Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Let me tell you a story about Temple football
If you are a fan of UMass athletics, watching College GameDay on ESPN Saturday morning could not have been pleasant. There was Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and the crew beating up the Minutemen for being 40-point underdogs in the Northwestern game, that was due to kick off 2 hours later. Nobody likes to see their school set up as a laughing stock.
It's kind of been a gut-punch week in Western Massachusetts.
While the guys on ESPN were having fun with the game, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy — as is his style — pulled no punches.
"UMass' football program is an embarrassment," he wrote in a column. "This is not the fault of the student-athletes. It is the fault of the UMass administration and the athletic department. The players are not being put in a position to succeed, and that's on the grownups and the citizens of Massachusetts who are letting this happen.
"Simply put," he continued, "the Minutemen should not be playing big-time college football."
Sure, Walt Bell's Minutemen lost consecutive games by giving up 63 points. Sure, UMass has only won one game this year and 19 since 2012. The short-term future of the UMass football program may provide a light at the end of the tunnel.
That light at the end of the tunnel appears to be an oncoming train.
I am, however, here to tell you it could be worse. It could be much worse. It could be my college alma mater worse.
I graduated from Temple University, the only school to have its football team kicked out of the old Big East Conference.
There are many substantive differences. UMass is trying to move up from the FCS level, while Temple had done that successfully 20 years before disaster struck. Both schools are located in primarily pro areas, where unless you are very good (read Villanova basketball) most fans don't care. So just being okay isn't good enough. Both are metaphorically younger siblings to more powerful athletic programs. UMass has played in the shadow of Boston College. BC is still living off of Doug Flutie, but that's a good legacy to have. Temple has to deal with Penn State, a school that casts a much, much wider shadow.
You think things are bleak in Amherst? Let me tell you a story.
When I was an undergrad back in the 1970s, we had a College Football Hall of Fame coach in Wayne Hardin running things. In my four years in Philadelphia, the Owls went 27-10-1. Hardin had seven winning seasons and two bowl trips. But when he retired after the 1982 season, things started growing dark.
Current Tampa Bay Bucs coach Bruce Arians came to Philly from Bear Bryant's staff at Alabama, and he proceeded to go 21-45 in six years. One of those years was an 0-11 slate, which became 0-11 after it was discovered that we had an ineligible player. Otherwise the record would have been 5-6, with nice wins over Pitt and Virginia Tech.
But when Arians was let go after 1988, Temple won just 38 games over the next 17 years. That included five 1-10 years, one 1-11 season and one 0-11 season.
It was so bad, Temple had to shuffle games between Veterans Stadium and the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field. We didn't have a field to call home.
It was so bad that the Big East, not exactly the SEC or the Pac 12, threw us out because we stunk.
Things started to change when Al Golden was hired, but things did not start easily. Golden, who left Temple for Miami and is now on Matt Patricia's staff in Detroit, went 1-11, 4-8 and 5-7 before developing a winning team.
According to my friend Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, in a piece he wrote this week about two former Temple assistants now in the rarefied air of the best teams in America, Golden lost back-to-back games 62-0.
Thamel wrote in his piece: "Golden arrived at a Temple program so depleted that none of the 32 NFL franchises attended the school's pro day that spring. He recalls playing the 2006 season with 54 scholarship players, and it wasn't uncommon for broken glass or stray bullets to need to be cleared from the practice field." As bad as Walt Bell and his staff have it in Amherst, it has never been "stray bullets" bad.
Former Golden assistants Matt Rhule and Ryan Day are coaching stars. Rhule left Temple to rebuild a Baylor program that had been shaken to the core by criminal allegations. Day replaced Urban Meyer at Ohio State, and the Buckeyes haven't missed a beat.
Since Al Golden's tenure at Temple, the Owls have now gone to five consecutive bowl games. Back in the early 1990s, when the school's Board of Trustees had come close to killing the program, that would have been unthinkable.
Rhule, Boston College's Steve Addazio and Georgia Tech's Geoff Collins, all parlayed Temple success into higher-caliber jobs. Temple now shares Lincoln Financial Field with the Eagles, has its own indoor football practice building and is as good as any program in the Group-of-5 American Athletic Conference. Temple would not look out of place as a middling Power 5 team.
Yeah, UMass football is pretty embarrassing right now. It may get worse before it gets better. It may not get better. My Magic 8-Ball is on the fritz.
But if Temple can turn things around, so can UMass. We'll see if it happens.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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