A walk along North Broad Street on Thursday morning revealed 414 steps between Temple’s athletic department offices and the front steps of Sullivan Hall, where Temple’s first-year president, Jason Wingard, has his second-floor suite of offices.
That’s all it will take the new Owls athletic director, Arthur Johnson, to get over to regular meetings, since Wingard pointed out that Johnson will be part of his executive cabinet, which is his inner leadership circle, with a vice president’s title.
So the new man in charge cares enough about athletics to want his AD close by — even closer than 414 steps, if you read all the tea leaves. Those steps won’t be traveled only in one direction. This president signals he intends to be involved in athletics.
Johnson shows up from the University of Texas with a strong football administrative background most of all, and was at Georgia before then. Safe to say that after the many millions invested in Owls football over the decades, the new president — the first Temple president who can say he played big-time football himself, at Stanford — is doubling down.
Will there be another drive for a campus stadium? The new president chooses his words carefully there, noting the lease in place to use Lincoln Financial Field. He sounds up to speed on all the issues there.
Texas football and Temple football don’t have a whole lot in common, in good years or bad. But a little research into Johnson’s background showed a couple of things. While Johnson’s Longhorns title was executive senior associate athletic director, administration & operations — which isn’t a usual path directly to the AD’s office — Johnson was something of a Longhorns glue guy, in good and tough times.
During one stretch, when Texas brought in an AD from the NBA, the move reportedly didn’t work all that well, and both the football coach and the basketball coach were talking almost exclusively to Johnson, not to the big boss. Johnson’s reviews from Austin are sky high, beyond the plaudits issued for the press release — “calm and caring, you’ll love him,” was one secondhand report from the athletic department. “He’s worked hard his entire life.”
At Thursday’s public introduction, Johnson showed court awareness, explaining that his own early awareness of Temple came from John Chaney’s basketball team. “It is the soul of the university,” Johnson said of Temple hoops.
Of football, Johnson also had it mostly right, calling it “the sport that drives the revenue in college athletics.”
Football drives revenue at the Power 5 level. It is not profitable at lower levels of college football. This leadership team understands all this, and clearly wants to find a way across that bridge to the real money. In the meantime, both men talked about the importance of succeeding against like-minded opponents.
The reality is that at a place like Temple, the president’s views on sports are a key driver. This introduction was in a front room of the Liacouras Center. Peter Liacouras himself was a president who would hand you the Division I basketball computer rankings on a plane flying to road games during the Chaney era, after talking about getting to the Sugar Bowl in football. On a Liacouras scale of sports commitment, Wingard probably wants to be high. Introducing Johnson, he immediately noted his three tenets of academic, community, and brand excellence, making it clear sports was important to the third. That was the way Liacouras saw it. (The AD job was open one time under Liacouras in the ‘90s and a favorite candidate told Liacouras he’d drop football completely. He did not get the job.)
Hopefully, the new men in charge do understand Temple can’t simply market its way to full stadiums and arenas. That’s already a well-traveled path. It is up to the alumni of the university whether to buy in. They know the games are being played.
All this might sound like the same old conversation. But Temple is one of this city’s most important institutions, and Temple sports is important to Philadelphia sports. Getting all this as close to right as possible is no small thing.
A couple of Temple sources said a recent meeting between Wingard and the full athletic department wasn’t a pep rally so much as a challenge, with a bit of an edge to it.
“I asked them questions about how I could be a resource to them in pursuit of our goals,” Wingard said after the introduction. “And I asked them how they could be a resource to me in terms of advancing strategic priorities as well.”
Thank you for doing a tough job during a tough year, but the president wanted that to be a jumping-off point.
“I did challenge them,” Wingard said. “It is often the case at a school like Temple University that is based on excellence, and has a really strong foundation, you can get pushed into a corner where people ask you, can you be successful without the resources and the expansive facilities, etc.?”
I’d asked Johnson some version of this question at the presser. The Group of 5 isn’t the same as the Power 5. Texas was successfully courted by the SEC from the Big 12. Temple was ignored by the Big 12 as it looked to reload. Temple has committed boosters. Texas has billionaire boosters.
Wingard talked of how Temple is gritty, with proven excellence and the ability to sustain it.
“But we’re going to have to dig in and be as good as we can be to manifest that excellence that is within us,” Wingard said. “No excuses. No complaints. No rationalizations. Just get to work, get it done.”
Being patient, waiting for permanent leadership to arrive on both sides of Broad Street, Wingard said, “All that waiting is over.”