Tribute to a Legend: Al Shrier

This space was supposed to be occupied today by a discussion about a new twist to the Temple single-digit tradition.

We’ll get to that some other day because that seems so insignificant now.

Al Shrier, the Temple Sports Information Director before I was born and the school’s SID through my education at Temple and much of my subsequent career in the sports writing business, has taken his famous briefcase to the other side.

Legend is a word thrown around far too much these days, but Al Shrier was a legend in the way the word was meant to be used.

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“Bill, listen to me. Hire. Matt. Rhule.”

The news that Shrier passed away was incredibly sad for anyone at Temple and elsewhere who has ever had a positive interaction with him, in my case several hundred.

I wrote here several years ago that Skip Wilson, the long-time baseball coach, belongs on Temple’s Mount Rushmore with Wayne Hardin, John Chaney, Harry Litwack and Al Shrier.

People were somewhat taken aback that I put a SID on that mountain, but that’s where Shrier belonged. For a long time before Hardin or Chaney or even Wilson got there, Shrier was, if not the face, the mouthpiece of Temple sports.

Only Litwack, the basketball coach, pre-dated him.

Putting sports, the front porch of any university, out there in a positive light was Shrier’s job and he did it extraordinarily well.  He set the standard for all SIDs to follow. He was named the nation’s top SID four times and is a member of five Halls of Fame: the CoSIDA Hall of Fame:, the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Big 5 Hall of Fame, the Temple Athletics Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

That doesn’t even begin to tell his story because you would need a thick volume to do that.

As a former sports editor of the Temple News, Shrier had an especially soft spot for those who followed him in the same spot. Some of them included Ray Didinger, Phil Jasner, Dick Weiss, Joe Juliano, Craig Evans, Mike Ferretti and a host of accomplished journalists. Somewhere in there, I spent a stint on what was then a 7-day-a-week job to put out a daily from Monday through Friday that took up more of my time than my full course load.

Nobody helped me more than Al, who arranged interviews and trips for us with the teams. Later, as the Temple beat writer for Calkins Newspapers, Al made sure I had a seat on every football charter flight, often calling me before I called him.

As late as 2012, Shrier still had a hand in making decisions at Temple. He took then-athletic director Bill Bradshaw aside the second time Matt Rhule applied for the head football coaching job and said, “Bill, listen to me. Hire. Matt. Rhule.”

Bradshaw said it wasn’t until that moment he made the decision and he told that story at Matt Rhule’s opening press conference. Four years later, Temple was rewarded with its first-ever major football championship because of that decision.

Ironically, because he was reluctant to fly, Al only made the road games he could drive to but he still made sure the Temple story was told. Everywhere he went, he had his legendary briefcase. He never told anyone what he carried in that.

That was probably the first question St. Peter asked a few hours ago.

Thursday: Single-Digit Twists

Departures And Arrivals

There have been two visceral reactions to my learning of the departure of the last two Temple head football coaches and both occurred while listening to the radio and driving in my car.

The first came when Steve Addazio left and Harry Donahue broke in with the news on the 5:45 p.m. sportscast at KYW with these words: “There has been a coaching change at Temple … “ That perked me up a little because there is never a coaching change at Temple. I thought it might be Tonya Cardoza or some other minor sports coach moving on but instead Harry followed that slight pause with “Steve Addazio is headed to Boston College.”

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Hiring an assistant can go one of two ways.

As I made the left turn on Susquehanna Road near the Rydal train station, reaction was pure joy, pounding on the steering wheel and yelling, “Yes, yes, yes!!!”  That also had something to do with Temple never firing head coaches and I felt that Addazio would have to have many 4-7 seasons, not just the one he was coming off of, to be let go at Temple.

I did not want to live through that misery again, and Addazio’s future at Temple had a Ron Dickerson, Jerry Berndt and Bobby Wallace type quality written all over it.

