To those who live down South, Bobby Wallace is a coaching legend.
He's the Mississippi native who helped recruit a running back by the name of Bo Jackson while an assistant coach at Auburn. He's the "good ol' boy" who won three consecutive national championships and molded 12 NFL players during 10 seasons as head coach at Division-II North Alabama.
But to those in the East, Wallace isn't remembered with such reverence. Like others before him, he was the fish-out-of-water who could never bring Temple's football team into prominence.
After his nearly unparalleled decade-long run at UNA, which saw the Lions go 82-36-1, Wallace was hired by Temple in 1998 with aspirations of turning around a program that had not played in a bowl game since 1979 and was dubbed by many as one of the most inferior in all of D-I college football.
Unfortunately, the reclamation project never panned out.
The Owls were 19-71 during Wallace's 8-year stint. They won four games in a season just three times, compiled a 10-38 mark in the Big East and were asked to leave the conference after the 2004 season. The program, which Temple's administration had threatened to cut, then hit rock bottom in 2005. Forced to continue to play against Big East opponents despite its independent status, Temple lost all 11 of its games. Wallace resigned at the end of the season.
"It took a toll on me," Wallace said of the frustration toward the end of his tenure with the Owls. "It wore on me toward the end. It's not any fun to not win ballgames and have to face the kids in the locker room after games. It's a tough situation, given the fact you're not on an equal playing field. You're playing for upsets, not winning seasons."
Unable to attract top-tier talent and forced to settle for junior college players to fill his roster while facing juggernauts like Arizona State, Wisconsin and Miami in his final season, Wallace was essentially a condemned prisoner in front of the firing squad every game. However, despite the tumultuous culmination of his tenure, Wallace said he holds no grudges toward the university.
"There was no animosity there at all," Wallace said. "I've got to say that the administration at Temple was always good to me. They tried to support me and the program as best we could."
The Owls officially joined the Mid-American Conference for the 2007 season, something Wallace said he wished he would have pushed to the administration years before the downward spiral.
But despite his lack of success with Temple, times are better now for Wallace. The 54-year-old has moved back to his Southern stomping grounds, and has made an impact with his new team, D-II West Alabama. In his first season, 2006, he guided the Tigers to their first winning record since 1992. And even after suffering a heartbreaking, five-overtime loss to Gulf Coast Conference foe Southern Arkansas on Sept. 17, UWA has a 3-3 record this season, winning its first three games before a three-game losing streak.
"This is a program that has struggled for a while but there's a strong commitment from the administration to get it right," Wallace said. "It's been a great experience . . . I think the program is improving."
Wallace seems to have found his niche. The high school coaches in Alabama and Mississippi know him and hold him in the highest regard, making recruiting easier.
"But I've learned never to say never," Wallace said of the possibility of him returning to D-I.
Wallace said he learned one valuable lesson from his time at Temple.
"Nobody is bigger than what a program is, and the circumstances around it," Wallace said. "Some things are out of your control and they can have a big impact on your life. You just have to do the best with the hand that's dealt to you."
That's exactly what Wallace is doing at West Alabama. *