The guy who recruited Bo Jackson to Auburn in the early 1980s hasn't forgotten his time here, even if that does seem like so long ago. And in many ways, it was. This Saturday the Owls (1-2) will play their first Big East game since then, against South Florida (2-3) in South Philly. It's a fresh start, in a new landscape. Wallace laughed when he was told that a redshirt freshman from Penn Charter named Matt Ryan had come in for BC after its starting quarterback was injured.
"I didn't realize that," Wallace admitted. "Who knew, huh? Really, Matt Ryan. Imagine that."
Then again the Big East that Wallace competed against was a different animal. Miami won a national title in 2001 and played for another the next season. Virginia Tech and freshman Michael Vick played for one in 1999. Those two, along with BC, moved to the ACC about the same time Temple was asked to leave. Syracuse and Pitt will soon follow them. West Virginia's in the Big 12, which finally created the opening for Temple to rejoin this season. First, thought, it was up to Temple to put itself into position to be able to fill that void.
Unlike the previous time.
"There's a lot of work that's gone into getting them to this point," Wallace noted, from afar. "A lot of things have changed, a lot of improvements that had to be made got done. Give them all the credit. [Athletic director] Bill Bradshaw got that deal with the MAC, which gave them a chance to make themselves attractive. Timing is everything. It wasn't always a good situation, not so much on the field as off it. I thought the MAC was a lot better fit for Temple. But with all the movement that was going on with conferences around the country, it's worked out this way.
"I talked to [Wallace's successor] Al Golden for quite a while before he took the job. I recommended he take it. But things were already being addressed."
The Owls won four games three straight seasons, starting in 2000. They beat Rutgers four straight times, often by a lot. They won at West Virginia in 2001. Then they found out the Big East didn't want them any more. And it just got worse from there.
That's what can happen, when you're asked to try and do more with much less. Hey, it worked with basketball.
"When I first stepped on campus, we were meeting with players in the hallway," Wallace recalled. "You know, the practice facility was the field behind McGonigle Hall. Other people used it, and there were potholes. It's not even close to where they are now. It's amazing how far they've come. Slowly but surely.
"I remember in 2000, we were beating West Virginia at Franklin Field late. That would have put us at 4-1. Then they scored at the end. If we could've won that game, I thought maybe things could've been different. I don't know if ultimately we could've stopped them from voting us out. But I didn't look at being at Temple as a major struggle. Obviously, we were fighting an uphill battle with facilities and all those things. That's the neat thing about seeing them get back in . . .
"I don't know whether I handled it right [after the Big East made its decision], by going the junior-college route [in recruiting]. But I didn't know if we'd have a football team, or even be in Division I. It didn't work out. That's the way it goes. We did what we thought we had to do, to survive at the time. So the last couple of years were torture. But until all that happened, I thought we were close to becoming a competitive program."
Eight years later, with many of the proper pieces in place, that's exactly what it has become.
"On the field, I will never regret going up there," Wallace said. "It wasn't what we'd hoped, but I got to meet a lot of great people. Obviously you remember some of the wins. But not like that one particular game. We were just trying to move forward.
"I'll tell you what, though, think about the Big East back then. We were going up against [West Virgina's Marc] Bulger, Vick, Donovan McNabb, people like that. We even played [Marshall's Chad] Pennington [in 1999]. It was hard to look at NFL quarterbacks and not see someone we'd faced. We weren't just playing in the Big East. We were playing in the Big East at its height. I don't think people remember that . . .
"When I was there, I felt like things at Temple could've been done better. And I could have done things better. But I think we handled ourselves with class. Despite everything, we tried to keep the program from at least being a detrement. Behind the scenes I think a lot did get accomplished that's helped. But that's just personal. It doesn't help the won-lost record or what the fans probably think."
It doesn't matter any more. It's the past, a history lesson that figures to make a difference this time. So maybe it wasn't for naught.
Contact Mike Kern at email@example.com