Category Archives: Alumni Interviews

Filip Bondy chases the game

Not long after the World Cup ended, I was given New York Daily News columnist Filip Bondy’s book, “Chasing the Game: America and the Quest for the World Cup.” As a serious soccer enthusiast, I gobbled it up and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the sport. Bondy, a veteran journalist who graduated from the Annenberg School of Communications in 1975, follows the United States Men’s National Team throughout the qualifying stages of the 2010 World Cup, while splicing in key historical moments and profiling players, coaches and others involved in the U.S. Soccer Federation. Keep reading to find out Bondy’s motivation for writing it, his insights into American soccer culture, and a Penn record he claims no one has ever matched:

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: What kind of reception and feedback has your book received since it was released?

FILIP BONDY: It got very nice reviews and the blogs were about 90 percent positive. It got a lot of good publicity, but I’ll be honest with you: it didn’t sell as much as I thought it would during the World Cup – which was kind of disappointing. It wasn’t a personal disappointment but more of a disappointment because it indicates the interest in soccer may not be as steep as we thought. It’s kind of a fickle fan base and it’s still evolving in this country. With this book, I learned the hard way I guess that the American soccer fans are an eclectic group.

Bondy's book got favorable reviews but didn't sell as much as he hoped

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: But as someone who has covered soccer for more than two decades, how much have you seen the sport grow in this country?

FILIP BONDY: Oh, don’t get me wrong: It’s night and day from when I first started. You know, you would see the United States play Brazil in the Yale Bowl and get 18,000 people way back in 1993. The sheer exposure on television, that’s the biggest difference. It wasn’t that long ago when I was in my 20s or 30s when the only soccer I could watch was on the Italian network on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Now, to be able to watch English Premier League, to watch every United States match, to watch every World Cup match in high definition – that alone, I think, has changed the dynamic of support in the United States.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: What kind of research went into writing this book – and how much of it was based on your old articles and your own recollection?

FILIP BONDY: I started covering the national team in about 1989, so must of the stuff after 1989 was recollections and then interviewing those players to flesh it out. Anything that happened before 1989, I clearly had to do my homework. I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Was 1989 [when the U.S. qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years] a defining moment for you as both a fan and a journalist?

FILIP BONDY: It was a defining moment as a journalist because I really finally got a chance to cover the sport I loved already. But it wasn’t a defining moment as a fan. I’m a first generation kid — my father was Czech and he brought me to international soccer games. I grew up playing soccer right through college, and even beyond. I loved the sport and always wanted to cover it. And I finally got an editor who sent me to Costa Rica for a U.S. vs. Costa Rica qualifier. Boy, that was just fun. It really opened my eyes to the World Cup cycle. I was already pretty aware of international soccer but the World Cup cycle was something I became fascinated with.

The 1989 U.S. national team greeted Bondy by qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Has there always been a push-and-tug with your newspaper editors about covering soccer?

FILIP BONDY: I’ve had about 10 sports editors in my day and I’d be lying if I said any were interested in soccer. It’s ranged from indifference to out-and-out animosity. These are good sports editors but every one of them was not into soccer. I keep waiting but I’ve never had that one that said, ‘You’ve got to go out there, we’re going to become the destination read for soccer fans.’ Last week, I asked one of my editors if I could go cover the Galaxy against the Red Bulls, which are the two franchise teams in MLS right now. And he said, ‘We’d rather have you at the Mets.’ So there you go.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Has it ever been hard balancing being an author with your newspaper job?

FILIP BONDY: No, that’s been wonderful. As far as my time is concerned, I find books much better than doing TV or radio because books you can pretty much do when you want. If you can get a book contract, I think it’s a perfect complement actually to a newspaper career.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: I particularly enjoyed learning more about the history of the sport in this country. Looking back on it, what was your favorite part of the book and what did you learn yourself?

FILIP BONDY: What did I learn? Well, I learned about [head coach] Bob Bradley actually. I didn’t know much about him before writing the book. And with the 1950 team for example, I had assumed from watching the movie on that game [“The Game of Their Lives”] that the English players were obnoxious, arrogant guys. Walter Bahr set me straight on that and said they were gentleman, they congratulated after the game and guys said to him, ‘We could have played forever and we wouldn’t have scored against you.’ So that was eye-opening for me.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: For a lot of soccer fans, World Cup qualifying can be overlooked. Have you gotten the sense that it seems Americans almost expect now to see their team make the World Cup every four years?

