After its program was in danger, Temple finishes its football comeback with bowl berth

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 27, 2009

The first three votes made the future of Temple football appear bleak to Bill Bradshaw. The Owls athletic director was observing a critical January 2005 vote to determine whether the football program should remain in division I-A or drop to division I-AA -- or be eliminated entirely.

Bradshaw listened as three voters called for the program to drop from college football's highest level -- and one of those votes came from the school's president. Then the tide turned, and Bradshaw's vision for division I-A football in Philadelphia was rescued; those voting kept the program in division I-A by a 9-8 margin.

"They were really to the bottom line, which is dollars and cents," Bradshaw said. "And my appeal was to common sense. A school the size of Temple and the market the size of Philadelphia, talk about a niche. The only thing missing in Philadelphia is football on Saturdays."

College football remained alive in Philadelphia and lately has begun to thrive. Temple's 9-3 season has resulted in a bid to Tuesday's EagleBank Bowl against UCLA at RFK Stadium. It's the program's first bowl appearance in 30 years and only the third in school history.

Tuesday's game marks the resuscitation of the program that teetered on life support. When Bradshaw arrived in 2002, the Big East was phasing out Temple. Veterans Stadium, its home field, awaited demolition. And the team suffered embarrassing losses on a weekly basis.

"We were the bottom of I-A, unceremoniously dumped, no place to play games, no conference, no hopes," Bradshaw said.

Temple secured a last-minute, multiyear deal with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003 to play home games at Lincoln Financial Field. But the program was still without a conference heading into the January 2005 vote. There were many advocates for change, including actor Bill Cosby, perhaps the school's most famous alum.

"Not getting rid of it, just dropping it [to division I-AA] so we could play schools like Colgate," Cosby said. "I felt we could build a wonderful rivalry with all of these [Northeast schools]. And then came this wonderful man named Al Golden, and he has really and truly turned it around."

Golden was hired as coach in 2005 after five years as Virginia's defensive coordinator. Bradshaw met with Golden in a Charlottesville hotel room the morning after Golden's defense helped the Cavaliers beat Temple, 51-3. After 20 minutes, Bradshaw wrote "This is our guy" on the legal pad in front of him, awestruck and impressed by Golden's vision for Temple.

By this point, Bradshaw had worked a deal to make the Owls a football-only member of the Mid-American Conference starting in 2007. Although the MAC is not a Bowl Championship Series-level conference, it provided a niche that Golden embraced.

"I thought the move to the MAC for Temple would create a new category in terms of being a place between the Penn States, the Marylands, the B.C.s and the Syracuses, and the Villanova, Delaware, U-Mass. and those other division I-AA all-stars," Golden said. "I thought it would be a new place in the marketplace, and I thought we could succeed."

Golden, who had a reputation as a strong recruiter with the Cavaliers, brought recruiting ties throughout the Northeast and liked Temple's geographical footprint. He believed in Temple's vision for investing in the program, and sought to rebuild the program incrementally.

He went from one win in 2006 to four wins, then five in 2008 and nine this season. His recruiting classes have been strong and he revived the program's academic infrastructure. This is the first season during Golden's tenure that Temple used its full allotment of scholarships.

"We're still not yet up to the great schools known for football in terms of our weight rooms, our dorms and the things that go along with it," Cosby said. "I think that Al has done a fantastic job with what he has. And now with this, we want to go to a bowl next year, and the year after and the year after."

Golden was introduced as the head coach of the Owls four years to the day before Temple's matchup in the EagleBank Bowl was finalized. On the day he was hired, he shared hopes about the laughingstock program that just months earlier had no home, no conference affiliation and possibly no future.

"I haven't come up with the one word that describes all that, and I wish I could," Bradshaw said. "We're playing in a bowl against UCLA on national TV on December 29th. It's more than special."

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