On Tuesday, though, turning into the parking lot at work, the guy on one of the sports talk radio stations said at 11:40 this morning: “This just in:  Philly.com is reporting that Matt Rhule is leaving for Baylor.” The reaction had nothing to do with joy or sorrow and was just a knowing sigh.

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I knew this was going to happen last year with the Missouri dalliance when Rhule said he will always listen. I knew it was going to happen when he told a reporter who goes by the name “New Jersey Mike” in June that he cannot make promises, ostensibly to stay at Temple, and I really came to grips with it on Saturday when he told a press conference this telegraphed sentence: “It was a pleasure to have coached these kids.”

Notice the “have coached” part of that statement, which meant, at least to me, that he was not coaching the bowl game.  That’s OK, too, because the sanctions under which he will have to work with are crippling enough. He needs to recruit for Baylor and someone else needs to keep the current Temple recruiting class together (maybe Francis Brown).

I wrote Matt an old-fashioned handwritten letter upon returning home from work and placed it in the neighborhood mailbox after working out at the gym. I hope he gets it:

Dear Matt,

Thank you for giving me last Saturday, the very best of many great days I have spent as a Temple football fan over the last 40 or so years. Thank you for the way you and your wonderful players represented this terrific university and I wish you and your family many similar joyous days like Saturday in the not-too-distant future.

Good Luck,

Mike Gibson

That deals with the departure part of it, and now we get to the arrival area. To me, the university needs to no longer roll the dice with the hiring of an assistant coach. Being an assistant is not the same as being a head coach. It is a totally different job. You can be a great assistant and a terrible head coach. The world is littered with such examples. UConn found that out the hard way by hiring the “hottest” assistant coach available in Bob Diaco and that hiring turned out to be a train wreck.

NO MORE ASSISTANT COACHES. I don’t care if they are hot assistants, cold assistants, lukewarm assistants. Temple University should hire a proven winning head coach who has done it for multiple years at the FBS level, preferably at Temple University.

Al Golden, who has won here as a HEAD COACH, knows how to win and recruit here, is available and the current tight ends coach with the Detroit Lions. Ask yourself if you would rather coach the tight ends at the Lions or be head coach at Temple. He was 32-25 as a head coach under brutal sanctions at Miami and got fired for not achieving unrealistic expectations. He, above all other people, knows the grass is not always greener on the other side of the 10th and Diamond fence. If Golden can make written assurances with an astronomical buyout that guarantees a longer second stay, he is, as Bill Bradshaw wrote on that yellow legal pad in 2005: “Our guy.”

Thursday: Finished Business

One-Word Game Plan: Pound

Visual proof that Mike Sielski, who wasn't at the game, went on WHIP and flat-out lied. Written proof below.

Visual proof that Mike Sielski went on WHIP and flat-out lied. Written proof below.

There might or might not be a LaSalle University bias against the recent success of the Temple football team, but the evidence is there that at least a jealously exists among members of the media who were graduates of that institution.

Inquirer columnist Mike Sielski wrote a curiously timed column that implied the Owls’ paid the devil for the win over Penn State by cutting seven sports to benefit football. He neglected to do two things that every good journalist does—reach out to get the other side of the story and fact-check his assumptions. Had he done the first, he would have been able to kill two birds with one stone.  He would have been informed that not a single penny of the cuts went to football and had been reinvested into the other Olympic sports.

Sielski compounded his problems by going on the Zach Gelb Show on the Temple student radio station WHIP with this uninformed statement, “let’s be real, there were a lot more Penn State fans there” to Gelb, who, to his credit, shot back and said the stands were a sea of Cherry. Sielski, who wasn’t there, let the issue die but it was easy to picture him smirking and thinking at the other end of the line: “This is just some naive kid who sees the world through Cherry-colored glasses.”