FILIP BONDY: I think it can be overlooked for a number of reasons. First of all, there’s not much suspense in CONCACAF [Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football]. You can pretty much pencil in the United States and Mexico. That’s one problem. Another problem is sometimes the most important road matches you can’t even watch. That’s what happened this year. The most important match of all was in Honduras toward the end, and it was a wonderful match and you couldn’t get it unless you went to a sports bar. That was a contractual problem that U.S. Soccer had with the Honduran federation. So you come across these weird problems and then add the fact that there’s not much publicity in local papers in terms of advancing the matches … it all combines to make qualifying a different experience in United States then it is in Europe, when fans are watching every game breathlessly.

The Americans celebrate qualifying for the World Cup after an arduous -- but sometimes overlooked -- journey

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Is that one of the main reasons you wrote the book – to expose the World Cup qualifying because it can sometimes be overlooked?

FILIP BONDY: Well, I love the World Cup cycle, not just the World Cup. In CONCACAF, the experiences are so unique. From the mud pile that Barbados calls a home field to the absolute pit in Costa Rica – you get these experiences that you wouldn’t get anywhere else in the world. You get to travel to crazy places. And it’s tremendous fun.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Another particularly interesting part of book I thought focused on the national team’s mistakes in keeping some of their top prospects. From your experience, what do you think U.S. Soccer can do, if anything, to become one of the elite teams in the world?

FILIP BONDY: Sometimes they look closer than other times. I really don’t know. It’s a very confusing thing. They seem to play very well against finesse European teams like Spain, Italy, France and Portugal. But then they come up against very different teams from Northern Europe or Eastern Europe or, god forbid, Argentina and Brazil, and they look light years away. Everyone is still waiting for that great scorer who can make a difference. I do think we will eventually see that player, and when we do we may be a lot closer than we are right now. But I don’t think I see that player yet.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: What was your time at Penn like?

FILIP BONDY: I earned the fastest degree in Annenberg in history. I made it through in less than two years – in a year-and-a-half, which I don’t think anyone has ever done. I want that on the record: nobody has equaled that, I’m sure. Annenberg is famous for keeping people forever. … I’m happy I got a graduate degree. I probably wouldn’t have been hired at the New York Times when I was, and it helped me get teaching jobs. And I really enjoy Philadelphia, which I think is the most underrated city in America.

One of Bondy's greatest feats is getting through Annenberg in less than two years

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Finally, do you have any early predictions for 2014?

FILIP BONDY: Well, it will be in Brazil. There are pretty much seven or eight teams that you know are going to advance beyond the first round, and then there are probably four or five teams that you know have no chance of advancing. We are in between those two groups, and we’ll probably still be between those two groups for the next World Cup, unless we find that golden generation, which we’re waiting to come along. We had a version of that with John Harkes and Tab Ramos and Tony Meola, who were all from one town basically. We’re waiting for a second wave to lift us the other step. We’ve had a few players along the way like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, who could have been part of a golden generation – but they didn’t really have enough support elsewhere. We just don’t have that much talent – not yet. We need about three real stars and about six guys out there who are very good and we haven’t been able to find that. I think maybe some day we will but we don’t have it yet.

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Catching up with … Adam Rubin

It was a weird and gloomy day last July when New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya turned his attention to a Penn graduate, and in his own clumsy style, all but accused of him of violating journalism ethics and writing a malicious story to get someone fired in the hopes of taking his job.

It was a horrible moment in what was a horrible season for the Mets, and it was clear to almost everyone that the journalist in question, Adam Rubin W’95, never did anything close to being unethical.

Yet while both sides were able to move on, the jaw-dropping press conference may very well be what Rubin is best known for to the general public – which is unfortunate because the fact remains he is a terrific sports journalist. Late last month, Rubin continued his ascension when he was hired by ESPN to cover the Mets for their new local New York affiliate.

I’ve known Rubin since I was a student at Penn (he often came back to his alma mater to mentor students at the Daily Pennsylvanian, where he was once a sports editor), so it was my pleasure to catch up with him for the latest installment of Penn Gazette Sports’ alumni interviews.

Here is our chat:

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: What prompted you to leave the Daily News for ESPN?

ADAM RUBIN: Going back to the Daily Pennsylvanian, I’ve written for a newspaper for 20 years, which is hard to believe. I think what you’re seeing in the last several years is the rise in prominence of Internet sites, particularly in the sports world. The rise of the ESPNs and the Yahoos has really made it more difficult for newspaper reporters to be the one breaking the story. Also, I already felt like I was doing the same (Internet) job, plus writing for the newspaper. When breaking news, you were putting it on the Internet and then coming back in the next day’s paper to write something else. Now there won’t be any hesitancy to put your best stuff up right away. You just go for it basically.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: How do you think your job will change at ESPN?

