For the second time in three years, the Temple football program has had to go through a coaching change before a bowl game, but things were so much different this time, according to both the players and interim head coach Ed Foley.
On Thursday, the Owls (8-4) will meet Duke (7-5) in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.
Two years ago, Matt Rhule resigned after the Owls beat Navy, 34-10, in the American Athletic Conference championship game.
Rhule took the Baylor head coaching job and hired a number of his assistants. While Rhule didn’t coach in the bowl game, the assistants did, but many who he hired were traveling back and forth to the Baylor, working on recruiting and other matters.
The assistant coaches missed many bowl practices. It got to the point that graduate assistants were helping to coach the team.
Temple lost to Wake Forest, 34-26, in the Military Bowl.
Foley was interim coach when Rhule left and he was named again to guide Temple in the bowl game after Geoff Collins departed for Georgia Tech.
New Temple head coach Manny Diaz, the former Miami defensive coordinator, won’t be at the Owls’ bowl game. His Miami team will play the same day in the Pinstripe Bowl against Wisconsin and Diaz wanted to finish out his obligation and coach the players in the bowl game.
This time, while Collins has departed, all the Temple assistants have been ordered to stay through the bowl game, which means there has been continuity during bowl preparation.
Nobody was more candid about how badly that bowl prep went two years ago than first-team all-conference linebacker Shaun Bradley.
“It was pretty much chaos two years ago when it [he coaching change] happened,” Bradley said last week before the Owls departed for Shreveport. “To be honest, I don’t think anybody really cared, that is how bad it was two years go.”
Bradley says the players didn’t handle the coaching change well when Rhule departed.
“It was kind of like everybody’s first coaching change and when it happened, it was like a big loss and everybody was like, ‘Man we don’t have a coach so we are going to lay back and ease into it’ and that is how it was,” Bradley said. “This year, it is completely different. Our leaders have stepped up and people are taking control and making sure everybody is held accountable.”
Foley said he learned a great deal from the previous experience. He said he has been consulting with the players more this time, getting their advice on certain things such as what the Owls should be doing at practice.
“By doing that, it has helped tremendously, now we are not trying to do a bunch of things that we don’t need to get done…” Foley said.
He gave a recent example.
“I ended up canceling practice [one day], it was 12 degrees out and not a bowl practice,” Foley said. “Two years ago, I had that practice and it wasn’t really good and it aggravated the players.”
Bradley sees a major difference now.
“This year, it is more organized,” he said.
Another incentive is the senior class looking to cement their legacy.
The seniors have won the most games in school history, 35 and they are intent on finishing on a winning note.
“It would mean a lot to get a win over a big-time opponent,” running back Ryquell Armstead said. “We are excited and can’t wait to get to the bowl game and play the game.”
That feeling didn’t exist two years ago, and it showed in the result.