THE NEXT chapter of Andy Talley's journey is officially underway.

So naturally, two days after Villanova lost in the second round of the FCS playoffs at South Dakota State to bring the curtain down on a historic 32-year Main Line coaching career, he was lunching at his favorite Italian restaurant.

That meant veal parmesan with cappellini and spicy gravy, bruschetta, long hot peppers and a glass of red wine. Followed by a mini cannoli.

So maybe retirement isn't such a rough deal after all.

"It does feel different," Talley acknowledged. "I'm still coming down from the (10-7) loss. Not only is it disappointing that we won't go further, but I won't ever have the chance to go further again . . . That's why eating (here) is the best therapy for me.

"I'm the Godfather. I'm going to look out for the best interests of the program and the kids."

He'd spent the morning moving from his office in the new football building that's named after him to a new office right down the hall, the one that has "emeritus coach" on the door. That will be his home for the next 18 months. Longtime assistant Mark Ferrante is now the boss. That's how everyone wanted it. But it's still an adjustment. Perhaps even a large one.

"I know the setup is unusual, for the coach to be here while the new coach is here," said Talley, who had to rebuild the program from scratch at a different level following a four-year hiatus. "But it's done. I just don't want to be in the way. I want to be put to good use.

"Right now, it's awkward, because I don't really have a plan. I wasn't thinking about it. I was trying to win more games. I want to be active. I want to be valuable, not just sitting down the hall."

When Al Bagnoli stepped down after 23 seasons and nine championships at Penn, he soon became bored with his new role in West Philly. When the opportunity to resurface at Columbia became available, he took it. Odds are Talley, who is 73, isn't doing that. The work with his bone-marrow foundation, which has helped facilitate matches/transplants that have saved hundreds of lives, is more than enough to keep him occupied. The Bryn Mawr native breathes Villanova. He's not ready to give that part of him up. At least for the immediate future.

"I'm hoping they have something I can do that's worthwhile, whatever it is," he said. "Probably a little more toward the fundraising part. We have a recruiting weekend coming up. I'd like to be involved with that. Mark's going to give me a little bit of room to make the transition. And I'm giving him a lot of room, you know. He's the owner.

"It's not sad. I walked past one of my freshmen and I said, 'Hey, don't forget about me. We'll be talking.' And he went, 'Now that you're retired, we can talk even more.' And this is a kid who hasn't said boo to me.

"Part of my life's over. How can I use my experiences, my background, to go to the next step?"

One thing that's taken him by surprise is the amount of love he received on Twitter.

"It really opened my eyes," Talley said. "I'm like, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe it.' It's overwhelming. I didn't know all those people felt that way.

"Here's one: 'Because of him, a tradition lives on forever.' And this: 'Congrats on a great career. I really admired what you did with Nova football.' 'Thank you for being an oustanding person who represented Villanova.' 'You had a profound impact on countless young men.' And it goes on and on and on. Are you kidding me? There was stuff from the (Colonial Athletic Association), William & Mary, (James Madison). It's crazy. There was even something from a Temple supporter. Temple? OK, thanks. It makes me feel like I did it right.

"You don't know that the feelings are that strong. I never expected it. It certainly reinforces that I made a good decision by staying at a place long enough to have that kind of impact. I mean, who gets a building named after him? This little blue-collar kid from Bryn Mawr. That just doesn't happen."

He'd obviously rather be playing this Saturday at top-seeded, five-time defending champ North Dakota State. Yet, as he duly noted, it wasn't meant to be. He was wearing a warmup suit with "2009 National Champions" stitched on the right chest. Not everyone gets one of those. Especially at a university that, understandably, has always put basketball first.

"Villanova was always interested in winning, on Villanova's terms," Talley said, matter-of-factly. "I (worked) at Middlebury, Brown, St. Lawrence. All pretty much the same. They all fit . . . It was four schools that felt the same way about how you do it. And I got to do it at home. I knew Villanova. That was icing on the cake. I got to do it at a place where there was a comfort zone, where there was a bloodline to where I grew up. Who ever thought I'd be the Villanova football coach? That's how far I came.

"What happened here, I don't know how many places it could happen at. And Mark helped with that continuity, as well. There's a familiarity. I want to be there for him now. Be a best friend, his confidant, adviser, most positive influence and best voice of reason. Because a lot of these things aren't black and white. I think my judgment's still worth having. But the thing about it is, that's his decision."

His biggest dilemma at the moment? Finding somewhere to put all his stuff.

"Everything's in boxes," Talley said. "I can't throw anything away. There's no space. But who would care about anything I have? What do I keep?"

He'll always have the memories. So will we. That can never be a sad thing. He had his turn. And it was momentous, in so many ways. And even if it's over, he's not gone yet. So how would he want the last three decades-plus to be remembered?

"He did it right," Talley said, without hesitation. "Simply put. And I think we did. Leave it at that. It's good enough for me."

In that case, pass the peppers, please.

@mikekerndn