Too bad his colleague, Mike Jensen (who was there), waited a couple of days before objectively settling the issue with this line from a column he wrote on the Owls:

jensen

The case on LaSalle’s jealously might have been closed with those few words until Temple fans picked up the Daily News yesterday and saw David Murphy’s “best bet” in the weekly predictions was UMass to cover the 10.5 against the Owls. You know Murphy is hoping and praying he is right.  Coincidently or not, Murphy went to the same college Sielski did. There’s not a whole lot of objective football analysis out there to indicate that UMass will even be in the game tomorrow against the Owls and certainly far less to make them a “best bet.”

More proof.

More proof.

Wishful thinking on his part, yes, and maybe a huge case of football-envy from guy whose school dropped football over a decade ago.

The Owls cannot afford to stub their toes the next few weeks for a number of reasons, the above two being relatively unimportant given the bigger picture, but they should know that, if they do, there are a lot of unscrupulous people just waiting to pound on them.

So, in a word, the game plan tomorrow against UMass: Pound. Pound the rock to keep Blake Frohnapfel off the field and, when the Minuteman quarterback finally gets on the field, pound him like they pounded Christian Hackenberg.

Because, Temple should know now, there are folks waiting to pound on the Owls should they misstep and many of them are consumed by jealously even in their own hometown.

Tomorrow: ESPN Gameday and Depth Charts

PSU vs. Temple: The Final Words

While the defense might have beaten PSU, I have a feeling Robby Anderson and the offense will have a big hand in beating Cincy on Saturday.

While the defense might have beaten PSU, I have a feeling Robby Anderson and the offense will have a big hand in beating Cincy on Saturday. Welcome back, Robby.  (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Amazing how in 24 hours Penn State went from terrific to terrible, but judging from the reaction in the middle of the Commonwealth, that’s exactly what happened.

For the 24 hours leading up to the game with Temple, this was supposed to be a special season in State College:

This according to SB Nation.

This according to SB Nation.

These are the results of a preseason poll in the Centre Daily Times.

These are the results of a preseason poll in the Centre Daily Times.

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Now, all of a sudden, according to Penn State fans, the same Christian Hackenberg who was so good putting up 31 points against Boston College in his previous game now stinks, as does the same offensive line he was in front of that day. The same PSU team coached by a great coach in James Franklin is now coached by a bum named James Franklin. The same guy who caught 82 balls last year in the Big 10 cannot get any separation this season.

Nowhere in the post-game analysis up there is the sense that Temple could be better than anyone expected. No one even remotely thought that Temple’s corners, Sean Chandler and Tavon Young, were more than up to the challenge or that playing the 11 returning starters from the overall No. 4 scoring defense in the country might have had something to do with 10 points.

No one factored into the result that Temple might have been supremely motivated, having a full year to stew and game plan over a sub par performance last Nov. 14.

Usually, in scenarios such as these, the truth lies somewhere in between but not in this case. What we have is a lot of people saying “Temple sucks” and the “reasons we lost to them” range anywhere from the Owls doing a Deflategate to a Spygate. (Yeah, we think that thread is ridiculous, too.)

Guess what? Nothing changed in a little over three hours of football on Saturday.

I’ll stick my neck out right now and say that Penn State will win 10 games this year, just like many of those preseason prognosticators wrote and that will be affirmation of Temple’s goodness, not Penn State’s deficiencies. Even if Temple loses to Cincinnati on Saturday, the Owls will still have a good season as well. Maybe just as good if not better. What we had on Saturday is a classic case of overreaction, like many of the MAC posts (I’m talking about you, Akron fans) who said, “I can’t believe we lost to Temple.” They got used to it. Penn State will, too. For today’s denial to turn into tomorrow’s acceptance, both the Owls and the Lions will have to have good seasons. One result on Saturday does not change that reality.

