Just over halfway through an eighth consecutive losing season at Temple, football coach Bobby Wallace has had enough.
The beleaguered coach announced yesterday that he would not seek a contract renewal at the conclusion of this season, when his contract expires. Wallace said he will serve as the Owls’ coach in their final five games.
As Wallace spoke before members of the media and athletics department at the Liacouras Center, tears began to well in the 55-year-old coach’s eyes.
Wallace did not halt his speech, and his tone did not waver. The coach declined to say how long he had considered his resignation, but said it “was in the best interest of the program.”
“The main thing that I feel good about leaving here after this season is that I will have affected some kids. The academics have improved,” Wallace said. “… I feel completely good about that. I’ll be rooting, in the future, for Temple.”
Wallace is not looking to coach elsewhere next season, he said, but beyond that he has not ruled out returning to the sidelines for another team. A college coach for 30 seasons, Wallace said he is preparing to relax at his beach-front home in Alabama.
“I’ve got five more games left in me, [then] I’ll be sitting on the beach,” he said, jokingly but hurtfully.
Expectations were high when Wallace signed on before Temple’s 1998 season. Prior to his time with the Owls, Wallace had been a successful Division II coach. In 10 seasons, he compiled an 82-30-1 record at Division II North Alabama, where he won three D-II national championships.
Wallace never found that breed of success at Temple, posting just 19 wins to this point. The Owls’ 38-7 loss to Maryland on Saturday dropped Wallace’s career coaching mark below .500 to a forgettable 101-102-1.
At the press conference yesterday, Wallace mentioned giant steps Temple has taken in the past few years to help recruiting and his winning percentage. Wallace has witnessed the university’s addition of Edberg-Olson Hall, a state-of-the-art practice facility, to its Main Campus. In 2003, the university made a financial commitment that guaranteed the Owls would play their home games at Lincoln Financial Field for the next 15 seasons. Moreover, the Owls swapped conferences this season, departing the competitive Big East Conference for the Mid-American Conference, a D-I league with a level of play more equivalent to Temple’s.
When Wallace accepted the Owls’ coaching job eight years ago, the team had none of those amenities; the dream of coaching a D-I football program was sufficient enough, he said.
“Those things have been done, but I’m [still] going out,” Wallace said. “… [Losing] has taken its toll. We haven’t had a winning season, and we’re not going to have one this year.
“We’ve lost a lot of games, [but] I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Wallace added. “An opportunity came up to coach a D-I program, and I don’t regret it one second.”
Wallace’s announcement came at a favorable point in the Owls’ season, director of athletics Bill Bradshaw said yesterday.
This Saturday, the Owls face No. 9 Miami in Week 7 of the Owls’ season. If Wallace had waited until the end of the season, finding a first-rate replacement for him would have become more difficult, Bradshaw said.
“This is the most exceptional opportunity Temple has had to have a [new football] coach,” Bradshaw said. “We believe there will be significant interest in this position.”
Wallace addressed his players behind closed doors yesterday at the team’s practice facility. A majority of the Owls looked contemplative and remained silent.
Senior quarterback Mike McGann, who has known Wallace for five years, said his coach is “like a second father” to him.
“It’s never easy when you lose someone like Coach,” McGann said. “…He told us to focus on the rest of the season because it’s about us, not him.”
Senior cornerback Ray Lamb is playing in his third season under Wallace. Lamb said Wallace’s personality is what the football team will miss most.
“I’ve had a couple of one-on-one conversations with him since I’ve been here,” Lamb said. “I really like his heart and his character. … It’s upsetting because I’ve grown attached to him over the years.”
Neither Wallace nor Bradshaw provided the names of any potential candidates for the head coaching vacancy. A national search for Wallace’s replacement is underway.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.