ADAM RUBIN: I had a blog (at the Daily News) that was just starting to incorporate Twitter and even doing video, so I don’t think it will change dramatically. Obviously the resources at ESPN are unbelievable. I’ve already been contacted by someone in the statistics department. Having that behind me only enhances my work. Certainly, there will be more of a radio and TV component too, which I did a little at the Daily News but not on a regular basis. In a lot of ways it’s comparable in terms of traveling as a beat writer, but I’m sure there will be more of a multi-media perspective.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: How much do you think covering baseball has changed in general since you began covering the Mets in 2003?

ADAM RUBIN: Everything has become so much more instantaneous. It used to be – and I’m not that old – you either had in the paper that day or you didn’t. And if you didn’t, you had 24 hours to come back with something better the next day. Now basically if you have something five minutes before it’s announced and you’re able to tweet it that counts as breaking the news. It is certainly now a 24-hour news cycle.

Rubin: From the DP to the Daily News to ESPN

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: A lot has been made of the decline of the newspaper industry, but do you think these local ESPN sites are good for sportswriters?

ADAM RUBIN: It’s certainly helping sportswriters in term of job opportunities. I would say I don‘t think newspapers are going away any time soon, especially in the New York market. I do think there are actually more eyeballs looking at stories now than ever before; it’s just they haven’t really figured out a way to monetize it on the Internet.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Have you enjoyed being a part of the 24-hours news cycle with Twitter and the blog updates or has it just been a lot more work? What has that balance been like and how have you been able to handle it?

ADAM RUBIN: It’s great in some respects and very difficult in others. You never feel like you’re off the clock now. You’re always concerned that if you’re not monitoring things you’re going to get beat by a couple of minutes. But it’s rewarding in other ways. When you have a blog, nothing gets cut out from your stories. And it’s much better for interaction with fans. So it’s positive and negative.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Does that press conference with Omar Minaya still come up all the time?

ADAM RUBIN: Just about every day, someone inquires about it. Frankly, everyone regrets it happened. I regret it happened even though I was kind of the recipient of it. Omar Minaya has been exceedingly apologetic ever since then. It was a very pressure-packed time for everyone. The season was crumbling before the Mets’ eyes. He had to fire his friend. It was an emotional time. Someone who is normally reasonably composed, even if he’ll tell you he’s not gifted articulately, really just had a meltdown on camera that happened to be directed at me because I was writing the stories that prompted him to fire his friend. But I can tell you my relationship is as strong as it’s ever been with Omar and I think most people in the organization are thankful the stories were written because it forced their hand to make changes. It hasn’t hampered my ability at all to cover the team; it’s probably enhanced it in a lot of ways.

Minaya regrets making Rubin the story last summer

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Is that the hardest thing for a journalist – to become the story like you were that day?

ADAM RUBIN: I’m very good in terms of anticipating things in terms of what story is coming up next. When I was sitting in that press conference, it was one of the few times in my life where I have ever been truly blindsided. I never saw it coming. When he first brought up my name, I thought he was begrudgingly giving me a compliment for my reporting and then it totally just took a turn in another direction that I didn’t foresee. You never want to have your ethics questioned at all. Usually journalists are not held in a very high regard, but if you look at the emails I got, I’d say they were 99 percent supportive of me. It was nice that people recognized I was acting responsibly.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: So I think you know I’m a Mets fan. Are they going to be any better this year?

ADAM RUBIN: I honestly think it would be an accomplishment to be more than a few games over .500. Certainly they don’t line up with the Phillies at this point. If you look at the division, the Mets could easily lose to the Nationals. I have a hard time seeing the Mets being much more than a .500 club.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Finally, as someone who covered some really good Penn teams in the mid-90s, what did you make of Cornell’s run?

ADAM RUBIN: Well, I was there when Steve Donahue was the restricted earnings coach and I believe he was selling paint on the side to kind of make ends meet. To go up against Fran Dunphy (in the first round of the NCAA tournament) and to see Jerome Allen coaching the Penn team certainly makes me nostalgic. Over the years when you’re covering baseball, you kind of get tunnel vision. I was so sorry when Penn didn’t hire Steve Donahue and hired Glen Miller because I knew how much Steve Donahue bled the red and blue. Now it looks like he’s on to bigger and better things and has outgrown Ivy League. (Ed’s Note: This was said a few days before Donahue was hired to be the head coach at Boston College.)