Post-Mortem: The only negative thing about this day was remembering a bunch of great Temple fans who never lived to see it. I’m talking about Steve Bumm, who came up and introduced himself to me outside what could loosely be called men’s room at Franklin Field in the Dark Ages. Like many fellow Temple fans I’ve met in similar circumstances we became good friends. Steve ran the “City of Palms” High School Basketball Christmas Tournament in Florida for many years before he died at age 51.

steve

Or Shane Artim, who never missed a home game. Or Dan Glammer, who tried to make all of the away games as well. Both of those good men died at the tender age of 46. When their friend, Jay Solnick, celebrated birthday number 47 a few years ago, I told him he was now here to stay because if you could stand Temple football as it existed then past 46, you’ve crossed the proverbial Rubicon. There was Dave Edwards, better known as NJ Schmitty, who brought his own unique sense of gallows humor to the last years of Bobby Wallace and the first couple of Al Golden. Maybe he just kept a few people sane with that perspective. People always knew he was there with the giant white Temple ‘][‘ above the Chevy Conversion van. That van and that ‘][‘ will make a return on Oct. 10, his brother  told me on Saturday. Sadly, Schmitty will not but we know this Susquehanna University grad would have loved beating Penn State.

Wes Sornisky says something to Wayne Hardin after a 17-17 tie at Cincinnati.

Wes Sornisky says something to Wayne Hardin after a 17-17 tie at Cincinnati.

There are many,many more, but we’ll just end with former kicker Wes Sornisky, who died in a fire at the far-too-young age of 64 last Dec. 18. Wes was singularly responsible for bringing all of the old players back and plopping them down in the Jetro Lot. They kept coming back and the involvement of the football alumni, once nearly nonexistent, went up exponentially every year. He deserves a lot of the credit for it. The saddest thing is that Wes is buried in a Potter’s Field with no headstone in Delaware, but I have a feeling that, given some time, that sad circumstance will be rectified. When I got a little melancholy on Saturday about that, people told me not to worry because they were watching from Heaven.

I cannot say for sure, but I think it was better to be there live than to watch from Heaven. No. 1 on my bucket list is now crossed off.

Tomorrow: We’re On To Cincinnati

Patrick Anderson Could Be Second Coming

The book closed on the first chapter of The Anderson Story at Temple two weeks ago when Robbie accepted a scholarship to Florida Tech, hopefully not to major in nuclear physics. That’s when all Temple fans finally gave in to any ill-advised hope that Robbie, an academic casualty, would return.

Patrick Anderson scores on a halfback touchdown pass (remember those?) against Beaver Falls.

Patrick Anderson scores on a halfback touchdown pass (remember those?) against Beaver Falls.

A new chapter started this week when Patrick Anderson (no relation) signed at Temple. Let’s hope this book is a lot thicker than the first one.

Robbie was like a Halley’s Comet, giving Owls’ fans a brief glimpse of what a big-time receiver can be. In five games, Anderson caught nine touchdown passes from P.J. Walker, who obviously formed a cosmic connection with Robbie. Against Memphis, Anderson caught three touchdown passes from Walker—three more touchdown passes than Owl receivers were able to get the next season against the same team in a 16-13 loss.

That was the most disappointing thing with the departure of the first Anderson. The Owls knew he was leaving and recruited five receivers in last year’s class and none of them were good enough to make it onto the field for any length of time.

The reviews are yet to be written for Patrick Anderson, but the first draft of his work looks good. Consider the production for the final high school years of each player. My only concern is does Patrick have the 40-speed of Robbie? At 225 pounds, that would be tough to match but, if he does, watch out:

The Two Anderson’s in Their Best High School Years:

Name Wt/Ht Receptions Yards TDs
Patrick 6-4, 225 21 481 9
Robbie 6-3, 180 39 497 6

Temple-Penn State: When A Game is More Than a Game

We often hear, especially in times like last week after a tough loss, that “it is, after all, only a game.”

That’s easy to say for every week other than Penn State Week for Temple people. For  people who say “it’s only a game; it’s’ not life-and-death” … it is life and death for us who have waited for a win over Penn State all of our lives and desperately want to see one before we go to the other side.

