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At Arians's Marlton, N.J., home, the phone rang constantly, signaling condolence calls—from Akron's Gerry Faust. Tennessee's Johnny Majors, Mississippi State's Rockey Felker, Texas Tech's Spike Dykes.
Arians, 36, whose record was 27-39, said simply, "I got fired because I didn't win enough games. The way for Temple to win is to make a Miami-style commitment." In the mid-'70s, Miami was either going to give it up or get good by pouring big bucks into football. The pouring worked. What Arians wanted for Temple was an indoor practice facility for bad-weather days, more practice fields, a bigger weight room and a football dorm. Lack of money, he said, torpedoed his hopes.
Athletic director Charlie Theokas said a lack of space in an urban setting—Temple's campus is in North Philadelphia—was a more difficult problem than lack of money. "We have adequate facilities, but we don't have great facilities," Theokas said. "I do admit it could hurt recruiting." He said Temple's football budget "puts us about in the middle of the pack." He would not, however, disclose budgetary figures. In any case, Theokas said, it was time to "resell, remarket, reenergize." Translation: win.
Arians, a former assistant to Bear Bryant at Alabama, said the first time it occurred to him he might be fired "was the day I got the job." The second time was after the Owls lost their last seven games in '87 to finish with a 3-8 record. The third occasion was this year's Oct. 22 game at California. The Owls were up 14-10 at half, then blew it in the second half with fumbles on the Cal six- and 19-yard lines and lost 31-14, leaving Temple 1-5. Says Arians, "We turned it over, and I turned my job over that day."
Through the turmoil last week, Arians—who says the high point of his stay at Temple was beating Pitt three times, the low point never beating Penn State—was surprisingly upbeat. At his farewell press conference he thanked everyone, including—honest—the unrelenting Philadelphia press. Then he went back to his now all-but-bare office, closed the door and philosophized: "This is just a new beginning. I don't feel one ounce of failure. I'm just thankful to have another day. I know I'll land on my feet. You never know what will be the next opportunity or the best opportunity. But I'll be coaching somewhere next year. If you lose trying, that's O.K." And with that, he put his football office in his rear-view mirror; stopped off at the Casa Lupita restaurant in Marlton for a beer: went home to his wife, Christine, a lawyer, for warmed-up pot roast; called his best friend. Chris Courtney, and learned Courtney had just resigned as coach at Garfield Senior High School in Woodbridge, Va.; watched two plays of Monday Night Football ; and went to sleep.
Arians's essential problem was that Temple—under the legendary Pop Warner—had played in the first Sugar Bowl, on Jan. 1, 1935. The school desperately wants to return some day, and every year the Owls don't is considered another failure. But Temple has never even been close to getting back to New Orleans, because it's far too ambitious a dream. The Owls, 4-7 in '88, keep tilting at windmills, scheduling teams like Syracuse, Alabama, Penn State and Pitt. They lost to each this season.
In fact, Arians did a creditable job at Temple. In '85 the Owls lost their first three games, to nationally ranked Boston College, Penn State and BYU, by a total of seven points. In '86, Temple went 6-5 playing the 10th-hardest schedule in the nation—the Owls saw five of their opponents go to bowls. "I knew the schedule when I came here," says Arians. "You keep your job by winning, but that's not how you coach. You don't coach to win at all costs. I'm a counselor, a teacher, a father, a brother—and a coach. I helped some kids."
Arians, who went to Temple in 1983 after two years as running back coach at Alabama, says he was lucky to be hired. "In no way was I prepared for this job when Temple gave it to me," he says. "I don't know why they did, but I'm glad they did." Liacouras said then that it was because Arians was the "most promising football coach in the country."
He wasn't quite as promising last week, but his two children—Jake, 10, and Kristi, 8—were not upset. Said a sanguine Jake, "Oh, Dad's on TV again." And as the coaching roulette wheel spins, Arians will be back on the transactions wire and back on TV again and again, perhaps even performing great deeds—although, in truth, it might help if he is provided with slightly greater means.
BOWLING GREEN: Named Steve Barr assistant sports information director.