Hardin, who went 118-74-5 in 19 seasons at Navy (1959-64) and Temple (1970-82), did make it into the College Football Hall of Fame, having been selected in May. The induction will take place Dec. 10 in New York. This weekend he's being honored by Temple, first with a reception tonight and then during tomorrow afternoon's inaugural American Athletic Conference game against Houston at Lincoln Financial Field, when he will be recognized at the end of the first quarter.
Hardin went into Temple's Hall of Fame in 1994 and remains the Owls' winningest and longest-tenured coach. Nonetheless . . .
"It's not as dramatic as everyone's trying to build it up to be," he said. "When I got into the Hall of Fame, the biggest thing to me was that all the kids I coached could say, 'I helped put him there.' I wish I could give everyone a piece of it because they deserve it. Nobody does it by themselves. We're not in this alone. I had so much help along the way."
So he had 1,000 commemorative coins made. The front has Hardin's name on it, with the Hall of Fame insignia. On the back it reads, "You made it happen."
"I wanted to give them something to let them know I'm in there because of what they did," Hardin said. "I'm handing them out, not only to players but to all the people that were there for me when I needed them. Doctors, trainers, you name it. I never threw a pass, caught a pass, ran with the ball. I just put them in a position where they could do the best they could. It just means the kids played well and did their jobs. That's all I wanted for them, was to give 100 percent. It's always better when you win [too], but that's not the end of the world."
Hardin had two Heisman Trophy winners at Navy, Joe Bellino in 1960 and Roger Staubach 3 years later. Temple's Steve Joachim won the 1974 Maxwell Award. Ten more of his players made All-America. Among his Owls were Randy Grossman, Joe Klecko, Bill Singletary and Kevin Ross. The 1979 team upset Cal in the Garden State Bowl to finish 10-2, the only time Temple was in the final rankings (No. 17). And, of course, there were also several near-misses against Penn State.
But for Hardin, who spends half his year in Oreland and the other 6 months in Florida, it wasn't so much about the numbers as the faces.
"I've got a million memories, and thank God I can still remember them," said Hardin, an avid golfer who can sometimes still shoot his age (86). "I've never gotten away from that. I've tried to stay in touch with all of them. One kid that played for me at Ceres [Calif.] High School, I [later] took him to Porterville [Calif.] Junior College. He was an outstanding student, just a super kid, and he could play. I had to look him up so I could send him a coin. I'm just starting. I may have to get 1,000 more. I hope so. That's what it boils down to. Finding all those guys, letting them know that I still think about them. And thanking them. I don't need to see my name in the paper. It's been there before."
Hardin has developed a relationship with first-year Owls coach Matt Rhule, whom he first got to know when Rhule was an assistant on Al Golden's staff.
"Whatever our conversations are, as I've told him, you know anything that I say could be unimportant," Hardin cautioned. "But if you think it's important, you take it and use it in any shape or form. It's yours, not mine. Some ideas might pass back and forth. I know he cares about the kids. That's what matters to me."
Rhule, whose team opened with a 28-6 loss at Notre Dame, relishes what has turned into their semi-regular conversations.
"He's really become a kind of mentor and friend," Rhule said. "Coach Hardin still loves the game. He's someone who was able to come here and win by recruiting local guys, be innovative, throw the football, all the things we're trying to do. The biggest thing I can say about him is, if you talk to his former players, they love him.
"People from Navy donated to our building. That's the ultimate sign of respect for a coach. My hope would be that someday the guys I coach will want to talk about me that way."
You can't get a better compliment. Especially from a man who was 7 when Hardin retired.
"He looks it, too," Hardin noted. "My God, to be that young."