Winds of change have blown across 10th and Diamond Streets over the last several months.
Gone are the head coach and his staff who lead the revitalization of the Temple football program, a four-year starter at quarterback who rewrote numerous chapters of school’s record book and seven starters from one of the nation’s stingiest defenses that paved the way toward the Owls’ first conference title since 1967.
In are Geoff Collins and the assistant coaches of his choosing, four underclassmen quarterbacks of limited experience fighting for the starter’s crown before the nationally televised opener at Notre Dame and a youthful infusion of talent on defense.
But as the winds of change settle and the Owls begin to replenish, one constant remains anchored strongly in the defensive backfield — senior safety and four-year starter Sean Chandler.
And now, as his ultimate season, as an Owl draws near, the man they call “Champ” is ready to take on the leadership role he’s prepared the last three years for.
“I feel like I have to play more of that leader role now,” Chandler, a Camden High product who was voted the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, said. “Other guys have left now. So I have to step up to the plate and get the guys to follow behind me.
“When the new coaching staff comes in, I feel like you have to get the guys to buy in, to buy into the team. Now I’m the guy who feels like I have to make that connection from the coaches to the players and bring it all together.”
During his time at Temple, Chandler has been groomed for this type of role under tutelage of program greats such as Tyler Matakevich (now with the Pittsburgh Steelers), Tavon Young (now with the Baltimore Ravens), Haason Reddick (the Arizona Cardinals’ first-round pick this past year) and Avery Williams (in camp with the Houston Texans).
All of those guys always had their fingers on the pulse of the team and knew which buttons to push and when to push them, even during the trying times. They knew when to bump the coaches aside and take matters into their own hands when it came to getting a message across, all while navigating the program’s rise in prominence.
Chandler heard those messages loud and clear.
“I’m willing to fill in any role in any way possible to help this team and help my team win,” Chandler said.
“He has some charisma to him when he speaks up and lets everyone know what he’s thinking,” said Taver Johnson, who is Temple’s new defensive coordinator after spending the last three seasons at Purdue as defensive backs coach. Johnson also spent 2007-2010 as defensive backs coach at Ohio State, where he coached Eagles star safety Malcolm Jenkins.
“He’s got a good personality and, on top of that, he’s a worker. He does a really good job of getting out there and doing a lot of behind-the-scenes things. When the place is shut down, he’s usually here. Even on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday, day or night.”
It’s not like “Champ” was just handed this role because he has the years he does under his belt. Sure, that plays a part. But his actions on the field make him stand out and they do a lot of his speaking for him.
In his three years in cherry and white, Chandler has amassed 185 tackles, 26 pass deflections, seven interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns), three sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 32 career games.
The talent and skill and respect have been there from the very beginning. Temple has a tradition of awarding single-digit jersey numbers to players voted the toughest by teammates and the coaching staff. Prior to his first collegiate game in 2014, Chandler was awarded his now customary No. 3 by his teammates. Former head coach Matt Rhule has said he wouldn’t give a single digit to a freshman, but trusted his players and let them overrule him for “Champ.”
A corner by trade at first, Chandler played his first two seasons at Temple on the outside. As Rhule and his staff watched Chandler mature on the field, they decided it would be best for the athletic, versatile 6-foot, 195-pounder’s professional future if they moved him inside to safety. Chandler’s first season on the inside was last year and he excelled with 51 tackles and two picks, all while missing four games with a leg injury.
Others outside of Philadelphia have now taken notice as Chandler is on four preseason award watch lists – the Jim Thorpe Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronco Nagurski Award and the Lott IMPACT Award.
The Thorpe Award is for the best defensive back in the country. The three other awards are various defensive player of the year awards.
“It just lets me know people are watching with a close eye now,” Chandler said of having his name on the watch lists.
“But they’re only watch lists. Gotta go win ‘em now.”
Collins has spent the last several seasons as a defensive coordinator with both Mississippi State and Florida in the college football pressure cooker that is the SEC, where defensive dominance reigns supreme among the conference’s and nation’s big boys.
And Collins knows his way around some elite defensive backs.
While at MSU, he coached Detroit Lions corner Darius Slay, who was a second-round pick in 2013.
At Florida, he coached corner Vernon Hargreaves, a three-time All-American, three-time all-SEC selection and the Tampa Bay Bucs’ first-round pick (11th overall) in 2016. Hargreaves made the NFL All-Rookie team last season.
Also while with the Gators, Collins coached safety Keanu Neal, the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round pick (17th overall) in 2016. Neal was also voted to the NFL All-Rookie team last season.
“I’m excited about [Chandler] and he epitomizes ‘Temple Tuff’ and single-digit tough,” Collins said of his senior safety. “He’s back and he’s better than ever. You just see him every day with a look in his eye and a desire to be great. I just think he epitomizes what this program is all about.
“Over the last seven years, I’ve coached some really good defensive backs. Sean Chandler is in that conversation with any of those kids.”
But people inside and outside 10th and Diamond certainly are having conversations about the man they call "Champ."