VILLANOVA, Pa. — Mark Ferrante walks underneath a huge sign that reads “Andrew J. Talley Athletic Center” every day. His coach’s office is in a suite named after Talley. And Talley himself is just down the hall from him, in his new administrative role at Villanova University.
All of which is to say that Ferrante is not going to be able to escape Talley’s shadow anytime soon.
Luckily for the first-year Villanova head football coach, he doesn’t want to.
“Coach Talley built this thing from the ground up when he got here in ’84 and he did a great job with the program,” Ferrante said Tuesday during his first media day at the Wildcats’ helm after serving as Talley’s assistant at ’Nova for the last 27 years. “If the winning formula and the successful formula is in place, why would you want to change anything?
“He and I have been together a long time so he’s taught me how to do things, as far as the recruiting aspect of things, as far as running the program, as far as everything he’s developed into the culture of the program. So there are not gonna be a lot of changes from that perspective.”
Surely, though, it must feel different as Villanova prepares to begin the 2017 season — with a road game at Lehigh on Sept. 2 followed by a city showdown at Temple the next week — without Talley running the show?
The common sentiment among players during media day may have been surprising: No, no really.
“I feel like it’s more hyped up on the outside than it is on the inside,” senior linebacker Ed Shockley said. “In here, not much has changed. We still have the same coaches, the same meeting times. Everything is really similar. For us, it’s not really a big change. We lost Coach Talley and that’s a great loss. But in actuality, it’s not that much of a loss because they’re so similar. He’s Andy Talley 2.0 in a way.”
Shockley, a preseason All-CAA selection who led a dominant defense last season, is confident the Wildcats can pick up right where they left off in Talley’s final season, as they charged into the second round of the 2016 FCS playoffs before bowing out to national power South Dakota State.
That was one of 12 playoff appearances for Talley, who won 230 games during his 32 years on the Main Line. And now, judging by the fact that they’ll come into the 2017 season ranked No. 10 in the FCS, the expectations remain just as high after the coaching shuffle.
That said, Shockley did notice a few subtle differences when this year’s training camp opened.
“They’re very similar as far as their coaching styles but as far as their personalities, Coach Talley was a little more old school,” the linebacker said. “Coach Ferrante is a little more in-tune to modern day and what we like now.”
Of course, Talley is still around the program, sometimes even stopping to watch practice, or chat with players in the sparkling new facility that bears his name. That’s not an issue for Ferrante, who occasionally will lean on his old mentor for help.
“We’re not getting away from Andy Talley for the foreseeable future,” he said. “And he has an office right down the hall, which is great. It’s invaluable to have him in the building because there are things that will come up. There have been a couple already. Nothing too crazy but I’ll go in there, sit down, bounce some ideas off him, how he’d handle a situation. To have a guy like that who’s done it, as successfully as he’d done it, I think it’s great to have him around.”
In truth, Ferrante has been learning from Talley for the last three decades. And through much of that stretch, Talley has also prepared Ferrante to be a head coach, paving the way for what’s been a smooth transition (and one that neighbor Penn has shown can be successful with Ray Priore winning a piece of the last two Ivy League championships after serving as Al Bagnoli’s longtime assistant).
In some ways, the only thing that’s different for Ferrante is his official title. And he hopes few other things change — particularly the winning.
“They’ve heard me before,” Ferrante said. “I’ve spoke to the team before. Coach [Talley] put me in as the head coach of situations in years prior to now. I’ve handled banquets. I’ve been to media days. Coach has sent me to head coach’s meetings in his absence for various reasons. I’ve spoke in front of the team to break down a practice or to start a practice or in a team meeting.
“So for the returning players, they’ve heard that before. Now they’re just hearing it more frequently.”