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Kern: Talley-Raymond friendship was built to last

WHEN YOU'VE coached at the same place for 32 seasons, you tend to accumulate a treasure chest's worth of mementos. Villanova's Andy Talley certainly has his stash.

WHEN YOU'VE coached at the same place for 32 seasons, you tend to accumulate a treasure chest's worth of mementos. Villanova's Andy Talley certainly has his stash.

He's hung one keepsake proudly on an office wall for well over a decade now. It's a painting former Delaware football coach Tubby Raymond did for him after he retired in 2002, at Talley's request. It shows the two of them standing side-by-side before one of the 15 times they stood on a sideline across the field from each other. They're both smiling, because the game hadn't started yet. Next to Raymond's signature, the College Football Hall of Famer wrote: "Often in combat, always friends."

For Talley, those words mean everything.

"The message is that you can have an intense rivalry, but it's always important to maintain a quality relationship," Talley said. "And be a quality friend. It's one of my prized possessions. It kind of goes along with the philosophy I have in life. There's a sign above my door: 'It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice.' I kind of try to be that way. That's what I think the picture signifies. The fact that, yes, we were bitter rivals. And, yes, we still became close.

"Our teams played great, and we got after it, which is the way you want it. I think that's what the point of it is. I asked him to do it for me. I know he painted pictures of all his senior players. This was about Tubby Raymond and Andy Talley. We shared that. I thought it was absolutely perfect.

Except for one detail.

"He made himself look better than me," Talley said, laughing.

Duly noted.

"He always bitched (about that)," acknowledged Raymond, who celebrated his 91st birthday this week.

On Saturday, the 73-year-old Talley will coach his final regular-season game. His Wildcats (7-3, 5-2 Colonial Athletic Assocation), ranked 13th in FCS, visit Delaware (4-6, 2-5). A win puts them in the playoffs for the sixth time in the last nine years. They could maybe make it anyway at 7-4, although that would mean hitting the road again on Thanksgiving weekend instead of playing at home. There is a difference, especially in the postseason.

Talley has faced the Blue Hens every season since 1988. He's gone 16-12, having won nine of the last 10. Six of those were decided by seven points or less. The loss was in 2011, when Villanova was 2-9. There was a time when his guys lost six in a row (1990-95). And a stretch where they took four straight, and six of seven (1996-2002). Villanova won what turned out to be Raymond's last game in 2001 - 19-14, on the Main Line (he stepped down three months later). In one six-year span, three games went into overtime. It was about what you'd expect from teams both competing at a high level and separated by 45 miles.

And it wasn't always warm and cuddly.

"I wasn't a rookie when I got here, so I wasn't in awe of him," Talley recalled. "I knew who he was. When I was at Brown (1973-78), he had a clinic on the Wing T. He certainly was an icon. It was a roundtable and he led the discussion, which was amazing. But here's the bottom line: The greatest thing is, Tubby lectured for five hours and never told us one thing about the Delaware Wing T. He's the master of double-talk. He never gave us one trade secret.

"He was an old-time coach, a little bit of a rascal. He was from the Bo Schembechler school, Joe Paterno. And I was the new guard coming in. I think that's kind of the way he held me, the same way I am now in the league. They have to earn their spurs a little bit. After the 1991 game, they beat us down there (38-28), but it was close, and his comment after the game was, 'They have a modest team.' That didn't sit too well. For a while, it was contentious. One of his players made a statement in the newspaper about me, which the kid later apologized for. Then Tubby and I threw some barbs back and forth. But once it settled down and we developed a mutual respect, it flowed from both sides. But it was the last game of the year, and all that. And there were some incredible games. We knew it was going to be a heavyweight fight."

Eventually, Talley contends, the overall strength of the CAA took some of the "star power" away from the rivalry games. From his standpoint, Raymond doesn't think the battle was necessarily as hostile as often portrayed.

"The same thing happened when Wayne Hardin was at Temple," he said. "It's the newspapers that do it. There's a push here and a slight there, and, all of a sudden, there's Raymond hates Talley and Talley hates Raymond. We were at arm's length for a while. Then we played golf together at this thing, and I got to know him as a person. Now, you know, I think the world of him. That's the beautiful part . . .

"It was always a very special game. It wasn't long before we found out we're a lot alike. We kind of used that to make a relationship. We're both little guys in a big man's game. And we just seemed to fit.

"We had to beat Villanova. And they in turn had to beat us. But let me put it this way: Rest assured, I wasn't thinking about Andy Talley. I was thinking about how were we going to win the game. I think we really looked forward to fooling each other."

The series has gone on since Tubby left. His successor, K.C. Keeler, won a national title in his second season (Raymond won three in the 1970s). And made it to the finals two other times. Talley got one of his own in 2009. And nearly added another the following year, when he had to win at No. 1 Delaware just to make the playoffs. The Wildcats beat Joe Flacco twice, including in 2007, when Delaware got to the title game. Keeler is in his third season at Sam Houston State, where his team is atop the polls. The Blue Hens, meanwhile, fired Dave Brock in mid-October and will have their first back-to-back losing seasons since the late-1930s.

"K.C. came and stayed with our staff for a whole week after he was let go, just watching and hanging out with us," said Talley, who lost to Keeler at home by three in the 2014 quarterfinals when the Wildcats had to play their backup quarterback. "You have to understand K.C. I did. A lot of people didn't. He's a little different.

"I got a kick out of him. He made me laugh. He was a character."

And so it goes. One more Hall of Fame era is nearing a conclusion. There's no shortage of enduring snapshots.

"In the old Yankee Conference (which essentially became the CAA), to save money, whenever we had our coaches outing they would room us together," Talley said. "One time, Tubby and I were roommates. And I thought he was so iconic. He's an intellectual. He's sitting on the bed reading War and Peace, and I'm reading People magazine. I can only imagine what was going through his head . . .

"At the big tribute they had for him, they sat me at the head table. It was a big affair when he retired. It was very nice that they had me there. And he came up to see me before we went to the national championship. He came to my office with a friend of his and wanted to wish me good luck. He said he was so excited for me, and rooting for us. I was very appreciative at the time. He was our biggest rival, and he was the biggest-name guy. And now we have that picture."

And Raymond's take on that?

"Is Andy really 73?" he wondered. "How did he get that old? At least I'm not 90 anymore. That's a boost."

It's a unique, endearing bond. Friends forever indeed.