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Toole hoping to remain perfect against Villanova

While much attention has been heaped upon Friday’s Temple-Cornell game because of the connection between former Penn coaches Fran Dunphy and Steve Donahue (and rightfully so), there’s another interesting NCAA tournament storyline for Quakers fans.

During the first slate of games Thursday, former Penn star and current Robert Morris assistant Andrew Toole will face a familiar foe in Villanova. And what some people might not remember is that during his two seasons with the Quakers (2001-02 and 2002-03), Toole was a perfect 2-0 against ’Nova, while leading Penn to back-to-back Ivy League championships and 11 seeds at the Dance. One of Toole’s best games as a Quaker, in fact, probably came against Villanova his junior year when the point guard scored 21 points and buried the game-winning free throws in overtime – all on a hobbled right foot.

Can Toole keep his perfect record against the Wildcats alive? It would certainly be a monumental feat since Robert Morris, of the Northeast Conference, is a 15 seed and only four 15 seeds have ever won a first-round game. But it’s March, which means anything is possible.

I caught up with Toole to ask a few questions leading up to the game. Here are his thoughts:

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: First of all, what’s it like going back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year

ANDREW TOOLE: It is always terrific to go the NCAA tournament regardless. For us to go for a second straight year – something that has not been done in our league since 1994 – says that we have some talented players who compete nightly. We give them a pretty good plan and prepare them the best we can, but in the end they get it done. If you saw our championship game you would know our team plays with a ton of guts.

Robert Morris players enjoy their second straight conference title.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Where did you watch the selection show? What was your reaction when you saw Villanova pop up on the draw?

ANDREW TOOLE: We watched the selection show as a team with some of our friends, families and supporters of our basketball program. We had thought we were going to go to Oklahoma City to play Kansas; we did not think we would be a 15 seed. Our guys were extremely excited when they saw Villanova because a number of our guys have friends on the Villanova team. As coaches, we just got straight to work on tape and scouting to make sure we give our team every possible chance for Thursday.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Do you think the coaching staff’s Philly connections will help with the game plan against what’s obviously a very good team?

ANDREW TOOLE: I don’t think the Philly connection will help us too much. We put together a good game plan last year and none of our coaches are from Michigan. (Ed’s Note: Robert Morris lost to Michigan State, 77-62, in the 2009 NCAA tournament.) We are more familiar with some of their personnel, yes. But in the end it comes down to knowing what your team is capable of and trying to put them in positions to be successful. Then on the other side of the coin, you have to figure out what Villanova’s strength is and try to limit that.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Have you told your players the success you had against ‘Nova personally? And considering what’s happened with Villanova and Penn since your senior year, are some people surprised you went 2-0 against them?

ANDREW TOOLE: I have not told our team about how our Penn teams fared against Villanova. It really doesn’t matter to them. We need to tell them what they need to do to fare well themselves. This is their opportunity to create a special memory. But I might remind Jay Wright that I made two free throws to beat him at the Palestra.

Villanova coach Jay Wright may hear about Penn's last two wins over his team.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: What makes the NCAA tournament such a special thing for you personally?

ANDREW TOOLE: I am not really sure what makes the NCAA tournament so special. This is my fourth time being a part of this tournament and before I made my first trip, Coach Dunphy told us that seeing your name called on Selection Sunday was the best feeling in sports and he was right. I told our team the same thing last season, and now this season our older players were telling our freshmen. I am not sure if it is just one thing or if there is a way to describe what makes it so special – I just know I want to continue to be a part of it as long as I can.

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Penn grad looking for next MLS opportunity

Danny Cepero C’08 enjoyed one of the greatest debuts in the history of Major League Soccer when he scored a goal – as a goalie. He went on to lead the New York Red Bulls to the league championship game as a rookie in 2008, all while finding time to finish his coursework at Penn so he could graduate from the school where he starred on the soccer field for four years.

The Penn grad, profiled recently in the Gazette, had it all going for him it seemed. But a little more than a week ago, the Red Bulls released Cepero – a victim of new management looking to clean house after a disappointing 2009 season.

I recently got in touch with Cepero, who was gracious enough to write me back a long, poignant e-mail, which I will share almost entirely unedited.

