An eagle screeched on a Friday morning, pretending to be an owl. It was 2012, and the Orange had just defeated the lowly Temple Owls in Philadelphia -- their seventh victory of the season, and the one that ultimately earned Syracuse a tie for the Big East championship on the way out. The screeching noise was only relevant because Temple plays at the Eagles' stadium, and they don't bother creating a different sound effect for the Owls' lesser bird of prey mascot.
(UPDATE: Apparently that was ALWAYS an owl noise?!?! Also, they got rid of it two years ago. RIP Owl Noise)
An impressive 38-20 win for Syracuse, was supposed to signal what was to come for all parties involved. The 7-5 Orange were headed to a bowl game and the ACC come the next yearly athletic calendar. Temple, on the other hand, was the first in a long line of mercenaries sent to the Big East/American Athletic Conference to refill the ranks. We'd thought the zombie league was going for quantity over quality, and especially scoffed at the 4-7 Owls' return to a league they'd been voted out of years before.
We were wrong.
Not just "we" here, either. Everyone was.
Less than three years later, the college football world, and the worlds of these two programs are very different places. After the 2012 season, Steve Addazio left for Boston College, and Doug Marrone left for the Buffalo Bills. The two coaches were replaced by Matt Rhule and Scott Shafer, respectively, with very different results.
Over at Temple, Rhule went 2-10 in his first season at the helm, then a better-than-the-win-loss-record 6-6 in 2014. So far in 2015, the Owls are 6-0 and RANKED for the first time since 1979. They have a win over Penn State in there too. Syracuse doesn't have a win over Penn State in decades. They're ranked for the first time in 36 years? It's been over 10 since the Orange last sniffed a poll. Temple was once thrown out of the Big East, only to be re-invited and now be an apparent power in the restructured (and pretty impressive right now) AAC. Syracuse... is likely cruising toward another finish at the bottom of the ACC.
Rhule and Shafer possess similar records at their current posts (14-16 vs. 13-18), but one record shows clear progress despite minimal resources. The other? The W-L record belies a VERY antsy fan base wondering when the ACC move and perceived recruiting gains start correlating to wins. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen.
Narratives, of course, exist for the purpose of talking about them and not much else. Right now, we see a resurgent Owls program and a fading Syracuse one. A few wins or losses for each in the opposite direction and that narrative shifts quickly. Temple -- like fellow AAC program and former doormat Memphis -- is proving that you're not continually stuck in a narrative. Both of those programs have found coaches that WORK for what they are and what they have at their disposal. Instead of talking about the bright future, they've simply gone out and taken it (through recruiting and good coaching). They don't need a major conference, but look every bit as powerful as the "power" teams they've faced (and beaten).
So this is going to sound crazy, but... let's be Temple. Or rather, let's find an identity on either side of the football, and just get there. It's probably not going to be this year. And it may not even be under Shafer, either. But if we can learn anything from teams like the Owls, it's that you CAN create your own narrative, despite your short-term or long-term failures. You just need to back it up. #Hardnosed is far from the truth, so let's leave it in the past.
If this staff is going to succeed, and if this program is going to grow beyond the muck and mediocrity it's currently stuck in, identity is the only way forward. Let's go find one, history be damned.