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Bowl MVP Coyer Helped Turn Owls Around

Written by: on Monday, January 12th, 2015. Follow Don Leypoldt on Twitter.

 

It was a cold day in the Meadowlands on December 15, 1979, but Temple fullback Mark Bright took home an early Christmas present.

Bright rushed for 112 yards on 19 carries to claim the Garden State Bowl MVP. His performance highlighted a 28-17 Temple win that gave the North Philly school it’s first ever bowl victory.

It would be 32 years later- almost to the day- before an Owl could again hoist a Bowl MVP. But sophomore quarterback Chris Coyer showcased both his arms and his legs in the 2011 post-season.

Coyer rushed for 71 yards on 12 attempts, and completed 8 of 12 passes for 169 yards and a score in Temple’s 37-15 rout of Wyoming in the 2011 New Mexico Bowl.

“There are a few games that stick out,” Coyer remembered. “The first of which would be that New Mexico Bowl win. It being our first bowl win in 32 years, it was pretty incredible to all of us. That in and of itself was outstanding.”

The Owls finished that season 9-4. More importantly, they showed a skeptical nation how far their program had come. Players like Coyer, like standout defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and running back Bernard Pierce, righted a Temple ship that had floundered for a generation.

From 1986 to 2008, Temple didn’t have a winning record. The best thing you could say about Temple football was that their basketball team was usually very good.

But things began to change. The Owls joined the MAC conference in 2007. And the year prior, Temple hired Al Golden as head coach- a widely acclaimed move. Coaches like Golden and players like Coyer began to move the program in a positive direction.

“From what I saw and what I understand is that it had to be a complete culture change in order for the program to succeed,” Coyer commented. “Unfortunately, a couple of guys had to leave the program for the program to move forward. But it was really just a product of getting everyone to buy in to Golden’s system and to get everyone to care that much.

“Everyone at that level loves playing football. That really wasn’t what it was about,” Coyer continued. “It was about getting a group of guys to buy in to one way of thinking and to buy in to a program that was rigorous and very businesslike. When everybody is on the same page, that is when you begin to succeed.”

Golden had just one win in his first season, but the Owls won four games the next year, five games the next year and then in Coyer’s 2009 redshirt season, “We finally broke over the hump, got that winning record and that bowl bid, and that was amazing,” Coyer felt. Although Temple lost the EagleBank Bowl 30-21 to UCLA, getting to a bowl after so many bleak years was a moral victory.

“(Coach Golden) coaches like he was coaching us to be pros.,” said Coyer, who played with 17 future NFLers at Temple. “The staff taught us how to prepare and train like we were getting ready to be starters or be professional athletes, every single day. As much as people want to think there is some sort of secret to building team success, it is just that: it is getting guys to work their butts off and come together as a group. That is difficult with 110 guys.”

Coyer was a four-year player and three year starter for Temple. The 6’3” lefty was a perfect fit as a signal caller for Temple’s run-heavy offense. He was an accurate passer with good speed. His high school background also prepared him well for Temple’s system.

“My first three years there, we were wing-T and Naval Academy veer so we did a lot of running,” Coyer explained. “In my senior year, we installed a spread and it was zone read. That was right in my wheelhouse. As a quarterback, I was a pretty decent runner in high school.

“(Temple coach Steve) Addazio’s system, where I was going to be carrying the ball a little more was right up my alley,” Coyer noted. “And the relationship I had with (position) Coach (Matt) Rhule and Coach (Scot) Loeffler really made that offense a great fit.”

Coyer completed 2/3rds of his passes and rushed for nearly 1,300 yards as a dual-threat standout at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia. Temple was the first school to offer the District Offensive Player of the Year a scholarship.

“First and foremost is that I wanted to be some where far enough from home where I didn’t have my parents breathing down my neck every day, but I wanted to be close enough so where they could still come and see games,” grinned Coyer.

Ironically, Coyer’s younger twin sisters would end up just minutes from Chris: Caroline and Katherine Coyer suit up for Villanova’s basketball team; big brother attended as many games as he could.

“I really didn’t know much about Temple at the time but over the next couple of months it became really obvious that they wanted me more than anyone else,” Coyer continued. “The team was so much more like family than any of the other programs that I visited. It was a very easy pick for me.”

Coyer’s “welcome to college football” moment came rudely during his freshman season. “My first playing experience came in front of 100,000 people in Happy Valley. I look back on that fondly, even though I got my butt kicked,” he smiled.

Coyer was on the punt team. He wasn’t worried about the 109,000 strong at Beaver Stadium. “I’ve always kind of thrived on some of the negative energy that you get when you go into an away stadium. I love that feeling,” he offered. “And the feeling you get when the stadium quiets a little bit is pretty cool.

“It was more about the guy standing across from me,” he revealed. “I was looking over at Devon Still who is quite the large man and I only weighed 210 at the time. Knowing that I had to block him gave me some butterflies.” Still, a Penn State standout listed at 310 pounds, now plays defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Sophomore Coyer drew notice on Temple’s opening night win in 2011: a 42-7 thrashing of Villanova to give them the Mayor’s Cup. Coyer ran for a 68-yard score on a draw play; several weeks later, he streaked for a 74-yard touchdown in Temple’s conference road whipping of Ball State.

