NCAA

For Penn football coach Ray Priore, it's always been family first

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Penn Athletics

For Penn football coach Ray Priore, it's always been family first

A year before Bob Benson arrived at Penn as the football team’s new defensive coordinator, his brother Tom temporarily lived a couple of blocks from Franklin Field at the old Penn Tower. Frank was very sick with throat cancer, and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Bob said, was one of the only places in the world where he could possibly be saved.

As you can imagine, it was an impossibly trying time for the Benson family. But for the four weeks Tom lived at Penn Tower and was treated at HUP, some of their pain was eased by Penn football coach Ray Priore, who went to Tom’s room on the 16th floor often, packed up his dirty laundry, and brought it to the equipment room at Franklin Field to wash.

Tom ended up passing away not long after his arrival at Penn — but Bob Benson will never forget Priore’s heartfelt gesture to a dying man and his family.

“I just think it speaks volumes to Ray’s caring,” Benson said. “He’s a family guy … just a really kind man. When he offered me the job here, I took it in about 30 seconds.”

Few people know Priore as well as Benson, who worked with him on the coaching staff at the University of Albany when both were getting their start in the mid-1980s and rejoined him at Penn in 2015. And in those three decades in between, he’s seen Priore do so many other things that show how important his family and friends are, remarking that, above all else, “he cares about people.”

In many ways, that’s one of the biggest reasons why Priore has remained at Penn for 30 years, rising through the ranks until he eventually took over as head coach ahead of the 2015 season, when he promptly led the Quakers to a share of the Ivy League championship.

“I had opportunities to leave,” Priore said. “But the folks here at Penn, the alumni are phenomenal. And [thinking about] uprooting my family, I always said, ‘Football’s football — why do you need to go somewhere else? You can still chase a dream here.’ And coaching has been great here.”

Family has certainly always been a constant for Priore at Penn. His daughter Jenna, now a junior in the college, has been going to Quaker games since she was seven months old, serving as a water girl when she was younger and, more recently, as a special assistant to her father, bringing him his headset before every game and helping to run the program’s involvement with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, which brought them 5-year-old team captain Vhito DeCapira, an inspiring young cancer patient.

And Priore’s older brother, Chuck, served with him on Penn’s staff from 1992 to 1999 with the two siblings commuting to work every day together from their homes in New Jersey and also sharing the joy of winning three Ivy League championships during that stretch.

So when you look at Priore’s decision to remain at Penn for so long through the lens of family, it makes perfect sense.

“Sometimes people change jobs just to change jobs,” said Chuck Priore, now the head coach at Stony Brook University. “He was comfortable, he enjoyed it, he had success and he continued to get better and took advantage of the opportunity right in house.”

For Ray Priore, having a brother who’s also a college football head coach has been a unique and rewarding experience. Every morning at around 5:30 a.m., when he’s driving across the Ben Franklin Bridge on the way to work and Chuck is riding on the elliptical, they have long chats on the phone about their respective programs. 

Of course by now, they’ve been talking about football for more than 40 years — one of the many sports that bound them from childhood into adulthood.

“Most of our family activities revolved around athletics,” Chuck said. “There really wasn’t summer vacations. It was summer baseball, winter hockey, fall football, spring baseball — that’s what we pretty much did as a family.”

Growing up in Long Island, their father was their first football coach in the local Pop Warner league. The two brothers were then part of the same football program at both Maria Regina High School and the University of Albany with Ray a freshman while Chuck was a senior. That made it easier for their dad and younger brother, Frank, to watch them both play. But even as the two eventually went their separate ways, their family members still found a way to go to almost every game. 

Last Saturday, for instance, their brother and father managed to go to Franklin Field to watch Penn beat Central Connecticut State 28-16 in the afternoon before driving down to Maryland to cheer on Stony Brook’s 27-20 win over Towson in the evening.

“You can’t get married in the fall in our family,” Ray said. “These are family events. The falls are very, very special.”

Because he’s so close to his family, leaving the comforts of New York to come to Penn in 1987 wasn’t easy. Priore was very young when he took the job as the Quakers’ assistant linebacker coach, moving to Philly and living next to Franklin Field on the top floor of the Dunning Coaches’ Center. He called it a “whole new world” and he never expected to stay at Penn as long as he did. 

But Priore grew to love the university and remained with the program even as his bosses changed, first working under Ed Zubrow and then Gary Steele and then finally Al Bagnoli, who returns to Franklin Field for the first time as a visiting coach for Saturday's game vs. Columbia (3 p.m.).

