Fred Turoff looked down at a vacuum cleaner. It sat next to some boxes and a pair of crutches, in a room off the gymnastics team’s training gym in Pearson Hall. The gray two-toned wet/dry vacuum was open and dirty. It had seen better days – but it was still functional.
“This needs a new bag,” the men’s gymnastics coach said. “Let me see if there’s a janitor around that can get one.”
The men’s gymnastics gym doesn’t have the modern, brand-new look of Edberg-Olsen Hall or the recently renovated areas of McGonigle Hall, but the team that has won 18 of the last 38 Eastern College Athletic Conference championships still practices 20 hours a week in their gym.
Including the upcoming seasons, Turoff and his crew counterpart, Gavin White, have been the head coaches of their respective programs for a combined 72 years. Both are members of the Temple Athletics Hall of Fame. Neither was given any advance notice about their teams’ impending elimination.
“The fact that Gav and I have been here over 30 years, and neither one of us was consulted at all with: ‘We have a problem. What can we do? Let’s think of some creative solutions,’” Turoff said. “We have some newcomers who come in from out of the city, don’t know Philadelphia traditions, don’t know the history of what we have other than what they can read. It seems pretty cold and corporate to me, instead of an educational institution that’s supposed to hear different ideas and weigh them back and forth.”
Turoff’s first memories of Temple go back to when he was in junior high, when he went to Temple on Friday nights to work out with the gymnasts. After his family moved to Connecticut, he came back to Temple for his degree. He graduated with a physics degree in 1969, and after a brief stint in graduate school, he took a job as an assistant coach for the Owls.
“I was an assistant coach for six years, [then] took one year off from that to train for my last possible Olympic try,” Turoff said. “A series of injuries in my latter career knocked me out of the international program. I tried, but finally had to face retirement, and the job opened up here three months later. It was very nice timing for me.”
White has been head coach for four fewer years than Turoff, but he has been around Temple athletics for longer. White’s father is a former Temple football coach and athletic director.
“I remember going to Temple football games when I was 6 or 7 years old,” the younger White said. “My dad was coach then, at the old Temple stadium. Watching football there was fun. Other memories I have are going down to gymnastics meets and going to basketball games.”
Turoff said there are other options for him to coach, even if they are in an advisory capacity. White said in a November interview with The Temple News that he could coach 10 more years. Now, he’s backing off that stance.
“That might have been a little bit ambitious on my part,” White said. “This might have been my last year, or next year. The hard part right now is that I have a group of sophomores that are amazing. They had a great fall. And I was expecting to maybe get back into the medals this year … and then see them into their junior and senior years. Maybe finish here next year and have [assistant coach Brian] Perkins take over the following year. I have a feeling that by the time these guys are juniors and seniors, they’re going to be awesome. That’s the sad part of seeing the program dissolve right now because I have a really good group.”
“If we’re going out, we want to go out with a flourish,” White added. “If we’re going out, we want to go out on top.”
White said he has gotten a lot of support from alumni and others. An online petition titled “Save Temple Rowing Teams” has more than 12,000 signatures. When the crew and rowing teams held a rally in December, rowers from St. Joseph’s, Villanova, Drexel and La Salle came to show their support. Turoff has been in contact with alumni of his team, encouraging them to send letters to administrators.
“I don’t think there’s another team that’s had the competitive success in the conference, or in any conference, that we’ve had,” Turoff said. “They also certainly haven’t had the academic success we’ve had the past few years… in addition to that, we run a boys’ team. We run a Sunday clinic for local kids in conjunction with the women’s team. Those are both fundraising efforts, but they do provide opportunity for us to spread the word of gymnastics. So we’re doing everything that you’d want an athletic team to do.”
Turoff said he has not directly been in contact with any administrators. He requested a meeting with Lewis Katz, the chairman of the Athletics Committee of the Board of Trustees, and was told the request had to go through Athletic Director Kevin Clark. Turoff has not contacted Clark, as he said he doesn’t believe Clark will grant the meeting.
Turoff is also an adjunct faculty member, teaching classes in skin diving and gymnastics education. He said he believes those opportunities will remain for him after the team is cut.
“I could certainly stay on as a part-time faculty member, but it wouldn’t replace my full-time salary,” Turoff said.
One reason the university has given for the teams being cut was inadequate facilities, particularly in the case of crew and rowing, which have competed and trained without a boathouse since 2008. Neither White nor Turoff said they were unwilling to compete with their current resources.
“I know my facility isn’t ideal, but it hasn’t kept us from being successful,” Turoff said. “I’m willing to continue with this.”
Evan Cross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EvanCross.