To Addazio, Owls' future looks bright

New Temple coach Steve Addazio relaxes at the Sports Writers Association dinner.
New Temple coach Steve Addazio relaxes at the Sports Writers Association dinner.
Posted: February 01, 2011

They have come in the door before like this . . . enthusiastic, wide-eyed, ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work on bringing Temple football to its full potential.

Steve Addazio has that look right now and, truth be told, he's got more reason for optimism than some of the previous head coaches who eventually ran out of breath trying to resuscitate the program.

"This couldn't have been a better match for me," Addazio said Monday night before joining others on the dais at the annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association award dinner in Cherry Hill. "There are great building blocks in place and we've got a real chance to take it to the next level. I could not have passed this opportunity by."

Since being hired in late December by Temple to replace Al Golden, now the head coach at Miami, Addazio has been little more than a rumor in Philadelphia. He left his job as the offensive coordinator at Florida and began recruiting throughout the northeast, looking for players to fill out his new mission.

National signing day for college recruits is Wednesday, and Addazio says he is happy with what he's been able to accomplish in a short period of time. He has the reputation of being a great recruiter, and that will be tested as he switches from selling the virtues of a recent national champion and those of a program that has been to one bowl game since 1979.

"When Al got the job here, I had kind of inquired about the job and even back then there were a lot of people who felt this program was a diamond in the rough," Addazio said. "And it was in a really bad state at that point."

Golden took over a moribund program, one that had devolved under Bobby Wallace. It wasn't all Wallace's fault. The Big East kicked them out and the Owls drifted without a league and without much purpose. By the end, Wallace was pasting together mercenary rosters loaded with JUCO transfers and various disgruntled characters.

The cleanup effort took a while, but landing a spot in the Mid-American Conference helped, and the Owls reached a 9-4 record and a spot in the Eagle Bank Bowl. This season was 8-4, a slight step back, but it represented the first time Temple won more than seven games in back-to-back seasons since 1974.

So, Addazio, unlike others who tried to jump-start a dead battery, already has a vehicle that has reached second gear. The question is whether Temple - playing in a conference without much local interest, competing for athletes against schools with more trees on campus - has another gear.

"There's a lot here still to be accomplished. Al molded the program, but we haven't won the East, not won the MAC, and not won a bowl game," Addazio said. "Those are the immediate goals and that's what's in front of us. It's never been done and we've got to do it."

Addazio's last year in Florida was a strange one. Head coach Urban Meyer took a leave of absence after the 2009 season because of health and family issues, and Addazio was the interim head coach through the recruiting season and into spring football. Meyer returned to the team, then retired after this past season, which represented a downturn for the program. Meyer and Addazio were criticized heavily in Gator country for an offense that sputtered in the absence of quarterback Tim Tebow.

According to various reports, new head coach Will Muschamp was going to replace most of Meyer's staff, but Addazio said he could have stayed if he liked. Either way, Temple represented a new start and new challenge.

Soon after taking the Temple job, Addazio's name surfaced in relation to a messy head coach hiring at the University of Connecticut that resulted in a prominent booster requesting the return of a $3 million donation. The booster apparently wanted Addazio to get the job, and the details of what happened and what did not are a little murky.

"Absolutely not. I'm here," Addazio said, asked if he expressed any back-channel interest in the job. "I'm from Connecticut. I played college ball there. I coached high school ball there. So my name coming up was bound to happen, but there's nothing there."

How he got here isn't as important as what he does here. For now, Addazio sees the possibilities and not the potholes, and that's way it should be. The challenges will present themselves soon enough and we'll find out whether Golden arrived in town at just the right time, or whether he really was that good.

"What can Temple do? What can't we do is a better way to say it," Addazio said. "We've got a great university. We've got a great location in a great sports city. We've got a great venue in Lincoln Financial Field. We've gone toe-to-toe with the Big East and beat 'em. We can do all of the above. Temple has been there before."

Yes, but it's been a while. The Wayne Hardin teams are a long way back in the rearview mirror, and a procession of coaches have passed this way, wide-eyed as they arrive and bleary as they leave.

The last guy was an exception, and Steve Addazio will try to make it two in a row.

"The program is in great shape," he said. "It's a great job."

The trick is making sure the next guy, whenever he arrives, thinks so, too.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

 

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