Here, in his own words, is Cepero’s reaction to being released, his thoughts on the ongoing negotiations between the league and the players’ union, the support he’s received from friends, family and other people in the Penn community, his disappointment in missing out on the Red Bulls’ new stadium, and, most of all, his hopes for the future:

I was a bit surprised at being released by New York. No one really wants to think they’re replaceable but it is an unfortunate reality of playing a professional sport. That being said, I knew that going into this preseason, there would be a good deal of change. Last year, one of the club’s worst, we finished dead last in the standings. So this year, with a new coach and general manager, a number of the players foresaw new players coming in and others going out. Unfortunately, I was in neither the coach’s nor the general manager’s plans for the future and was thus one of the players who found himself on his way out.

This past week has been one of mixed emotions. Initially, it was disappointing to hear that you are no longer in a team’s plans for the future. I thought about my parents, my family, former coaches, and close friends – and about how I was to inform them I had been released. It felt like I would be letting all these people – these people who had helped me to become a professional soccer player – down. I found myself wondering what more I could have done to secure a roster spot and if I still had a future in the sport. I was also sad to leave my teammates, many of whom I still consider great friends.  

But as the days went on, I realized that perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. It was an opportunity to move to another team, to start over, and to hopefully restart my career. So right now, I have been in contact with a few teams in both MLS and the lower divisions of USL (United Soccer Leagues) and that have expressed interest in my abilities.

Unfortunately, under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement that MLS shares with the MLS Players Union, no contracts are guaranteed. As such, a team can release a player without having to fulfill the financial aspect of that player’s contract. The issue of guaranteed contracts is actually a controversial point of debate between the league and the players union. The previous CBA expired a few weeks ago and the two bodies have been meeting to discuss this and all other issues in order to reach an agreement before the season starts. It just so happened that I was released before an agreement could be reached and thus find myself not only out of contract but also without a paycheck. For the sake of the rest of the players in MLS, I hope a suitable agreement is reached soon.       

I do regret not being able to play in the new stadium.  I have visited it many times in the last few weeks and it looks incredible. It will only serve to improve the soccer viewing experience in the region and hopefully attract more attention to soccer not only in the region but the country as a whole.

People around me have been nothing but supportive. I suppose I wouldn’t keep them around me if they weren’t supportive. My parents and my friends have been tremendously helpful in terms of discussing my future plans. My former teammates have continually expressed their support and their confidence in my abilities as a goalkeeper, and my former goalkeeper coach has been helpful in contacting teams around the league in hopes of me finding a new club.

I obviously hope that everything works out in terms of soccer and my continuing to play. However, the reality of the situation is such that I need to prepare for that hope not coming to fruition.  At the end of the day it is comforting to know that my degree from Penn may still carry some weight in the business world – or so I hope it does. Time will tell I guess. It’s just the waiting that’s the tough part. 

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From The Radio Booth to the Bench

Tonight during the Penn-La Salle game, if you glance over to the Quaker sidelines, you may very well see new assistant coach Vince Curran W’92, SEAS’92 using some not-so-nice words.

He’s allowed to now that there isn’t a microphone in front of him.

“I’m certainly a little freer with my dialogue when dealing with the fellas in a team situation,” the affable Curran told Penn Gazette Sports before a recent practice at the Palestra. “I’m still in the same situation when I’m saying what I see, but I can be a little more colorful on the sidelines.”

Of course, Curran didn’t typically hold back when he was calling games on the radio alongside polished play-by-play man Brian Seltzer C’07 – his job up until late December when interim head coach Jerome Allen named him the new volunteer assistant coach.

Take, for instance, Curran’s call when Kevin Egee buried a buzzer-beater to beat Columbia last season as a tempest of emotions poured into his microphone.

Vince Curran, right, alongside then-radio partner Brian Seltzer

 

“There’s a line that you can go over or you can pull back,” said Seltzer, who remains close friends with Curran. “He would always waver along that line. From my point, I had to be prepared to respond it.”

But Seltzer knows – as does everyone who’s ever listened to a Penn game over the past four years – the line Curran walked stemmed mostly from the passion he has for the university. Quite simply, he’s wanted Penn to win every game since first stepping on campus as a highly touted recruit out of St. Joe’s Prep in 1987.

That’s also why he didn’t hesitate when Allen asked him to come on board as an assistant in late December – even though he has his hand in a few different businesses, his wife is five months pregnant and he never before imagined himself as a coach.

Allen, Curran says, came to his house with the request a day after taking over as head coach. “He said, ‘Look, I need someone with me on this trip that I’ve been through things with before. I need someone that will have my back and watch out for me,’” Curran recalled.

