Nothing is ever given in life on this earth, especially the knowledge of the time that you have here.
All of us know what day we arrived; none of us knows the future day we will depart. All we know is to do our best to live the best life we can.
No one lived a better life than Wayne Hardin, the legendary Temple coach who passed away Wednesday, a couple of days from attending Alumni Day at the Edberg-Olson Complex on Saturday. By all accounts, coach was in good spirits and gave a great speech about “filling the stands” for future Temple football games to the 120 or so alumni players in attendance.
On a personal note, I have known coach Hardin since I was 17 and covered his football teams for the Temple News and for the Doylestown Intelligencer later. He was the greatest college coach I have ever known (hell, the greatest coach, period) and this was something I was convinced of since my college days. Sadly, his death came two months after the greatest high school coach I ever knew, Central Bucks West’s Mike Pettine Sr., passed away.
I had always been convinced of Hardin’s greatness, but it was nice to get affirmation from other writers, too.
During a game in which Hardin put a big-time scare into Penn State for only what seemed like the umpteenth time, John Kunda, the sports editor of the Allentown Morning Call and a Penn State beat writer, broke the silence in the press box.
“Hardin’s out-coaching Joe again,” Kunda said.
The press box erupted in knowing laughter.
Later, when Tubby Raymond schooled a young Bruce Arians in a Delaware upset win over Temple, Philadelphia Inquirer writer Chuck Newman similarly broke the silence in the Blue Hen stadium facility.
“Will Wayne Hardin please report to the press box?” Newman said over the public address system.
More laughter because Hardin had beaten Raymond in eight of the 10 previous years.
I was overwhelmed with pride, knowing that my school was the smartest school on the field every Saturday afternoon that Wayne Hardin was on my sideline and, because this was college football, that meant a lot.
Hardin always out-coached Joe Paterno, the way General Robert E. Lee always outcoached Ulysses S. Grant. Paterno, like Grant, always won because what those guys had at their disposal was more than what Hardin and Lee had.
Still, it was fun watching Temple move those chess pieces around and checkmating the bad guys time and time again.
Bill Belichick followed Hardin around as a 7-year-old son of an assistant coach to Hardin, and then followed Hardin’s teams at Temple. He took copious notes and is admiration for Hardin is documented for posterity.
“I’d say Wayne influenced me more than anybody else,” said Belichick in a recent article by CSNNE’s Phil Perry. “Honestly, I saw other coaches at Navy take a different approach, and looking back on it, even though I didn’t know it at the time, but I would say looking back on it, I would rather be like him. I’ve seen these others, but I would rather do it the way he did it.”
I was there in the press room underneath the stadium at Colgate the day Hardin quit. I asked him why and he said simply: “Mediocrity is not my cup of tea.”
He was a very young 55 at the time.
It was Hardin’s idea to take the goofy-looking Owl off the helmet and spell out TEMPLE on the side.
“We want people to know who we are,” Hardin said. “We’re Temple.”
That “TEMPLE” became the brand during the winningest TEMPLE years and, when Al Golden arrived, he changed the ‘][‘ back to TEMPLE because, as Golden said, “that’s the brand Temple football had when it was respected throughout the country.” Perhaps a fitting tribute to Hardin this fall would be to bring back TEMPLE at least on one side of the helmets.
People in sports like to talk about records that will never be broken, mentioning Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Heck, I’m convinced no coach in Temple history will ever do what Hardin did, which is win 80 games in 13 years at the school. No coach might ever get Temple into the final Top 20 again because a Temple coach who gets the Owls on the brink will probably be gone by the bowl game. Hopefully not but that’s the reality of college football today.
Joe Morelli, a former Temple quarterback who never played for coach Hardin, made sure he drove coach to the games and that’s why we were all able to enjoy his company over the past few years.
“Joe takes good care of me,” coach said.
Last year, I asked coach if he still golfed at 90.
“Last time I did that was last week,” coach said. “I fell three times. I don’t do it any more.”
He asked me to walk him over to where his ex-players, led by Steve Conjar, moved their tailgate and I was more than happy to do that.
“Look who I found!” I said to the guys.
“God bless you, Wayne,” Mark Bresani said. “I love that you come to the games. I’ll tell you what, when I’m 90, I will probably be here, too.”
About 20 years ago, Hardin finally introduced me to his wife, Jane, who stopped and grabbed me by the arm.
“We like you,” Jane said. “It’s not just because you have red hair like we did.”
She remembered my articles on the coach and said she appreciated all of the nice things I wrote.
I told her I meant every word and did.
Now coach and his beloved Jane are together but those of us who remain behind and knew him are grieving now. Perhaps the most important lesson he taught us was how to live a life well.
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