Settling into the job he'd long coveted in the middle of the region he'd long called home, new Temple coach Steve Addazio wasted little time in January before working to make his mark. After the former Florida offensive coordinator helped coach the Gators to a 37-24 win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl, he set off barnstorming around the Northeast, luring recruits to Philadelphia.
For the second time in as many years, Addazio had been given the keys to a program. Only this time, he'd be taking more than a test drive.
When Urban Meyer took a leave of absence last spring, Addazio served 11 weeks as Florida's interim head coach. Though that spring -- and the ensuing fall -- was a tumultuous time in Gainesville, Addazio says it prepared him for his new gig.
"It was absolutely an invaluable experience," Addazio said. "To be taking that role at such a high-level place where you're under the microscope constantly -- it's a great opportunity. Whether it was recruiting, hiring, giving speaking engagements, or anything else, it was important to be involved in all of that."
Though his playbook drew plenty of criticism from Gator fans -- the requisite "Fire Steve Addazio" website went live as Florida's offense sputtered through the 2010 season -- Addazio earned a reputation as one of the country's top recruiters. As interim coach, Addazio closed out a recruiting class that Scout.com and ESPN ranked as the nation's best.
"When I got to Temple, I knew right away the first thing I had to do was get out and recruit," Addazio said. "I knew I could take my time hiring our staff. The time would come to really work with and manage our team. But right away I had to work to get the right players here."
A Connecticut native, Addazio had been Florida's lead recruiter in the Northeast throughout his tenure in Gainesville. His deep ties to the region helped Addazio pull together a solid first Temple class -- ranked fourth in the MAC by Scout.com -- but no matter how well-connected a coach may be, recruiting to Temple is a far tougher challenge than recruiting to Florida.
"Recruiting at a place like this is an art form," said Chuck Heater, who followed Addazio from Florida to become Temple's defensive coordinator. "It's not the same as being in a place where you're pumping guys into the NFL all the time. You have to reconfigure what you're looking for, find the right fit, get guys who can really play well in your particular system."
The job may be challenging, but at Temple things could always be worse. The Owls went 4-42 from 2003-06, the worst of any team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. When Al Golden began turning the program around, winning 17 games the last two years and taking the Owls to the 2009 EagleBank Bowl, he parlayed the minor coaching miracle into a job at Miami.
"When Al came here, he had to take the position based on faith," said Owls athletic director Bill Bradshaw. "There was no tangible evidence that we could win. But he figured it out. We got TV ratings, ESPN games, a bowl -- all the things he promised recruits, he did. Now it's tangible. Now it's real."
Bradshaw said the job drew considerably more interest this winter than when Golden was hired, and Addazio admitted that he'd long kept an eye on Temple as a potential destination for his first head-coaching gig. "I've always followed this job, kept my eye on it," Addazio said. "I've recruited this area and known the culture of this area for a long time, and I always felt like this was a place where you could win."
Among Temple's draws: It sits in the center of Philadelphia, the country's fourth-largest media market. Long known as a commuter school, Temple is increasingly developing a campus culture, with about 12,000 students living in the dorms. The Owls play at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles and widely considered among the finest football stadiums in America. Perhaps most importantly, the Owls play in one of the country's most sports-obsessed cities, one that has never had a consistent college program it could embrace.
"If you look at the Philadelphia sports fan, they have almost everything," Bradshaw said. "The only thing missing is college football. That has been mainly due to Temple not performing, not having a program people could call their own. We've tried everything to lure those fans -- marketing, scheduling, whatever else. We've tried everything except one thing: winning."
Addazio hopes to change that. "[Coach is] creating conflict and competition in every minute of every practice," quarterback Chester Stewart said. "He makes sure there's a winner and a loser in every drill we have, so we get used to having that winning mentality."
Poor attendance was a factor when the Big East dropped Temple in 2004, and though enthusiasm has increased along with the wins, the Owls still rank as one of college football's worst draws. Temple drew an average of 20,515 fans last season, 92nd in the nation. The Owls may boast one of the country's finest stadiums, but it's hard to generate a college atmosphere when playing before nearly 50,000 empty seats.
Despite that, Bradshaw and Addazio insist that attendance will improve if the team keeps winning. So far, the players are buying in.
"America knows what a horrible program Temple was at one point," safety Kevin Kroboth said. "Coached Golden helped us turn it around, but we still can maybe have some guys feel complacent. We're not close to where we want to be."
Maybe not, but Addazio is exactly where he wants to be: at the helm of his own program. And this time, it looks like he'll get to stay there for a while.