And he learned different things from each one — particularly organization from Zubrow, defensive strategy from Steele and how to effectively delegate responsibility from Bagnoli. Of course, when he finally landed his “dream job” as head coach, he put his own spin on the position, using his determination and family focus to galvanize a program that had fallen on hard times in the two previous seasons and win Ivy League Coach of the Year honors.

Through his first eight Ivy League games, he’s already beaten every conference opponent, becoming the third-fastest coach in Ivy League history to complete the sweep. Only Zubrow (7-0 in 1986) and Yale’s Jordan Olivar (7-0) did it quicker.

“I think Penn made a great choice with Ray,” Benson said. “It’s very rare someone would stay at an institution or place of employment for 30 years. I think it’s a credit to him and his belief in Penn that he stayed here. That’s the story for me — his belief in the University of Pennsylvania. There’s not much of that around. That’s pretty remarkable in my opinion.”

Benson added that one of Priore’s best attributes, aside from his kindness, is his work ethic and drive, pointing out that winning last year’s Ivy championship only made him want more titles. And Chuck said that his brother’s commitment to Penn might just be what keeps the Quakers on top this year and for many more to come.

“You can really tell recruits, ‘This place is an awesome place, and if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here for 30 years,’” Chuck said. “I think he has a great handle of what Penn can do for a student-athlete.”

Priore certainly takes recruiting seriously, doing his best to create special relationships with everyone he brings into the program, from the time they first step foot into campus to long after they leave. According to Benson, Priore is on the phone or computer “every day” talking to many of the alums who passed through the program over the past 30 years — men who learned about football but even more about life.

“The most important part of coaching in my opinion is that we are teachers and motivators,” Priore said. “We work at a kid’s game but so many life lessons can be taught on the field. I think we all as coaches are very blessed to have that opportunity to impact so many kids’ lives.

“When the kids come in, I say to them, ‘I have one daughter but I have 110 sons.’ You want to treat these kids as if they’re your own.”
 

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008

BOX SCORE

That’s why football is a week-to-week game. Forget about momentum.

Temple found that out the hard way. After coming alive in a big road win over East Carolina last week, the Owls were humbled when a fourth-quarter rally fell short Saturday in a 28-24 homecoming loss to Connecticut at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Owls had one final shot at the victory with a drive in the final minute, but a Logan Marchi heave to the end zone was broken up.

The loss dropped Temple back under .500 at 3-4 (1-3 American Athletic Conference). UConn moved to 2-5 (2-2) with the victory.

• Say what you want about Temple quarterback Marchi (and you surely will after this game), but the guy is a fighter. Whether things are going his way or not, he continues to try to search for his receivers and attempt to squeeze the ball into those windows on the field. He made it two consecutive games with 300-plus yards passing as he was 33 of 54 for 356 yards with one touchdown and one interception Saturday.

• The game marked Temple’s first homecoming loss in nearly a decade. TU hadn’t suffered a homecoming defeat since a 7-3 loss to Western Michigan on Sept. 27, 2008. On that day, former Eagles DB Jaiquawn Jarrett was beaten in coverage on a double move in the third quarter for the game’s lone touchdown. Coming into Saturday, the Owls had won eight straight homecoming matchups by an average margin of 19.3 points.

• There was a rare sighting for Temple at the Linc: a rushing touchdown from a tailback. In fact, there were two. David Hood, who became the first Owls tailback to score on a run this season in last week’s rout of East Carolina, punched it in from one yard out to open the scoring in the first quarter. Ryquell Armstead weaved his way into the end zone for a 10-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter.

• Delvon Randall is simply a playmaker. The Owls’ leading tackler, Randall added another five stops in Saturday’s win. The junior DB also made a beautiful play along the sideline in the first quarter when he undercut an out route for an interception. It marked Randall’s third straight game with a pick. The Owls only have four interceptions this season and Randall has three of them.

• My colleague Greg Paone touched on college football’s targeting rule a couple of weeks ago (see story)We agree on pretty much all of the nuts and bolts of the rule. I’m glad it’s in place to protect players from violent and unnecessary hits. However, the more I see it called each week — and it seems like there is at least one in every game now — the more I’m starting to dislike the implementation. Temple defensive lineman Sharif Finch was ejected for targeting on Saturday when he went high on Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs on a third-quarter touchdown pass. Shirreffs sold the hit by jerking his head back as he fell to the ground, but it was definitely worthy of a penalty. Was it a late hit? Yes. A bone-headed hit? Absolutely. But one worthy of Temple losing a top defensive player for the remainder of the game? I don’t think so.

