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Talley handing off Villanova to longtime aide Ferrante

WHEN ANDY TALLEY was hired to be the Villanova football coach in May of 1984, there 'really was nothing' in place other than a field to play on.

WHEN ANDY TALLEY was hired to be the Villanova football coach in May 1984, there "really was nothing" in place other than a field to play on.

The program had been dormant for four years before the university decided to bring it back at the level now known as FCS. And Talley, who grew up in Bryn Mawr, was handed the keys after running things for five seasons at Division III St. Lawrence (Canton, N.Y.).

"They told me they'd put a trailer up to work out of," Talley recalled. "And I went, 'I don't think so.' "

So he "confiscated" two carpenters to build an office at the far end of the stadium that he refers to as "the bomb shelter" and is still using. At least until the state-of-the-art West End Zone Project - which maybe will even have his name on it - opens this fall.

He had no players or assistants. The first season back, which was composed of five games against the likes of Pace and Navy's junior varsity, was 16 months away. And as he soon noticed, there was a perception problem.

"I'm on the old Tom Brookshier radio show on WIP, and the first guy who called in, I hear this squeaky voice," Talley said. "It's my JV coach, Art Valenti. So he goes, 'Is this the same Andy Talley who played at Haverford (High School)?' I said, 'Yes, it is.' And he says, 'No. 22?' That's me. And there's a dead spot. Then he went, 'I cannot believe Andy Talley is the Villanova coach.'

"That's how long a shot it was."

And this, from Charlie Johnson, a Wildcats captain in the early 1960s.

"When (Johnson) was told about me, he said, 'Who the hell is Andy Talley?' '' the man who goes by "Head Cat" said with a smile. "That's how it started here."

Of course, that was 221 wins, 11 playoff appearances, six conference championships, three Walter Payton Award winners and a national title ago.

On Wednesday afternoon came the official announcement that next season will be Talley's last. He will turn 73 in April, but he looks 10 years younger. Nevertheless, it was time. It was also the right moment for the guy who's been by his side for the last three decades, Mark Ferrante, to finally get his shot.

"My career has been fulfilled," Talley said in the press room at the Pavilion, which was filled with friends, colleagues and former players. "I have my staff safe. I'm good. I don't have to prove anything else."

Villanova president Peter Donohue called Talley "a one and only." He wasn't wrong. Talley built this program from the ground up, and he did it his way. Along the way he also become deeply involved with the national bone-marrow donation program that helps save lives, which helped set him apart. He's leaving on his terms, always a good thing. He's also leaving the program on solid ground, and in his opinion very capable hands.

The Wildcats have been to the postseason five of the last eight years, including that 2009 championship and a trip to the semifinals the following year. Last season they likely would have made the playoffs again if quarterback John Robertson hadn't injured a knee early. And . . .

"I have to say (Talley) promised me one more (title) before he goes," Donohue noted.

Talley will stay at Villanova through 2017 in an administrative role serving as a special assistant to new athletic director Mark Jackson.

"I think it's tantamount to one of those stocks that are down a little bit, and knowing that there's value in that company," Talley said. "I knew there was value in Villanova. I knew I could deliver as long as I could extract commitment from the university. It was continual working, working and working. We hit the mother lode. Once we did that we were good."

He won 19 of his first 20 games. But there were three straight losing seasons from 1993-95.

"At most places, when that happens you're gone," he said. "At Villanova, I think I needed a fourth before they said aloha. In the fourth we were (8-4). And in the fifth we went undefeated. We got it squared away. We were lucky."

Ferrante, who got emotional at the podium, has only been waiting for this his entire life. Ferrante, who played for Talley at St. Lawrence, turned down opportunities through the years to remain here.

"I never really thought about if it didn't happen, or when will it happen," he said. "You get to an age where sometimes you want to go run your own program. Fortunately for me, I was able to still accomplish that goal, even if it took a little longer, at a place that I love.

"Every year I would say to my wife (Georgea), 'Maybe this is the year we're going somewhere else.' When people would ask me when Andy was going to call it quits, a lot of times I said, 'By the time he does, I might be ready to call it quits . . . '

"I look at it as more of a continuation, not a replacement. He taught me the ropes. I never did campaign for this. I just went about my day-to-day business."

And soon, the keys will be handed over. Not just yet, though.

"He's ready," Talley insisted. "That's the key. I was ready. I knew what it was like not to have X, Y and Z. It was doable. Now, he will have (the new operational) facility. And tradition. He's not a rookie.

"This is a family matter. And the family continues. That was my goal. I wanted to do this at the end of the season, not now. So these last few days have built up on me. But now I feel great. Mark did a great job of taking the baton. It should be emotional for him. I did all the emotional stuff. I needed to make sure there was solidarity. People felt good about this. I left my name on the sands of time. But give me that year now. Let's go!"

The Wildcats open at FBS Pitt. They'll finish at Delaware. Unless they can extend Talley's farewell tour.

Sounds like he's still ready.

On Twitter: @mikekerndn