For a lot of Villanovans, Andy Talley's career on the Main Line is defined by the 2009 NCAA Championship season. That season, the fates aligned and a very talented team made it through the CAA gauntlet to grab a top seed in the postseason, and battle past CAA foes again on their way to a meeting with Montana in the title game.
When the lights go out on Coach Talley's tenure at Villanova at the completion of the 2016 season, he will be remembered both as a champion coach and as the founding father of Villanova Football 2.0.
The football program was killed off to the dismay of many alumni by a capricious administration in Spring 1981. The program had compiled a record of 368-332-38 (.524) and five bowl berths to that point. It took three years for alumni groups to convince the University that it had made an error in dropping the team, and Talley -- then the head coach at Division III St. Lawrence -- found himself in the running to come to the Main Line and rebuild the Wildcats program.
"I wasn't a rookie; I knew what I was doing and I knew the power of Villanova and what it could be if managed correctly and if someone stayed long enough to build it," he said of his start at Villanova.
Already 41 years old when he took the helm, he didn't waste any time getting things set up.
His long tenure at Villanova started in 1985 and will span 31 seasons, including six conference titles and 11 trips to the post-season. Talley has been a two-time AFCA National Coach of the Year, and won the Eddie Robinson Award for best FCS coach in 1997. Since Talley arrived on the Main Line, the Wildcats have gone 221-133-1 (.624).
Almost from the start, Talley ran a program at Villanova that overachieved. They recruited well, they won, almost immediately -- getting to the playoffs for the first time in their second season of FCS play in 1989, then again in 1991 and 1992 -- losing each time to the eventual champion.
Under his watch, the Wildcats became the only school to have three Walter Payton Award winners -- the Championship Subdivision's version of the Heisman Trophy -- when quarterback John Robertson took home the 2014 award. Brian Finneran was the school's first winner in 1997, is the only wide receiver who ever won the award. Brian Westbrook won the award in 2001, and went on to spend the next decade in the NFL, much of it as a vital spoke in the wheel for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The 2008 draft saw tight end Matt Sherry land with the Cincinnati Bengals as well. Offensive lineman Ben Ijalana, a 2010 graduate, was drafted in the second round of the NFL draft (Villanova's highest pick since 1981). Receiver Matt Szczur was a likely draft pick as well, but chose to play professional baseball instead.
Talley won on the gridiron without resorting to tactics used by many other successful FCS programs -- namely, relying heavily on the transfer market to load his team with talent that had been cast off by the big time football schools. He built a program that effectively identified and recruited undervalued players who fit into his system. The Wildcats have regularly pulled in outstanding recruiting classes under Talley, as a result. All of it, of course, while needing to adhere to the strict limitations that have often been put in place by the admissions department.
Villanova football has regularly put up an impressive Academic Progress Rate, as calculated by NCAA-regulators. Talley's program consistently has a high graduation rate with few scandals.
Coach Talley's contribution has been greater than that, however.
"We're not just about winning football games. We're about making an impact in the community and saving lives and developing players that come out of here with a Villanova degree and go out in the world and contribute."
Annually, he created a program that organizes annual bone marrow recruitment drives, both at Villanova and at campuses across the country as his network of friends in the coaching business have signed their programs on to take part. The program, and his Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, has become one of his most successful efforts, spanning more than 50 college campuses, to add tens of thousands of potential marrow donors to the national registry.
The "Get in the Game" program has resulted in hundreds of marrow transplants, and the effect has been international. When Matt Szczur donated marrow after the 2009 national championship victory, his donation went to a young Ukrainian girl. The Wildcats had a record three players donate marrow in 2015; two during the football season -- and despite the fact that such donations may risk his depth and talent on game-day, Talley has no regrets.
Since 1985, Andy Talley has been a fixture at Villanova Stadium. There were only a handful of football players on campus when he arrived, the remnants of the 'Cats 1981 recruiting class that hadn't scattered to other schools. Every brick that helped to build his impressive legacy was put in place without the benefit of his predecessors.
Success at Villanova is a special recipe that Andy Talley has been cooking for nearly three decades.
"I understand our problems; I know the Alumni well; I know what the formula for success is at Villanova, which is different than [other schools.]," he explained. "You don’t want anybody else to take it because you don’t want anybody else to screw it up."
That is why having Mark Ferrante, who joined Talley's staff in 1987, step into the head coaching role seems like an obvious decision to a lot of people. Ferrante has been around almost as long as his longtime boss, and has similarly navigated the same hazards and had more opportunities than anyone to learn the recipe for success at Villanova.
After all, Villanova has become a program that prides itself on stability.