ANNAPOLIS, Md. – By the 13th of December, Bobby Wallace will be gone.
In some cynical circles of Temple sports fans, it will be a day of celebration. The 51-year-old football coach will move back to Gulf Shores, Ala., with his wife, Sharon, and contemplate what the future holds for life after Temple football.
If the diehards are excited about his departure, Wallace doesn’t mind, because he has said he’s excited about it, too.
“I’m excited about where I’m going and what I’m going to do,” Wallace said after the Owls’ 38-17 loss to Navy on Saturday. “It’s a change. This is my 33rd year of college football including the years I played. I counted it all up and it’s 375 games. That’s a lot of games.”
Those last 11 games constituted one of the most brutal seasons in the history of the program, and none of those games resulted in wins. Going into the second half Saturday, the Owls held a slim 17-14 lead. Senior running back Umar Ferguson had always said how much he relished that situation: A close lead that he can help the team protect by grinding it out on the ground and wasting time off the clock.
But Ferguson’s balky ankle wouldn’t let him hobble onto the field in the third quarter, when the game was tied at 17-17 and the Owls had second and 7 at Navy’s 13 yard line.
Backup Michael Billops took his place, received a handoff from senior quarterback Mike McGann, and had a lane to the endzone that lacked only a red carpet. Then the turf tripped Billops, who fell for a one-yard gain. Two plays later, senior kicker Ryan Lux’s 29-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
After the game, Ferguson named a number of his body parts that were aching, but said his pride was intact.
“My pride ain’t never down,” Ferguson said. “The pride for the whole team is a little down because we didn’t win any games, but I know everybody up here’s got a lot of pride.”
All three players who had injuries that might have held them out of the game – senior defensive end Christian Dunbar, junior offensive tackle Elliot Seifert and Ferguson – played. Senior defensive tackle Antwon Burton, who has struggled with his own nagging injuries in the past, credited his teammates with staying strong “given the underdog position we were put in.”
“This year Temple was put in a real [tough] situation,” Burton said. “That’s the bottom line. We were put in a real [tough] situation. Given our schedule, we lost 15 guys four days before our opener against Arizona State. … We stayed positive. A lot of people grew up. A lot of people gained character and I’ll always remember those people.”
Wallace said he won’t be around campus much in his last three weeks. He’ll enjoy Thanksgiving with his family and maybe reappear at Edberg-Olsen Hall to clean some belongings out of his office. The university hopes to name a new coach in early December.
“I’ll come in to turn in my card, my cell phone … my badge and my gun,” Wallace said. “And I’ll be gone.”
Ben Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com.