Curran said yes not only because of his love for Penn basketball but also for his deep appreciation for Allen — who he firmly believes will get the head coaching job on a permanent basis.

The new head coach was very grateful.

“I’m forever in his debt,” Allen said. “I can probably never repay him for his commitment.”

Since taking the job, Curran has tried to instill toughness in Penn’s inside players by, well, being tough himself. The experience has been rewarding, but he’s still seeking out feedback. After screaming at a few guys at a recent practice, Curran called his old coach, Fran Dunphy, wondering if he was perhaps too hard on them. Without missing a beat, Dunphy responded, “But I bet it made you feel better, right?”

Screaming fits aside, Dunphy is certainly a good coaching mentor to have. Though he never won an Ivy title in his five years as a player at Penn (a record, Curran says, he not so proudly holds), Curran was there to see the early stages of the transformation after Dunphy took over as head coach in 1989. Allen, Dunphy’s first prized recruit, was a freshman when Curran was a fifth-year senior.

Allen changed the program then, and Curran believes history will repeat itself.

“My mother said to me that my life changed forever when Fran Dunphy came to Penn, and she’s absolutely right,” Curran said. “And these kids may not know it yet, but their lives changed forever when Jerome Allen came back to Penn.”

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Catching Up With … Matt Langel

   Matt Langel, second from left, beside his mentor, Fran Dunphy

As part of my continued efforts to reach out to Penn alumni, I interviewed Temple assistant coach and former Penn basketball star Matt Langel this week. From 1996-2000, the sharpshooting guard scored 1,191 career points while helping the Quakers capture back-to-back Ivy League championships in 1999 and 2000. And as a coach at both Penn and Temple under Fran Dunphy, Langel has already been to four more NCAA tournaments.

On Wednesday, Langel will come back to the Palestra when Temple faces Penn. And while his return to the gym he calls “his second home” might not be as glamorous as some of the other storylines surrounding the Big 5 clash (Jerome Allen’s first game as head coach at the Palestra, Jerome Allen facing off against his old coach, etc.), it’s still significant.

Here’s the interview:

 

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: How exciting has this season been with Temple in the Top 25?

MATT LANGEL: I think as you look at winning games – and close games – it makes you feel good. In our business, when you win games you feel a lot better than you do when you lose games. I know its kind of clichéd, but that’s the reality of it.

PGS: Beating Villanova was probably pretty fun, right?

ML: Yeah, that was one of those games where they have an exceptional team coming off an exceptional year when they got a lot of national attention. They were missing a couple of key players that they probably will add by the end of the year but it was still a great year for our team, for our kids and for our school. It was exciting to be a part of it.

PGS: What have been some of the reasons the team has been so successful this season?

ML: I think our defense is something we’re hanging our hats on. Coach (Dunphy) has really done a great job developing our man-to-man defense and our kids have bought into it and our helping each other. Lavoy Allen and Ryan Brooks are terrific one-on-one defenders. And the other guys have really stepped up their individual defensive games. And on the other end of the floor, I think we’re sharing the ball and we’ve had really timely contributions – whether from starter or a guy who normally doesn’t get a lot of chances.

PGS: What were some of the challenges when Fran Dunphy, you and the rest of the Penn staff (Dave Duke and Shawn Trice) came over from Temple? Was it hard at first recruiting a different breed of player?

ML: You know, we get that question a lot. When it comes to recruiting, the most difficult part is the pool of players you recruit from is a lot bigger. In the Ivy League, there are only a specific number of kids that are admissible. Then you have to evaluate whether their basketball talents fit what you’re trying to do. At Temple, the pool of student-athletes that you’re recruiting from is a lot broader of a spectrum. There are more difficult decisions to be made but it’s not really a different kind of student-athlete. Our student-athletes may not fall into the same academic category than at Penn, but we are still trying to recruit the best young man who comes from a strong family and is going to be a good teammate.

PGS: Was there ever an interesting dynamic when four Penn coaches came over to Temple? Were you guys accepted right away?

ML: The Temple community has just been terrific. They welcomed us with open arms. They’ve given us all the support that we could possibly ask for and we feel very much at home in North Philadelphia. They’re great people who have presented a lot of opportunities to us when they didn’t have to. It’s been a great time so far at Temple.

PGS: I read you had a big role in recruiting Juan Fernandez. What was that like?

