Al Golden was introduced as Temple’s 24th football coach nearly two years ago and quickly made it known that he planned to turn the Owls into a championship-caliber team.
I laughed. You laughed. Anyone who knew an iota about Temple football laughed.
A cast of characters had failed to reverse Temple’s fortune and the overly optimistic Golden sounded quite the fool.
His words aren’t so foolish anymore.
Despite finishing the season with an underwhelming 16-3 loss to Western Michigan Saturday, the Owls finished 4-8. Upon first glance, that mark doesn’t leave one any reason to get too excited, but check again.
Since Bruce Arians left following the 1988 season, only one Temple coach has won at least four games in his second season at the helm. Jerry Berndt’s squad finished 7-4 in 1990. The Owls joined the Big East Conference the next season and haven’t finished with more than four wins in a season since.
Each of the Owls’ four wins this year came within the Mid-American Conference, where they finished 4-4. They never finished .500 in the Big East, only sniffing the mark once when they went 3-4 in 1997. To do so in their inaugural MAC season is remarkable, even if the MAC lacks the talent of the BCS conferences.
In fact, the Owls probably would have finished the season with five wins – a feat they’ve accomplished just twice in the last 28 seasons – if the referees hadn’t blown a last-minute touchdown call against Connecticut. To be fair, the Owls still would have had to hold off the Huskies for 40 seconds, but the correct call would have at least given them that opportunity.
Still, the Owls might have finished with a couple more wins if a few other aspects had gone their way. If they hadn’t vastly underestimated Buffalo. If Adam DiMichele hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury. If the offense hadn’t blown all three red-zone opportunities against Penn State in the first half.
In most cases, an argument weakens when the ifs are busted out. A team can if its way to anything, really. That doesn’t apply here. Not now, at least.
The simple ability to discuss the ifs shows the improvements Golden has made to this program.
There are no ifs when you’re losing by 62-0, which the Owls managed to do on back-to-back weekends last season.
But ifs are viewed as excuses, and Golden hasn’t been one for excuses – at least in most cases. He continues to harp on that blown call at UConn, despite the fact an added win neither makes the Owls bowl-eligible or improves their conference record. (You did have the entire 60 minutes to pull out that game, Al.).
Still, Golden’s lack of excuses has been a huge part of the Owls’ turnaround. He’s never satisfied and that has propelled the Owls.
The most glaring example of this came after the Owls topped Northern Illinois for their first victory this season. A year earlier, they had overreacted after they beat Bowling Green for their first victory, dumping the water cooler on Golden and jubilantly dancing around Lincoln Financial Field like they upset a Top 25 team.
Against NIU, the Owls were clearly proud, but understood wins are to be expected, not surprises. With that attitude, they strung together their first three-game winning streak since 1990.
That’s just one of the lessons Golden has preached since he got here. He’s taught them how to deal with increased media attention. He’s transformed them from the starry-eyed team at Penn State last season to the team that realized it can compete with the Nittany Lions.
The transformation is far from complete, but the Owls aren’t that far from competing for a conference title.
In all honesty, there’s no reason the Owls can’t contend for a MAC title next season, given the fact they’re only losing two replaceable seniors and gaining an accomplished recruiting class.
But Golden is not the first coach to be on the brink of turning this program around. Others have gotten to this point, then saw their success plateau. See: Wallace, Bobby.
Golden has to make sure that doesn’t happen this time. If he does, we’ll see who’s laughing then.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.