At the end of his first season as a Division I head coach, Stan Drayton took a vacation to Jamaica with his family. Drayton wanted the trip to be a hard reset after Temple Football’s 3-9 season, one that he could use to take a breather from adjusting to life as head of a program.
On that trip, he realized something was wrong. Rather than enjoying his vacation with his family, Drayton found himself worn out, sleeping through the first few days of his break.
“I was burning out,” Drayton said. “I was mentally and physically exhausted. The first few days, I was dead asleep. I figured that, if I continued on that track, I’m not going to be what I need to be for this football team.”
Drayton got to work after that moment of realization. He started working out regularly, eating better to get in shape, and focused on controlling his emotions when life felt out of control. He found these steps pushed him to be the coach he felt his players deserved.
Drayton’s desire to adapt for his team has been passed down. Players have noticed how the level of competition in the locker room has risen this offseason and how each player is pushing others to get better. Drayton’s style of leadership has shifted Temple football’s identity, and his team hopes it can lead to success this season.
“It’s not easy to just build trust,” said safety Tywan Francis, who joined the team this spring after transferring from Colorado State. “You don’t just come up to a guy and y’all have trust. You’re not gonna plant that foundation. It’s been a journey for us building that trust.”
That trust hasn’t always been present between players and coaches. In 2021, during former head coach Rod Carey’s last season, several players left the team before the season ended. Former running back Iverson Clement also alleged that members of the coaching staff mistreated him during workouts in a series of tweets.
The team that won the American Athletic Conference championship in 2016 hadn’t had a winning season since 2019.
When Drayton took over the program in 2021, Temple football seemed to be in disarray. Drayton won national championships as an assistant coach at Ohio State and Florida, but this was his first shot as head coach. Despite the challenge, Drayton had a clear image of Temple’s identity.
“It was still a school that has a chip on its shoulder,” Drayton said. “We’ve taken this underdog mentality, and we’ve done a lot of great things in the past because of that mindset.”
Rebuilding the program was always going to be an uphill battle. Drayton brought on Colorado pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf as his offensive coordinator and Kansas defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot as his defensive coordinator. The Owls had some star players, like outside linebacker Layton Jordan and cornerback Jalen McMurray, but much of the roster was made of lower-profile recruits who needed to be coached up.
One of those players was then-freshman quarterback E.J. Warner, who had offers from 11 schools but didn’t get a single Power 5 offer. His love for the city and his relationship with Langsdorf, dating back to his brother Kade’s time at Nebraska, drew him to Temple.
But, his bond with the team and the familial culture made him stay this year.
“I fell in love with the people here at Temple, whether that’s the coaches or the players,” Warner said. “I wanted to come back because I think we can do something special and I think we showed that at the end of last season.”
Warner won the starting job after replacing then-quarterback D’Wan Mathis in week two against Lafayette. The team rallied around the new-look offense and put together strong showings toward the latter half of the year.
Drayton has since changed his leadership style, using the momentum from last year. The Owls added 50 new players to the roster this year, and Drayton challenged his players to take control of the locker room rather than the coaches. That new strategy played out when the seven newest single digits, an honor given to leaders on the team, were announced a few weeks ago.
“A year ago, [the players] were like puppies following the adult dogs to the dance every day,” Drayton said. “And now it’s time for those guys to take ownership of it. When they put their stamp on and make up their minds, that’s when we’re going to have success in this sport.”
Temple has already come a long way since the days of the Rod Carey era. Retaining players, like Jordan and tight end David Martin-Robinson, have allowed the new players to assimilate into the “Temple TUFF” culture. In doing so, Drayton hopes the Owls can build on the success they had last season and translate that into a higher total in the win column.
“Last year, there was a whole lot of not knowing how to go about business,” Drayton said. “There’s a lot of evaluation going on during that time. This year, all the guys that have returned to the program have picked up where we left off. We’ve got momentum. Last year, there were a lot of things we wished happened. Now, it’s about being intentional.”