ML: Yeah, I went to Argentina three times. The first trip was the most difficult. It was a little bit of a change of plans. I was supposed to see him in his hometown but he got called by his national team, so I had to drive for about 10 hours longer than I thought I was going to have to. But, you know, that’s part of this business. It’s been well worth it. He’s been a good player for us so far and is a terrific young man.

PGS: Are you grateful to Fran Dunphy for taking you with him?

Dunphy with Langel in the rear

ML: I am, absolutely – not only for showing loyalty to take me to Temple with him but for really being such a mentor to me. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have chosen this profession when I was done playing overseas if it wasn’t for my experience playing for Coach and knowing the impact he had on my life. The idea that maybe I could have that same impact on other young guys’ lives, as well as their basketball careers, influenced me to pursue this as a profession.

PGS: So you’ll be going back to the Palestra on Wednesday – what’s that like for you personally being on the opposite bench there?

ML: Each time you do it it’s a little bit easier. But the Palestra obviously is a special place. I spent a lot of time there playing games or practicing and for the couple years I was there as a coach. It’s almost like a second home when you spend so much time at a place. So it’s always a little strange when you come in as a visitor. But once the ball goes up in the air, it’s a game and you’re focused to doing everything you can to win.

PGS: Have you kept a close on eye on what’s been going at Penn?

ML: You know, it’s been a little bit of a crazy year there obviously. Jerome Allen was someone I looked up to as player. He came before me and his success was part of the reason I went there. It’s been a difficult year for them, but we’re obviously all pulling for him to have great success and do the best job that we know he can do.

PGS: Were you surprised to see a coach fired midseason? It’s a pretty rare thing in the NCAA and especially in the Ivy League.

ML: It’s not something I really pay attention to. But as you look at, it seems to be a little bit of a new trend in college athletics. But I’m young to this business, so it’s not something I spend a lot of time thinking about.

PGS: If offered the head coaching job at Penn, do you think you’d accept?

ML: That’s not really something I like to talk about. They’ve got a head coach right now and he’s someone I’m close to and I hope he can do a great job there.

PGS: More hypothetically speaking, would you like to coach there some day?

ML: Penn’s a great place that has great history and tradition. Obviously it’s something that’s close to me. I love the university and I think it’s a great job for any head coach.

Langel was a lights-out shooter in his day.

PGS: What are some of your favorite memories from your playing days?

ML: Beyond the games and the wins and the championships and the NCAA tournaments, I take away a lot more from the relationships I built, the teammates that I had, the coaches I had and the lessons I learned – about reliability and about being there for the guy that’s next to you. Those experiences I remember much more than a specific win.

PGS: What kind of relationship did you have with Michael Jordan as a backcourt-mate and a classmate?

ML: He was a great guy to play with. He was one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around in my life and he’s still using that to be a successful player in Europe. But more than that, he continues to be one of my best friends. I talk to him all the time wherever he is in the world, whether he’s home in Philadelphia or across the sea. It’s those bonds that you make in college that are the most significant.

PGS: Does he want to get into coaching after he gets done playing?

ML: I don’t know exactly what he wants to do. I think it’s something he talks about, whether it’s in high school or college. And I think he’ll be terrific at it. He’s competitive, he works really hard and he gets along well with people.

PGS: I hate to bring this up, but do you still have nightmares about Black Tuesday?

ML: You know, I don’t. It was a difficult thing to go through. But I think single games for fans are a lot of times remembered a lot more than players. As players and as coaches, it’s really about trying to win championships. So while single games are important and those rivalries are significant, we were able to rally around that game. We had significant senior leadership in Jed Ryan and Paul Romanczuk and we won the rest of our games and beat Princeton and went to the NCAA tournament as Ivy League champions. So having to go through that was actually a great lesson. Our season worked out that much better having gone through it. So it’s not something I feel bad about or have nightmares about.

PGS: How special is playing in NCAA tournament as a player and how does it compare as a coach?

ML: As a player at Penn, it was significant to get there and have a chance to compete against other teams that had great success throughout the season. As a coach, that’s one of your goals each and every year for your team. As a player, you have a lot fewer chances. I’ve been fortunate to go to the NCAA tournament four of the five years I’ve been a coach. You look at it a little bit differently as a coach. You try to do everything you possibly can to put your team in a position to achieve that at the end of the year and to win that game once you get there.

PGS: And I’m sure you’re eager to win a tournament game?

ML: Yeah absolutely, because I haven’t been able to do yet either as a player or a coach.

PGS: Is this the year?

