Time has shown Temple made a mistake firing Bruce Arians in 1988

Bruce Arians, the Colts' offensive coordinator, is to interview for the Eagles' coaching job. He was fired by Temple in 1988.
Bruce Arians, the Colts' offensive coordinator, is to interview for the Eagles' coaching job. He was fired by Temple in 1988. (Associated Press)
Posted: January 14, 2013

Temple's worst football decision in the last 25 years?

No-brainer: firing Bruce Arians.

Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time, a quarter-century back, since Arians won only seven games in his final two seasons on North Broad Street. That's what you do when teams win seven games in two seasons, right? Time to bring in a new man.

Unless you're Temple. Arians should have gotten a raise.

Yes, it's obvious now that the man can coach. He went on to a productive career as an NFL assistant, was offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, impressively took charge of the Indianapolis Colts this season when cancer hit head coach Chuck Pagano, and now is on the frequent-interviewee list for open head coaching spots, including with the Eagles, who are expected to meet with Arians on Tuesday.

Here's the real evidence in his favor - his Temple successors. Jerry Berndt had one winning year, but the overmatched former Penn coach went 4-39 in his other three seasons. He was replaced by Ron Dickerson, who took the Owls to much lower depths, going 8-47 over five years. That man couldn't even average two wins a season.

By the time Dickerson was let go in 1997, the Arians era already had a little afterglow. At least he had managed to always win a minimum of four games in five of his six seasons, and had two winning years. (We're giving him the 6-5 1986 season, although those wins were later vacated when it came out that Owls star Paul Palmer had signed with an agent before finishing his eligibility.)

His 4-7 seasons were different from the ones that came after him. In his third year, 1985, Temple played two ranked teams, losing to No. 13 Brigham Young by two points and at No. 11 Penn State by two points. The season before, he had beaten West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. There were some tough games his final season - the firing wasn't a shock - but the last game was a 45-28 win over Boston College.

"I knew the schedule when I came here," Arians said the day he got fired. "You keep your job by winning, but that's not how you coach. You don't coach to win at all costs. I'm a counselor, a teacher, a father, a brother - and a coach. I helped some kids."

A couple of times when the Temple job opened up since then, there would be rumors that Arians might be interested in coming back. But no connections were ever made and those rumors certainly didn't pop up this year, when Arians was having so much success coaching Andrew Luck.

Temple probably changed the whole trajectory of his career, hiring him when he was just 30 years old, after two seasons as running backs coach for Bear Bryant. If Arians had stayed at Alabama a little longer, he probably would have been a hot young assistant in the Southeastern Conference and may have ended up a head coach at an SEC school.

From Temple, Arians moved to the Kansas City Chiefs and mostly stayed in the NFL except for brief stops as offensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Alabama.

He was paid off the final year of his contract, so he left it to reporters to say that the Owls needed better practice facilities, a bigger weight room, that they weren't keeping up with anybody in the East.

Not to suggest Arians would have been on North Broad all these years. The sport doesn't work that way. The track record at a place like Temple is, you either get fired or have enough success to move on, even after the new practice facility and weight room were built.

Arians had enough success in his early years at Temple that he was a candidate in 1986 for the head job at his alma mater, Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer got that job and is still there. (Temple had beaten the Hokies, 29-13, that season in Norfolk, Va.).

Here's betting that if Arians had stayed for even five more years - and say he had been replaced by a competent assistant - the Owls never would have been kicked out of the Big East. Sugar Bowls wouldn't have been part of the picture. But a lot of Temple football jokes would have been left on the table.

Maybe the timing was just a little off with Arians and Temple, his hiring and firing.

"In no way was I prepared for this job when Temple gave it to me," Arians told Sports Illustrated the day he was let go in 1988. "I don't know why they did, but I'm glad they did."

Contact Mike Jensen at mjensen@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.

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