Coach Al Golden and the football team completed a four-year journey from a 1-11 season in 2006 to a nine-game winning streak and likely bowl berth.
Though the football team lost to Ohio, 35-17, Friday and missed out on a chance to compete in the Mid-American Conference Championship against Central Michigan in Detroit, the Owls still made visible progress on the football field. With a 9-3 overall finish, including 7-1 in the MAC, Temple recorded its first winning season since 1990, set a single-season school record with nine wins in a row and finished in a tie for first place in the MAC East Division. In coach Al Golden’s first season, the Owls finished 1-11 but have steadily and noticeably improved each season since then.
On Oct. 10, 2005, then-coach Bobby Wallace announced he would not seek a contract renewal. The search for a new coach ended almost two months later on Dec. 6, 2005, when Temple selected Al Golden. At the time, Golden became the second-youngest coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision at 36 years old. He had spent the previous five years as the defensive coordinator at the University of Virginia.
“It is with great pride and enthusiasm that I accept the position of head football coach at Temple University,” Golden said. “I am excited about leading this program …The future looks bright.”
“With Al Golden, we now have the final piece in place for the rebuilding of the Temple football program,” Director of Athletics Bill Bradshaw said.
One of Golden’s first orders of business was signing 24 student-athletes to National Letters of Intent. Collegefootballnews.com ranked that recruiting class No. 1 in the MAC, a trend that continued for three consecutive years.
“To all the football players in the room, I don’t care what’s transpired in the past,” Golden said prior to the start of the season. “We are going to start a new era. You are going to begin with a clean slate. For anything that may have gone wrong in the past, I certainly can’t apologize for what happened. I wasn’t here. But I promise that you’ll get the best that I have, and you’ll get the best that our staff has.
“We want to be known around the country and the MAC for being a physical team that will play anyone, anytime and anywhere,” he added.
The Owls wrapped up Golden’s inaugural season at Temple with a 1-11 record, including an eight-game losing streak. They opened the season with a 9-3 overtime loss at Buffalo and then lost games to No. 13 Louisville and Minnesota, 62-0. No. 12 Clemson later defeated the Owls, 63-9. The lone bright spot for Temple in 2006 was Golden’s first win, a 28-14 Homecoming victory against Bowling Green on Oct. 28.
“We will re-group,” Golden said after the Louisville game. “I told the team I wouldn’t trade locker rooms – and I mean that. I would not trade locker rooms. I wouldn’t want to be with another team. I believe we’re going to get it done here. I know we’re going to get it done here. We have too many good people not to get it done.”
The Owls improved to 4-8 overall and 4-4 in the MAC, even by playing the nation’s most freshmen for the second straight year. All four wins came in conference play, as a pass from sophomore wide receiver Dy’Onne Crudup to junior wide receiver Bruce Francis was ruled incomplete and not reversed following replay for a 22-17 non-conference loss to Connecticut on Sept. 15.
The Owls also dropped decisions to Navy, Army and No. 25 Penn State. Temple opened the season with a five-game losing streak but then won three straight games, including a 16-15 Homecoming victory against Northern Illinois and a 24-17 win versus Miami (Ohio), who was undefeated in MAC play at that point.
The Owls wrapped up the season with three losses in four games, after redshirt junior quarterback Adam DiMichele fractured his left tibia. The Owls did post the No. 1-ranked redzone defense in the nation and the No. 1-ranked defense in the MAC.
“I think the people who know me know I’m a positive person,” Golden said after the 30-19 loss to Navy Sept. 1. “I have supreme confidence in myself and my staff. I have faith. We’ve got unwavering principles. We’re just going to keep going. You look back at all the turnarounds in college football. You look at what all those teams were. I know them all. I’ve studied them. It’s not easy. It’s not just like you’re changing your team. You’re changing everything. We’re going to hang in there and keep plugging away. I’m not going to take off my Temple gear when I go home tonight. I’m not going to do it. I’m proud to be the coach here.”
“I’ve told my team we’re slaying demons one by one,” Golden added later in the season after a 24-20 win against Akron. “Win one MAC game, win one MAC road game … slay them one by one.”
What ifs dominated this season, as the Owls, who finished 5-7 overall and 4-4 again in the MAC, lost five games by a touchdown or less. After opening the season with a convincing 35-7 win at Army, Temple lost to Connecticut, 12-9, in overtime. Then came the 30-28 loss in the Hail Mary game at Buffalo. Golden lost his first game on Homecoming, as Western Michigan defeated the Owls, 7-3. In the latter third of the season, the Owls lost back-to-back close games at Navy and at Kent State. The Midshipmen scored 20 points in the fourth quarter and then scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime for a 33-27 win, while the Golden Flashes held on for a 41-38 win on the road that all but eliminated the Owls from the MAC East Division race. Temple finished tied for second.
“In 21 years of college football, I don’t think I have ever been involved in anything like this,” Golden said after the Navy loss. “It’s heartbreaking, but we’ll get them back.
“Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom,” Golden added after the season-ending 27-6 victory against Akron. “Sometimes you have to experience what we experienced at Navy.”
The Owls opened the season with a 27-24 loss to Football Championship Subdivision opponent Villanova. Temple led, 10-0, at halftime but committed five turnovers.
“These kids have been through so much,” Golden said afterward. “Everybody just expects it to change, and it just doesn’t change overnight. It’s not the end of our season. We got a bunch of games left.”
After a 31-6 loss to then-No. 5 Penn State, Temple ripped off a record nine straight wins. The streak started with a 37-13 victory against defending MAC Champion Buffalo Sept. 26.
“Let me just say this about our organization and our kids,” Golden said. “People talk about the Hail Mary [last year against Buffalo], but they forget the second part of that is ‘full of grace.’ Our kids handled it with grace for a year.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever been 1-0 in the MAC,” Golden added. “I’ve got to hide in the city and hide in the state [after losing to Villanova and Penn State], but at least we’re 1-0 in the MAC.”
The Buffalo game also marked the first start for emerging freshman running back Bernard Pierce. He carried the ball 20 times for 116 yards and his first touchdown. Golden said he had been “working three years to get that kind of rushing game.”
Pierce left the Nov. 17 game against Army with a left shoulder injury but recorded six 100-yard rushing games during the season. He broke the 1,000-yard barrier in the 27-24 win versus Navy (when the Owls officially became bowl eligible). After that game, Pierce was ranked the No. 3 running back in the FBS and the No. 1 freshman. He finished No. 13 after leaving the Kent State game with a shoulder injury and missing the season finale against Ohio. Pierce now holds the record for most touchdowns in a season with 15, however.
“This team is different,” Golden said after the Navy win. “This team loves each other. This team has unity. This team won’t crack. They just hang in there and stay together. I see a team that has some poise and believes in the brand.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at email@example.com.