ML: I don’t know. With Coach Dunphy, it’s really one step at a time. We don’t look too far ahead. We have Penn on Wednesday and UMass back in the league on Saturday.

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A Giant Among Men

With the men’s basketball team having matched its worst start ever at 0-8 and another player getting injured (Mike Howlett hurt his foot during practice and missed Monday’s 79-50 loss to Davidson), I thought it was time to switch gears and write about some happier Quaker news.

Today, former Penn quarterback Mark DeRosa wills sign a two-year, $12 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. 

 

Bound for San Francisco

 

Over the past few years, DeRosa has really become a valuable commodity because of his versatility; he can play nearly every position on the field and he packs a powerful punch with his bat. Looks like the two-sport college star made the right decision when he decided to leave Penn after his junior year in 1996 to turn pro.

To break down the contract and what the Giants should except from DeRosa, I enlisted the help of another Penn alum, Jesse Spector, who pens a very good by-the-numbers baseball blog for the New York Daily News. Spector, who’s also an old colleague of mine at the Daily Pennsylvanian, just wrote a piece on DeRosa, extolling his virtues and calling the signing a very good move for the Giants (though he wishes the Yankees would have done it).

Here is the interview:

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: So how does a 35-year-old former Penn quarterback utility man sign for $12 million?

JESSE SPECTOR: DeRosa turns 35 in February, but he’s not that old in baseball years because he was really a late bloomer, not playing 100 games for the first time until 2003, when he was 28 — and he didn’t have his first season with 500 at-bats, generally the mark of a regular, until 2006 with the Texas Rangers. Throw in the fact that he’s in fantastic shape, despite a wrist injury that required surgery after this past season, and age isn’t really a factor. It’s also not quite fair to describe DeRosa as a utilityman — that’s a term that really has a connotation of being a substitute. DeRosa is a guy who is talented enough to play multiple positions, and I expect that the Giants won’t move him around that much. Depending on what else they do this winter, he’ll either be the regular third baseman or an outfielder.

PGS: Was it mostly his versatility that made him such a coveted free agent?

JS: I think that was a big deal for a lot of his suitors, and DeRosa probably would have put his versatility on display had he signed with a team with fewer holes in its lineup, like the Yankees. But in San Francisco, where there are a lot of holes to fill on a team that really struggled to score runs for an elite pitching staff in 2009, DeRosa’s biggest asset is the bat that hit 23 homers this year.

PGS: What should the Giants expect from him day in and day out?

JS: The Giants will be happy to have a power upgrade in the middle of their order, and I know that DeRosa will expect to have a higher batting average than the .250 he hit this year. For his career, he’s a .275 hitter, and the wrist had a lot to do with the drop-off this year, especially later in the season when he was with the Cardinals. DeRosa also has playoff experience, something that is very uncommon in the San Francisco clubhouse, so they’ll expect him to be a leader, a job that he’s very capable of, especially with his background as a quarterback. He’s steady, but not spectacular, in the field — at pretty much all of his positions — and he’ll really help against lefthanded pitching, which gave the Giants fits this year.

PGS: This will be his sixth team? Why has he become sort of a journeyman?

JS: He came up in Atlanta, and the Braves didn’t really ever give him a shot at an everyday job, so he left for Texas as a free agent at the end of his term there. The Rangers then had a bunch of young infielders when DeRosa’s contract there expired, so it was on to the Cubs. From there, I think most people would agree that the Cubs, quite simply, screwed up by trading him to the Indians last winter. And Cleveland was out of the pennant race early, so the Indians sent him to the Cardinals to get some prospects. Now, DeRosa was a free agent again, so it was up to him to find the best deal. St. Louis has been handcuffed all winter by the Matt Holliday negotiations, so I don’t think they ever really seriously talked to DeRosa about returning. That’s how you end up on a sixth team, and a fourth in three years. Johnny Damon’s about to be on his fifth team, and nobody calls him a journeyman. I think DeRosa is just a free agent who has switched teams a few times.

PGS: So you’ve said he’s a really good guy — is that the Penn in him?

JS: I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, and we’ve always chatted at least briefly about Penn … I don’t think that’s why he’s been good to me, because other journalists I’ve talked to have also had good experiences with DeRosa. I think that the fact that DeRosa is a smart guy would be a big part of his interview appeal — his ability, and his willingness, to answer questions about pretty much anything, and answer them well, go a long way in that regard. Chris Young, the Padres’ pitcher from Princeton, is the same way, much as it pains me to say it.

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