a winning season. That had an NCAA Academic Progress Rate so dismal that it was losing scholarships right and left. That had been kicked out of the Big East in 2004 for stinking up the conference with its 14-and-80 record, then went 0-11 in 2005. Al Golden looked beyond the wreckage of Temple football the same way he saw past the chaos of Avenue North’s creation, all the way to the fulfillment, to a team of glorious winners clad in cherry and white. For him, becoming head coach of the Temple Owls was a simple business decision, one with a huge upside.
Once he made that decision, there was never any question his team would win.

AL GOLDEN IS a winner, starting with the genetic lottery, which made him tall and broad and handsome. His résumé is punctuated with the word “youngest”: youngest defensive coordinator in Division 1-A when he was hired by the University of Virginia in 2001; second-youngest 1-A head coach ever when he took the Temple job. Now 39, he speaks in perfectly formed sentences that exhibit a formidable vocabulary. He has a pretty blond wife and two pretty blond kids. As a tight end at Penn State, he was, well, golden, earning three letters and winning the 1991 Ridge Riley award, presented by Joe Paterno to honor scholarship, sportsmanship, friendship and leadership.