To find success, coaches must discover special players. Stan Drayton knows his job at Temple will depend on it. | Mike Jensen
At his introduction press conference, Drayton told reporters about the first time he stepped out on faith for a player and placed his job at Villanova on the line. That player? Brian Westbrook.
It’s a nice tale new Temple head football coach Stan Drayton can tell about how he — and very nearly he alone — was on the trail of future Eagles star Brian Westbrook back when Drayton was a young assistant on the Villanova staff, barely more than five years out of college himself.
Westbrook had gotten hurt and missed his senior high school football season, but Westbrook was back for basketball season at hoops powerhouse DeMatha High School, just outside Washington, D.C.
The coach at DeMatha told Drayton that the kid was a “real-deal football player.” Drayton went to a basketball game. Is it true that Drayton saw Westbrook dunk and he called his boss Andy Talley right away?
“He literally looks at me,” Drayton said of Westbrook that day in that gym. “I gave him the [look], ‘I’m here.’ He takes the ball and boom, just dunks it. ... I called Andy Talley in that moment, said, ‘This is the guy I want.’ Andy Talley challenged me on that. He said, ‘He’s hurt. Are you sure?’ "
Can you be sure? There wasn’t much football film to back it up.
“I’ll never forget this,” Drayton said. “He said, ‘Are you willing to put your job on the table for Brian Westbrook?’ I’m like, ‘Man, this thing got really deep real quick here. But yes, I am.’ It was the first time I stepped out on faith like that as a coach.”
What’s all that have to do with whether Drayton — now 50 years old, in from coaching running backs at Texas — is right to be head coach at Temple? If there’s ever a job that requires the strength of your convictions, it is head football coach at Temple. By definition, any coach hired at Temple is a risk. Matt Rhule, then an assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants when he was hired back to Temple, wasn’t a no-brainer.
(Rhule had similar tales about standing on the table for under-recruited Tyler Matakevich, a centerpiece of the recent successful Owls run.)
I think I’ve been at the last six Temple head coach introductions, and probably seven or eight overall. Drayton scored high on the “sounded real” meter. He’s got a lot of work to do to prove he’s the next Rhule, but his words rang true, as did his quick laughter and even a few tears.
Drayton maybe scored highest on the real meter when he talked about how you can’t build a culture from the transfer portal, and that in a preliminary look at Temple film, “I saw some quit show up.”
“We talked about what greatness is,” Drayton said of his first Zoom meeting with players. “Greatness has no quit in it at all. That showed up. That bothers me. However, as a football team, if we can face that as a reality, accept it for what it is, I know we can move forward. That’s the sense that I got from the players.”
He’s got to nail his staff hiring. That was a huge key to Rhule’s success. Get coordinators with the right computer chips in their brains. Get recruiters who know the East Coast territory, but can also teach. Find the right bridges to the success of the Rhule era. (I’d call Ed Foley and offer the Carolina Panthers assistant a job as associate head coach in charge of doing Ed Foley things, which includes special-teams work and knowing the lay of the land both at Temple and in the region.)
Convincing the Temple brass
Since new Temple athletic director Arthur Johnson came from Texas, all along Drayton seemed viable as a top candidate. If he wasn’t the so-called favorite, he was the bar other candidates had to go over. But if he was Johnson’s favored candidate all along, why did it take this long? The guess here is that Johnson didn’t try to push too fast for several reasons. Drayton was going to have to impress Temple’s search committee, president and board. And the folks who wanted Rhule candidates had to be heard and respected.
Drayton had been in charge of all sorts of running backs’ rooms, from the Chicago Bears when Jordan Howard had his best season as a rookie, to Ohio State when Ezekiel Elliott was there, to recent years at Texas.
This guy presumably learned what to do (and occasionally what not to do) from an interesting cast of head coaches, from Talley at Villanova and before that Al Bagnoli at Penn, from Urban Meyer at three different schools, to Jim Tressel at Ohio State and his recent bosses at Texas. Maybe we give Drayton bonus points for not being with Meyer at his just-ended fiasco with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Both Drayton and Johnson stressed that they weren’t close friends or anything at Texas. Drayton was just happy that Johnson, as an administrator overseeing football, had thought highly enough of him to see this as a fit at Temple.
The smart guess here is that while the field of candidates was a crowded highway, maybe there was an express lane all along for Drayton. From his past, he’s good in a small room, clearly. Does Drayton have the type of personality to lead the whole enterprise? He made clear that’s been his goal for some years, that he’d interviewed one other time at Temple, when Rhule got the job.
The right stuff
Johnson ticked off qualities he was looking for, the kinds of things you should look for, from being a relationship-builder, to understanding the recruiting territory — “someone who understood the importance of being the CEO of a Division I program,” and appreciates the need for relationships across the campus. Someone who would teach discipline but also “win the hearts” of his players.
“The backs were complete,” Johnson said of Texas running backs under Drayton.
Maybe another line on Drayton’s resume can work in his favor. His teenage daughters are big-time gymnasts. The oldest, Amari, a high school junior, competed in the last Olympic trials and recently committed to LSU. It can’t hurt that the new Temple head coach sees athletics from another angle.
“I tell my football players all the time, I wish you guys had the work ethic and discipline of my daughters, because they’re chasing greatness for real,” Drayton said. “I see their struggles, too. We’ve been to surgery a few times.”
If it comes together for Drayton at Temple, he’ll need more tales like the one he can tell when asked about recruiting Westbrook, how he now can say, “Boy, were we right on that one.” (Drayton still remembers the name of the high school coach at DeMatha who lobbied for Westbrook a quarter century ago.)
Success at Temple takes finding some special players. The new coach knows his job still depends on it.
“He made me right,” Drayton added about Westbrook.