Coyer got his first snaps under center in early November, throwing for three scores and running for nearly 200 yards in a heartbreaking 35-31 loss to Ohio.

“My best game was probably my first one,” said Coyer. “I had been chomping at the bit all year long, and the coaching staff knew it, and they gave me a shot and I played well. I did what I knew I could do. They kept it simple enough for a guy who was just starting out. They gave me the opportunity to make checks and just go play football.”

The next week, Coyer ran for 97 yards and a score, and threw for another one in Temple’s 24-21 win over Miami. The win made Temple bowl eligible and punched their ticket to New Mexico.

“I had a great group of guys around me. That offensive line had four seniors and one junior. My receivers that year were outstanding- it was Evan Rodriguez and Rod Streeter, who are both still in the NFL,” Coyer praised. “I had a couple of other guys with Deon Miller and Joe Jones, who were really good receivers for us.

“And you can’t forget about the big guy (Pierce) in the backfield. Bernard had an incredible year that year. It made it easy to step into the role halfway through the year and succeed.”

In 2012, Temple moved to the Big East and Coyer moved to the starter under center. He ran for over 400 yards and threw for eight touchdowns on the season. Two of Coyer’s favorite games came on successive weekends. The Owls upset South Florida 37-28 to win their Big East opener and homecoming, a game where Coyer completed 16-of-20 passes.

The next week, Temple went to East Hartford and knocked off UConn in overtime. The Owls shut out UConn after the first quarter and Coyer hit wide out Jalen Fitzpatrick on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds in regulation to send the game to overtime.

T T T T

Temple used “We the T” as their 2014 ad campaign; for Coyer, the “T” could stand for “Transition.” Coyer ultimately played in three conferences- Temple was in the MAC for his first three seasons, the Big East during his junior year and the American in his senior.

He also played for three coaches: Golden in his first two years, Steve Addazio in his next two and current head man Matt Rhule as a senior.

“When I got there- naturally as any 18 or 19 year old would be- I was a boy still. And a lot of what I took away from (Golden) is how to be more of a professional about the way you carry yourself,” Coyer reflected, “and the way you conduct yourself in the facility when you get to work. I learned how to prepare there.”

Coyer didn’t expect Golden to stay for all five of his years. Nonetheless, it was “a bit of a shock” when Golden left Temple for Miami. With new coach Addazio, “everything on the field was very intense,” Coyer observed. “But along with that, with some of the guys he brought in like Coach Loeffler, my position coach, and Coach (Kevin) Rogers and Coach (Ryan) Day, I felt like I learned a lot more about the game of football from a quarterbacking stand point.

“Before, I knew coverages, I could tell blitzes and what not but the system made it so that I had to understand football.   I had to know the playbook, I had to know the defenses and I had to know what everybody was doing inside and out. I’m very thankful about that. I feel that, from them, I learned the mental side to be either a pro, or hopefully some day a coach.”

Addazio left Temple for the Boston College position at the end of 2012. His replacement, Rhule, had deep roots with Coyer. “Coach Rhule has been there with me the entire way. He was on Golden’s staff. He was with Coach Addazio’s staff and the year he wasn’t with us, I stayed in contact with him,” Coyer said. “He was the one who recruited me and he was my position coach my first couple of years.

“He’s my guy,” Coyer exclaimed. “Coach Rhule was essential and vital in me growing up, really. I’m so thankful for Coach Rhule.”

The relationship with Rhule made a potentially difficult and messy decision very easy. “I knew I wasn’t making the throws a senior quarterback should be making,” Coyer admits candidly.

Coyer agreed to move to H-back for his senior season. “Coach Rhule and I were able to have a very frank conversation in his office and I had a feeling that he was going to propose a change. And I was pretty open to it. I thought it would give me an opportunity to, at times, just go be an athlete,” Coyer believed.

“It also afforded me the opportunity to teach some of the younger quarterbacks coming up a little bit of what I knew,” Coyer concluded.

“After watching (Coyer) in practice,” Rhule told Philly.com in July 2013, “it just solidified in our minds that he could contribute so much from that position.”

Coyer bulked up to 245 pounds and thrived at H-back, catching 20 balls for nearly 300 yards and two scores. Coyer is one of many quarterbacks who ran and passed for 1,000 yards in a career- but how many of those can also claim 20 catches?

Things are looking promising for both Coyer and Temple. The 2014 Owls were bowl eligible. After graduating Coyer, a player praised by coaches and teammates for his football intelligence, earned time in the Washington Redskins camp. He spent this past season as an assistant coach for a Northern Virginia high school.

“At the moment, I am training to try and see if I can get another shot at a tryout with a team,” Coyer explained. “At the same time, I’m putting my name out and seeing what my options are (for coaching).”

He smiled. “It will be hard for anyone to get me out of the game of football.”

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