Addazio builds recruiting culture at a school unaccustomed to success
When the Temple Owls were unceremoniously voted out of the Big East in 2004, the program found itself dangerously close to being disbanded.
Nearly a decade later, under second-year head coach Steve Addazio, the program has rejoined the conference and is set to begin conference play.
"We are coming back from death's door," Addazio said. "In the scope of five or six years there has been tremendous change here. Temple isn't anything close to what it was then."
What most remember about Temple football in the early and mid-2000s are one-win seasons, blowout losses and empty stands in a dilapidated Veterans Stadium. What has happened since is a complete overhaul from a 1,200-student commuter school to a 12,500 residential campus with plans to expand to 15,000. A new football facility was built. As was a new basketball facility and a massive residential tower has been constructed.
All signs point to a bright future. One that Addazio hopes to realize.
"The program is ready to take the next step," he said. "But we are a young team and if we don't reach eight wins or another magic number it is not a failure. I don't think it would be fair to ask people to measure us over six or eight years but to take a sweeping judgment based on just this season wouldn't be fair either."
This Saturday, Temple will take on Penn State in Happy Valley. While the Owls enter the weekend as underdogs, the game is very winnable - it would be the Owls' first win over the Nittany Lions in over 60 years.
"We are a legitimate Division I football program," Addazio said. "When we played Maryland it was the worst first half of football we could have played but in the second half we played lights out and got it back to 29-27. We are competing with teams and we are doing it with kids who were recruited to play in the MAC.
"A lot of time we were getting kids that wanted to play in the Big East or the ACC and saw us as a backup option, and now we are on that top level."
Addazio hopes to continue making progress on the recruiting trail.
The program has never had a recruiting class finish inside the Top 50 since Rivals.com began tracking results in 2002. It has only finished inside the Top 75 twice, and has finished No. 90 or worse four times.
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that there are encouraging trends emerging for Temple under Addazio.
"Under Al Golden, Temple got really good at finding kids that were not heavily recruited and stealing them," Farrell said. "The class that (Addazio) landed last year was a turning point class in my opinion because they went head-to-head with some bigger schools and won."
Two of the highlights of the Owls' 2012 class came late in the process, as Temple was able to swing Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood defensive back, and long-time West Virginia commit, Nate Smith to join the class. Smith was the second-highest rated played to choose the program and his commitment was followed by a capstone commitment from running back Jamie Gilmore, a three-star player from Citra (Fla.) North Marion.
The pair helped the Owls close the year with the No. 76 recruiting class -- its second-highest since 2004.
Temple's current class is ranked No. 73 in the nation, and Farrell said that the next step is simple.
"Getting on that next level and competing with Rutgers in New Jersey, competing with Syracuse in New York and going after some kids that would normally look at other places is the next step," he said. So far, Temple is doing just that with the class of 2013."
Temple's third major recruiting victory on the year is inside linebacker
Addazio believes his roots in the area and the product on the field will continue to lead to more success on the recruiting trail.
"I have been a Northeast guy my whole life," he said. "Every place I have been, this has been my territory so I know the area, I know the coaches and I know what life is like up here.
"Philadelphia is in a great spot to attract talent. First of all it is a passionate football city that is undergoing a major renaissance in the community. Second, within a four-hour radius there are major hotbeds for players. You can get kids here quickly on a plane, on a train, or in their car."
Coinciding with the perceived rise of Temple is the potential for collapse at Penn State and turmoil at Pitt.
Penn State has had just two recruiting classes finish outside of the Top 50 since 2002. One was last season, amid the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, when it finished No. 51. The other was in 2003, when the program finished No. 93 for the simple reason that it signed just 11 players.
Pitt, like Penn State, has had just two seasons outside the Top 50 since 2002 but, since Dave Wannstedt was fired in December of 2010, the program has called Phil Bennett, Michael Haywood, Todd Graham and now Paul Chryst its head coach.
Farrell said that combination makes for an awkward opportunity for Temple.
"We do not know what is going to come of Penn State but it hasn't looked too good," he said. "Pittsburgh certainly has not been a blueprint for hiring practices and the constant change, historically, has not been a good thing. If Addazio stays at Temple, and that is a big if, the school has a real chance."
Addazio feels it is the right mix for the program to make a serious move with its perception.
"We are going to have some more growing pains but that is good and that is to be expected considering the circumstances," he said. "But I believe that this is the right time, at the right place, and we have the right substance to really do something here."
Buzz: When a program is starting at the bottom of the barrel, it is easy to argue that a move up should be expected. Colorado State ended the 2012 recruiting cycle with the No. 120 class. Much of that can be attributed to only having 12 signees, but the low point needs to be noted.
The Rams have had three other, full-pledge classes finish No. 101 or worse, and so the program has clearly not been doing well on the recruiting front. With in-state competition from Colorado sliding, the Rams could make a move forward. Colorado had its high-water mark in recruiting during the Ccass of 2002, when it ended the evaluation period No. 10, but it has seen its on-field product slide since. That has obviously affected CU in recruiting, and the Buffs fell to a program-worst No. 74 rank with the class of 2011.
Colorado is off to an 0-3 start this season, including a loss to Colorado State, and with a brutal schedule remaining, Jon Embree's team could end with a winless season. Former Colorado player Matt McChesney made waves earlier this week by telling the Boulder Daily Camera that Colorado is the worst program in the nation.
If Colorado State can make a move within the Colorado high school football landscape it can improve its place on the national landscape. The Rams' current class is ranked No. 84 with eight commitments.
Buzz: The Bobcats already have a major perception victory over Penn State on their resume, and Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton made news earlier this month when he said the program can be an East version of Boise State. The team won 10 games last year, its first 10-win season since 1968, and it is likely to repeat that feat again this year.
Obviously, Ohio is not going to recruit on the same level as Ohio State regardless of NCAA sanctions in Columbus, but the team can use its rise to spur recruiting to the level of Cincinnati. Over the last three recruiting classes, the Bobcats have improved 20 spots moving up from the No. 119 class in 2010 to No. 79 in 2012. The trend is coinciding with a leveling off of recruiting at Cincinnati, which has held steady between No. 60 to No. 49 over the last five years.
Coach Frank Solich has rehabbed the Bobcat program since his arrival after being pushed out at Nebraska and the impact is starting to be felt in recruiting. So long as the team is trending in the right direction - receiving 20 votes for the AP Top 25 poll will help perception - then this could be a program poised to break through in recruiting.
Buzz: It may be hard to sell Rutgers as a team that is poised to improve in recruiting as it has had numerous Top 40 finishes recently and has progressed from the No. 64 class in 2010 to the No. 24 class last season. Still, there may be no team that stands to gain more from the sanctions against USC and Penn State than the Scarlet Knights.
New Jersey has long been a fertile recruiting ground, but it has often been raided by Notre Dame, Penn State, USC and others; with two of those three being limited in the number of players they can recruit, it could make it easier for first-year coach Kyle Flood to continue the work of Greg Schiano in building a wall around the state.
Rutgers was making very strong in-roads in South Florida and that pipeline figures to continue, but with Notre Dame focusing more efforts on South Carolina and the South it may open the chance to keep the top-tier New Jersey players at home. The perception of the program has been elevated to the point that it is a serious destination for recruits from points beyond the Garden State - and that is certainly not a negative - but the bread and butter for any quality program is keeping its best at home.