Al Golden has been here before.

Not to the Super Bowl, of course. But he faced a California team, UCLA, with Temple in a bowl game in 2009. The game served as a high point of a journey that started in 2006 with Golden leading Temple from the brink of dissolving its football program entirely to a winning team that could compete for trophies.

Now as linebackers coach with the Cincinnati Bengals, who are facing the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI, Golden says he draws upon that Temple experience.

“There’s a lot of parallels between the journey that we’re on currently,” Golden said ahead of the Sunday showdown, referring to how bleak the situations for both football teams were at one point. “There’s no evidence in front of you that suggests that you could turn around the Temple Owls and go to the first bowl game in 30 years. But you set those goals, and you work like crazy to create an environment and a community and a culture that can produce those results.”

Similar to Temple’s struggles, the Bengals have not been to a Super Bowl in 33 years. Golden joined Zac Taylor’s staff in January 2020, after Cincinnati finished 2-14, tying the organization’s worst-ever record. He helped the Bengals double their wins the next season. Now the team is competing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

“Zac has done an amazing job here and put together a great staff — the leadership in the locker room was phenomenal,” Golden said. “That’s another parallel. Right? I mean, I don’t think any of that gets done in Temple without those young people in the locker room and without the staff and without the support of administration. So I definitely see some links.”

‘We work together’

As the host team, and with a coach and several players who reached the Super Bowl in 2019, the Rams are favored, but Golden remains undaunted.

“I don’t think any of us are worried about who’s favored or who’s not favored — that’s for somebody else to worry about,” Golden said. “From our standpoint, we work, we work together, we play together. We do whatever it takes to win.”

After leaving Temple in 2010 to coach the University of Miami for five years, Golden also had a two-year stint with the Detroit Lions as an assistant, working mostly with the tight ends. In his playing days at Penn State, Golden was a successful tight end and the captain of the Nittany Lions. As a former head coach, he brings to specialized coaching assignments his understanding of the larger game plan.

“I try to get the linebackers the bigger picture,” Golden explained. “In other words, when the tight end is aligned here, this is what the offense is trying to do. When this wide receiver is aligned here, this is what the offense is trying to do.

“I use a lot of my experience on the offensive side, or when I was a head coach being involved in all those phases to look at it and give them the big picture of what they’re trying to do and how they’re going to attack us.”

Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt, who was a redshirt player at North Carolina State when the Wolfpack faced Golden and the Hurricanes, noticed the coach back then for something many Temple fans still recall to this day: Golden’s attire. “I remember Al, because he always wears a suit,” Pratt said.

Now having worked closely with Golden, the defender lauded Golden’s other characteristics. “Al’s a great coach, a great mentor,” said Pratt. “He’s very passionate. He loves his players.”

Pratt appreciated Golden instilling in his linebackers an understanding of different offensive schemes and what plays were most likely depending on how the opposition lined up on offense. “He’s been a head coach, so he knows the ins and outs,” Pratt said.

» READ MORE: National signing day: Temple adds 12 players in the late period, completing coach Stan Drayton’s first class

Throughout his talk with the media, Golden praised Taylor and Bengals team owner and president Mike Brown for creating a collegial, welcoming environment. Golden has cultivated a similar strong bond among his defensive players.

“It is the greatest pleasure coming to work every day, not just with the environment that Zac brings every day but the defense in general, and then as it filters down to our room, it is incredible, the symbiosis that exists,” Golden said. “They make me want to get up early; they ask questions that challenge me every day. And we are blessed to have these young people with us there. They are just a fantastic group. And everybody’s unselfish. Everybody tries to execute their roles every week. And, again, I’m incredibly fortunate to be with them.”

“As a defensive side, we’re a very tight group,” Pratt said, pointing out that the Bengals linemen didn’t fear the high-powered offense of the Rams, especially after having been successful against strong teams in the playoffs. “We’ve been creating turnovers. We don’t care who makes the play.”

Cincinnati’s rise

The Bengals reached the Super Bowl after winning their first playoff game in 31 years against the Las Vegas Raiders (ending the longest active playoff drought in all four major American sports franchises) and then defeating the top-seeded Tennessee Titans and finally the Andy Reid-led Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game.

» READ MORE: No Tom Brady. No Eagles. No controversy. Bengals-Rams promises to be a sleepy Super Bowl | Mike Sielski

Taylor and Rams coach Sean McVay are the youngest opposing duo in Super Bowl history, at 36 and 38, respectively. It is the first time in NFL history that both Super Bowl head coaches are younger than 40 years old.

Yet Taylor has welcomed input from Golden, 52, and others on his coaching staff as they have worked to pull the Bengals from the depths of the NFL cellar to the current pinnacle.

“We’ve got a lot of personalities on our staff and that’s helped us get to where we are today,” Taylor told reporters Wednesday, reflecting on how far the Bengals have come. “It’s been a fun process to go through. We appreciate everything that’s happened to us.”

Golden certainly does, even if the experience comes with a bit of Temple déjà vu in terms of helping to turn around a flailing and failing program. He pointed to reviving the fighting spirit of the Bengals as a critical feature.

“The one thing that speaks to our culture better than anything is we’ve had a chance to win,” Golden said of Cincinnati’s season. “I think just about every game this year, maybe there was one that got away from us. And that’s unique in the NFL, that is really unique. And that speaks to Zac, the coaching staff, the incredible leaders that we have on our team.”

During his time with Temple, Golden was the coaching boy wonder, hired at 35 and trusted to revive the Owls. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame for that feat in October.

» READ MORE: Former Owls football coach Al Golden inducted into Temple Athletics Hall of Fame

Noting that he still has family and friends in the Philadelphia area who have let him know how much they are pulling for him and the Bengals, Golden reflected on how the team’s redemptive journey has bonded the Cincinnati players and staff.

“It’s really about us,” he said. “It’s really about how we operate on a daily basis and the commitment we made to each other and whether or not we’re unselfish and great teammates, and right now we’re doing all those things.”