• Speaking of Shirreffs, it’s easy to see why the Huskies have the best passing offense in the AAC. He didn’t show it with yardage in this tilt (just 105), but he was able to connect on three touchdowns through the air. He also added 39 yards on the ground, including a key run up the middle late in the fourth quarter.

• The Owls simply aren’t a good enough team to overcome 12 penalties for 117 yards.

• Like any other major college football game around the country, Saturday’s matchup at the Linc had scouts from NFL teams listed to attend. Of course, the Eagles were listed for several scouts in their home stadium. While the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were also among those expected to have representatives at the game, there was only one other team labeled for more than one scout besides the Eagles — the New York Giants. At 0-5, they can certainly use all the help they can get right now.

• Temple will look to rebound when the Owls travel to play their final non-conference opponent in Army at 12 p.m. next Saturday.

Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

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Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

Temple (3-3, 1-2 American) vs. UConn (1-4, 0-3 American)
Lincoln Financial Field, ESPNews
Noon Saturday

Last time out
Temple beat East Carolina, 34-10, last Saturday.

UConn lost to Memphis, 70-31, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Last week, quarterback Logan Marchi finally got on track with his first 300-yard game of the season against East Carolina. This week, the redshirt sophomore will face UConn, the team he initially committed to in high school under former coach Paul Pasqualoni. Marchi was then denied after a coaching change was made. The Huskies have the worst passing defense in the AAC, giving up 399.8 passing yards per game, and have allowed 19 touchdowns through the air in 2017. If Marchi can play well for a second week in a row, look for Temple’s offense to put up some points. 

Another matchup to look at is UConn’s passing attack against Temple’s defense. The Huskies’ boast the best passing offense in terms of yards in the AAC, averaging 325.8 yards per game, but have only scored nine touchdowns this year. Temple, on the other hand, allows the eighth-most passing yards in the conference (253 yards per game), but is ranked fourth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 26 points per game. Connecticut must convert drives into touchdowns against this Owls defense if it wants to compete.

What it means
Temple’s hopes to reach the AAC championship game might not be realistic anymore but its bowl hopes are still alive. A win against UConn would put the Owls just two victories away from becoming bowl-eligible, which after their start would be good for Owl fans.

Series history
Temple holds the 12-5 series advantage over Connecticut, and is currently on a three-game win streak.

What’s next?
Temple travels to Army.

UConn hosts Tulsa. 

Penn (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) at Columbia (4-0, 1-0 Ivy)
Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium
1:30 p.m. Saturday


Last time out
Penn lost at Central Connecticut State, 42-21, Saturday.

Columbia defeated Marist, 41-17, Saturday.

Scouting report
Penn’s strength is its rushing attack. They rank second in the Ivy League averaging 204 yards per game on the ground. Karekin Brooks has 543 yards rushing and five touchdowns so far this season. Getting the ground game going will be key for the Quakers this week.

Columbia defense has been strong so far this season. The Lions rank second in the Ivy League in total defense only allowing 316 yards per game and are third in the Ivy in pass defense. The Lions allow 194.8 yards per game through the air.

Series history
This is the 96th meeting between the teams. The Quakers hold a 73-21-1 advantage and have won the last 19 editions.

What’s next?
Penn hosts Yale.

Columbia is at Dartmouth.

Villanova (4-2, 2-1 CAA) at James Madison (5-0, 2-0 CAA)
Bridgeforth Stadium
6 p.m. Saturday


Last time out

Villanova defeated Maine, 31-0, Saturday.

James Madison beat Delaware, 20-10, Saturday.

Scouting report
Villanova has allowed just 1.6 yards per carry and 52 rushing yards per game this season. The Wildcats boast a strong scoring defense as well, the best in the Colonial allowing only nine points per game.

James Madison boasts the second-best rushing offense in the CAA averaging 223 yards per game and is second in scoring defense. The Dukes allow just 10 points per game to opposing offenses. Look for this game to be defensive showdown.

Series history
This is the 26th meeting between the teams. James Madison leads the series 14-11 and won 20-7 last season.

What’s next?
Villanova hosts Elon next Saturday.

James Madison travels to William & Mary next Saturday.