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Mr. Katz

Thinking about all of the great Temple fans that I had the pleasure of talking to in the concourses at the Vet, Franklin Field, Temple Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field, like Steve Bumm (see No. 4 in this story), NJ Schmitty, Shane Artim and Dan Glammer, among others, who never got to see this and, of course, Mr. Katz.  They are all gone and none forgotten and never had a chance to see Temple beat Penn State before going to the other side. How many more of us will pass this year with no chance to see a win next year?

This win is much more than for a chance to participate in a bowl game. It is for the respect of an entire city and state. Philadelphia has been force-fed PSU football coverage for 50-plus years when they already had a hometown team. The day Temple beats Penn State will be the day you stop seeing Temple students wearing PSU sweatshirts on campus. It is the day you will finally hear Temple football talked about on the radio and television stations.

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Dan

So, for all those reasons, it is life and death. The Penn State game is much more than a game for Temple people and it has been for 73 years and it will be until the day Temple beats Penn State and hopefully that day is just a few hours away.

I think it is and I don’t think I’m looking through Cherry-and-White-colored glasses this time.

For all of the mismanagement on offense, Temple’s defense—particularly its defensive line—will win this game. Temple has an athletic and quick defensive line and Penn State has largely an inexperienced group of offensive linemen (and thanks to the Penn State fan who sent us that information). These guys are not walk-ons, but they’ve struggled. If Temple’s defensive line does what it did against Vanderbilt—with four SEC starters  returning from a team that went 9-4 in the best conference in America—the Owls should win this game. We are not asking the Temple defensive line to do something it is not capable of doing or has not done before.

shane

Shane

On offense, what the Owls have  is a lot of really good players with unique skills who are not being put in the best position to win. Temple should not be struggling to score 13 points against the likes of Houston, UCF and Memphis.  Temple has two potentially great blocking fullbacks in Kenny Harper and Marc Tyson and it rarely uses them that way. Temple has a potentially great tailback in Jahad Thomas and it rarely uses a fullback block at the point of attack to spring him for big gains. Temple has a potentially great tight end in Colin Thompson and rarely throws him the ball. Temple has at least two offensive linemen who will be playing on Sundays—Dion Dawkins and Kyle Friend—and rarely use those two with Thompson and Tyson running interference on toss sweeps to Thomas that could open up that entire offensive arsenal.

Speaking of that arsenal, Temple has a change-of-pace tailback who runs the ball well in space—Jamie Gilmore—and rarely uses him that way but fans jump all over him when he drops a catchable bomb when they should be jumping all over the coaches instead.  Keith Kirkwood (his OC called him Kirkland on a radio interview), John Christopher and Romond Deloatch—guys with magnets for hands and stick-em rubbed all over those magnets—are rarely thrown but instead target too many guys who do drop balls. The Owls have an extremely talented rollout quarterback, P.J. Walker, who they try to make a dropback passer far too much.



Owl Conundrum:
Temple gets no WR separation
or QB protection in those
formations but stubbornly
roll those formations out
week after week and wonder
why it struggles to score

This offense is a cluster-bleep of trying to fit good square pegs into horrible round holes.

What Temple has on offense is an OC from Tennessee-Chattanooga who is in love with a three- and four-wide formations that this personnel is not suited for and a head coach who is too nice a guy to over, err, rule his good friend. Temple gets no WR separation or QB protection in those formations but stubbornly roll those formations out week after week and wonder why it struggles to score.  With this talent and a more traditional two-back and I-formations with plenty of play-action, Temple is as formidable on offense as it has been on defense this year.

Maybe moreso.

For all that messing around on that side of the ball, I think Temple still wins this one in a game closer than it should be, say 13-10.

Throwback Thursday: Fenton’s Kickoff Returns

Temple beat Uconn, 56-7, and 38-24 in back-to-back years not all that long ago.

