Close friends Talley, Bagnoli will square off
On his way to Wednesday's football media luncheon, Penn coach Al Bagnoli said he had an epiphany. His Quakers face Villanova on Saturday, and Wildcats coach Andy Talley is trying to win the 200th game of his 'Nova tenure.
On his way to Wednesday's football media luncheon, Penn coach Al Bagnoli said he had an epiphany.
His Quakers face Villanova on Saturday, and Wildcats coach Andy Talley is trying to win the 200th game of his 'Nova tenure.
Bagnoli suddenly realized, he said, that if Talley hits 200 on Saturday night, a dozen of them would be against Bagnoli.
"I would expect a gift certificate," Bagnoli said at the luncheon.
What might be reasonable?
"This is big," Penn's coach said. "It's a big moment for him. Coach, what you think? Twenty-five dollars per win? . . . Enough to go to Morton's or something."
Villanova has the upper hand in the rivalry. Bagnoli is still looking for his first win against Talley, and Penn its first win in this often-interrupted series in 102 years. But the most interesting aspect of this Schuylkill Showdown, this time at Villanova Stadium Saturday at 5 p.m., may be the relationship between the coaches.
At these weekly luncheons, Bagnoli and Talley sit together and leave together, shooting the breeze throughout. They occasionally get together for dinner and a round of golf in the spring, "with some mutual friends we both know from Connecticut," Bagnoli said. (Bagnoli gets the best of it on the golf course, Talley said.)
To go as long as they have, it doesn't just mean they're getting up there now. (Talley has hit 70 years old just as Bagnoli hit 60). They got started young.
"How old were you when you got your first head-coaching job?" Bagnoli asked Talley after the luncheon.
"I was 34," Villanova's coach.
"I was 28," Bagnoli said. "You can't do that nowadays. Back then, it was a little easier . . . just the politics of everything. Not every decision was scrutinized quite as much as you get scrutinized today. I think [athletic directors] make far safer choices."
They go back further. Talley's St. Lawrence team scrimmaged Bagnoli's Union team in the early '80s.
"We were both at New York schools," Talley said. "Al went to Central Connecticut. I went to Southern Connecticut. We kind of knew of each other. He doesn't remember, but I student-taught at East Haven (Conn.), where he grew up. So I most likely taught him phys. Ed in the elementary school."
"Kick-butt kickball," Bagnoli noted.
"Square dancing!" Talley said. "We'd go to all the elementary schools. Roll the ball out, whatever you're doing. Square dancing, everything. And I knew all his coaches."
They started naming old East Haven coaches.
"I knew all the paisans there," Talley said.
Their respect feels genuine and mutual. The looseness of the relationship makes sense. They cross paths once a year but really command different acreage. Villanova faces off with Delaware within its league and for recruits, making for more of a blood rivalry. (Talley was once named the most hated sports figure in Delaware by Sports Illustrated. A huge honor when you think about it).
Penn butts heads in the league with Princeton and Harvard and the rest, and the Ivy League doesn't allow its football teams to compete in the postseason, so the Quakers and Wildcats never meet later on for higher stakes.
More common ground: They talk about how hard it is to be CEO of a football program at any level. It's different than being a basketball coach, with more players, more layers of staff.
"First of all, a basketball coach - he and I would be great basketball coaches," said Talley, a first-class needler, his target obvious as he warmed to the subject. "Because we would love to coach 12 kids instead of 100, No. 1. No. 2, we would like to be in Armani suits in 70-degree weather, with no rain, wind or hail. Could you do that?"
"Recruit one or two kids a year," Bagnoli said. "With three guys."
"I think I could do that," Talley said. "How hard is that? And you make 10 times more than what he and I make. Bring on the basketball."
They talk about how the Eagles consume all the air in the local football scene, how this game should be an easy sellout. These two men have a combined 15 conference championships - six for Talley and nine for Bagnoli. Talley has a national FCS title. Bagnoli's Quakers have put up back-to-back undefeated Ivy seasons three different times, and he's within 28 wins of being the all-time winningest Ivy coach.
As for Bagnoli's gift certificate idea, Talley wouldn't commit. He isn't ready to put No. 200 at Villanova in the bank. Four times in the last decade the game came down to the last possession. The last time it was really close was 2008, an overtime finish.
Villanova, at home, is the solid favorite. But what if Bagnoli takes it this time?
"If I win?" Penn's coach said. "I'll have to take him golfing. I'll do that."
"A must win," Talley said of this one. "The kids will decide it. We won't decide it."
But their handshake afterward will be genuinely respectful.
"I enjoy his company," Bagnoli said. "Hopefully, he enjoys mine."