Temple beat Uconn, 56-7, and 38-24 in back-to-back years not all that long ago.

A couple of years ago, I wrote on this site before the Louisville game that Matty Brown was going to have a kickoff return to the house and that “the opening kickoff of the Louisville game would be a nice time to start.”

Two days later, Matty Brown took the opening kickoff to the house against Louisville.

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Sometimes, things happen. People started looking at me like I was Nostradamus after that kickoff.

OK, I’m going to write this as part of today’s Throwback Thursday piece:  Khalif Herbin is going to take an opening kickoff to the house and Uconn would be a nice place to start.

(We’ve already covered the Bruce Francis catch in 2012’s Throwback Thursday.)

I’m saying this not just because Herbin has 4.34 speed and Gayle Sayers‘-like moves in the open field but because Temple has a history against Uconn of shocking the Huskies with back-to-back opening kickoffs to the house, both by the same guy, Mak Fenton.

Fenton’s opening kickoff in the 2001 game led the Owls to a 56-7 win at Franklin Field. The next year, in Storrs, Conn., Fenton took the opening kickoff to the house in a 38-24 win. Both were 94-yard returns.

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Temple had plenty of incentive to beat Uconn those days. The Owls were kicked out of the Big East a few months before that 2001 game and told they were being replaced by Uconn. The Owls should have plenty of incentive now, too. If they want to win the AAC, and we presume they do, beating Uconn is a must. They must play like mad rabid dogs from the opening kickoff to the final whistle.

And maybe keep making those wonderful plays in the return game they have a history of making against this opponent.

Throwback Thursday: Garden State Bowl

Since there’s no opponent this week, thought the Throwback Thursday segment this week would be the Garden State Bowl.

There were a few things to take from that bowl:

  • Great coaching led directly to Temple’s win. Temple coach Wayne Hardin likes to tell the story of the exchange of films with the California team. He gave them only a couple of Temple game films and those were the games that Temple could afford to be very vanilla and run the basic stuff. Due to Hardin’s contacts in California, he was able to get not only the films Cal exchanged but the entire season of Cal film. He noticed that the linebackers on Cal tipped their hand when they would blitz and had quarterback Brian Broomell fake that way and throw the other. Those plays led to a 21-0 Temple lead before Cal could figure out that Hardin had them figured out.
  • Cal’s trash-talking served as a motivating factor for Temple. Cal coach Roger Theder said “Temple doesn’t play opponents as tough as we do” and that hissed the Owls off. Cal had five losses that year, but the 11-point loss to Temple was its worst. Probably not a coincidence.
  • It was cold, but probably not as cold as the fans remembered. I saved my game notes (the printed kind, given out in the press box) and it said: “Temperature at kickoff: 40 degrees.” Tried to find them on the internet but could only find this veiled reference to the game in a Cal band blog about the temperatures being several degrees above freezing but not feeling that way.
  • Yes, and one of the loudest laughs that day was when they showed the final score on the Jumbotron and had a graphic cartoon visual of an Owl taking a dump on the head of a Bear. Certainly beats the misspelled “CONGRATULATIONS TO THE NEW MEXICO BOWL CAMPIONS” that appeared on the scoreboard in Albuquerque. That  Owl/Bear graphic pretty much summed up a wonderful afternoon.
  • The Temple fans were great. There were 55,874 in attendance and only about 500 or so were rooting for Cal. It was that day I was convinced that a consistent winning and well-coached Temple program against big-time competition could put enough fannies in the seats to thrive. Even though Rutgers, essentially a home team, played in the first GSB, the 55K Temple drew remains an all-time bowl record crowd in New Jersey.
  •  The Cal band performance is below and they even play a  current Temple Diamond Marching Band favorite:

By the way, the 1979 Temple team would have blown out the 2010 Temple team (which, ironically, did not make a bowl but should have).