As he sat alongside his teammates on the turf of the newly renovated Student Pavilion, junior track thrower Justin Berg hadn’t the slightest clue what was going on.
An emergency meeting, called during the middle of a study day, was certainly out of the norm. But Berg, like many of the other student-athletes who were in attendance on that rainy December afternoon, was not at all prepared for what was next.
When Athletic Director Kevin Clark began speaking and reality struck, Berg’s body began to tremble. He had seen this before.
Surrounded by dozens of crying and confused student-athletes, Berg tried to keep his emotions together. But as his eyes met senior captain Gabe Pickett, and the two exchanged a hug, Berg lost it.
“It’s happening again,” he thought.
After his previous school, Millersville, cut its track program in 2012, Berg found a new home at Temple. He competed during the 2012–13 season, earning the Owls five points during the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship with his hammer throw. Now, with the elimination of the men’s track & field team – Berg must transfer again if he wishes to continue competing at the collegiate level.
One of the first courses of action Berg took after Clark’s initial announcement of the cuts was to find his coach, Eric Mobley.
“I told him, ‘I can’t stop competing,’” Berg said. “It’s the reason why I left Millersville and it’s the reason why I’m leaving here.”
Mobley said he told Berg to keep his head up, although the sixth-year coach was distraught over the news.
“It’s a shame that he had to go through this twice in a row,” Mobley said. “But Justin is a great student-athlete. I think he handled it pretty well. He’s not dwelling on it, he’s just looking toward the future and trying to do what’s best for him and the program for the remainder of the year.”
Berg said he will transfer to Penn State after the spring semester. Berg continues to practice with Temple, although he redshirted the season to give himself an extra year of eligibility.
“In a different era, I would have experienced an uninterrupted career,” Berg, a math and computer science major, said. “This wouldn’t have been a problem. That’s what is happening today. But three universities … that’s incredible.”
Fred Turoff looked down at a vacuum cleaner.
It sat next to some boxes and a pair of crutches, in a room off the gymnastics team’s training gym in Pearson Hall. The gray two-toned wet/dry vacuum was open and dirty. It had seen better days – but it was still functional.
“This needs a new bag,” the men’s gymnastics coach said. “Let me see if there’s a janitor around that can get one.”
The men’s gymnastics gym doesn’t have the modern look of Edberg-Olsen Hall or the recently renovated areas of McGonigle Hall, but the team that has won 18 of the last 39 Eastern College Athletic Conference championships still practices 20 hours a week in their gym.
Including the 2013-14 seasons, Turoff and his crew counterpart, Gavin White, have been the head coaches of their respective programs for a combined 72 years. Both are members of the Temple Athletics Hall of Fame.
Last December, neither was given any advance notice about their teams’ impending elimination. They are both signed to one-year contracts that don’t include severance packages.
Turoff’s first memories of Temple go back to when he was in junior high, when he went to Temple on Friday nights to work out with the gymnasts. After his family moved to Connecticut, he came back to Temple for his degree. He graduated with a physics degree in 1969, and after a brief stint in graduate school, he took a job as an assistant coach for the Owls.
White has been head coach for four fewer years than Turoff, but he has been around Temple athletics for longer. White’s father is a former Temple football coach and athletic director.
“I remember going to Temple football games when I was 6 or 7 years old,” the younger White said. “My dad was coach then, at the old Temple stadium. Watching football there was fun. Other memories I have are going down to gymnastics meets and going to basketball games.”
In April, Campus Recreation Director Steve Young said the men’s gymnastics team will continue as a club sport – with Turoff as its coach – after trustee Lewis Katz offered a $70,000 matching grant, given that Turoff and his team are able to fundraise the money each year.
After the crew and rowing teams were reinstated by the Board of Trustees in February, White’s job is no longer in jeopardy. But the longtime coach, who has battled Parkinson’s disease for more than a decade, has indicated that he could step down anyway.
White said in a November 2013 interview with The Temple News that he could coach 10 more years. He has since backed off that stance.
“That might have been a little bit ambitious on my part,” White said. “This might have been my last year, or next year. The hard part right now is that I have a group of sophomores that are amazing. They had a great fall … I have a feeling that by the time these guys are juniors and seniors, they’re going to be awesome.”
These days, coach Rebecca Grzybowski can rarely be found rowing on the water.
Instead, when she is not in a rowing coach launch or in an ergometer room guiding her team, Grzybowski can often be spotted running road races on land. One of her fondest memories growing up, Grzybowski said, was jogging alongside her dad and brothers around her neighborhood.
The rowing coach has always been an athlete, whether it be with soccer, basketball or rowing.
After the crew and rowing programs were reinstated in February, reversing the university’s December decision to cut the teams, Grzybowski and longtime crew coach Gavin White were named the 2013 Schuylkill Navy Coaches of the Year.
“This year we wanted to embrace the Temple rowing community as a whole and also the two coaches who have led that community,” Schuylkill Navy Commodore Margaret Meigs said.
Now, Grzybowski has the opportunity to continue her head coaching career past her second season this year.
“Learning how to coach, it was a bit of a whirlwind,” Grzybowski said. “It was like getting tossed in completely. I knew what good rowing felt like from the inside of a boat but it was a totally different story trying to tell other people from the outside how to make [the boat] go fast.”
Grzybowski dedicated seven years of her life to training full-time, twice a day, six days a week – and sometimes on Sunday – at the Vesper Boat Club on Boathouse Row, while working a nine-to-five job in commercial real estate.
Her biggest contribution to the Philadelphia rowing community came in 2008, when Grzybowski qualified for the women’s national team. Rowing in seat three, Grzybowski helped her lightweight quad boat to a bronze medal performance, finishing behind Poland and Australia at the World Rowing National Championship in Austria.
After the initial announcement of the cuts, Grzybowski said she was keeping her team focused in preparation for the spring season – using a battle cry of, “Last one, fast one” in a year that the coach said would be more about her student-athletes racing for one another than for the university.
Joe DiPietro was shooting hoops on a warm March afternoon when he saw some girls from his former high school, Camden Catholic.
DiPietro, then enrolled at Gloucester County College, walked over to chat and found them disheartened. Their junior varsity softball team was about to get cut, the girls told him, because they had no coach.
“I said, ‘Tell them I’ll do it,’” DiPietro said. “I was only joking around. Well, they went and told the athletic director. He called me and said, ‘Look, just do it for one year.’”
That was 37 years ago. DiPietro has been coaching softball ever since.
He spent 25 years at Camden Catholic, winning three straight championships and finishing with a record of 274–98. From there, DiPietro took a part-time coaching job at La Salle University, before becoming Temple’s head coach in July 2008. The story is funny, DiPietro said, for a man whose first love was basketball. And it all started with a softball team about to get cut.
Now, DiPietro’s own team has been cut. And after the 2014 season, DiPietro will find himself without a coaching job.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” DiPietro said. “I’ll wait and see what opens up, but there’s no guarantee I’ll get a job.”
Still, he said he’s proud of what he’s accomplished as a softball coach, especially at Temple. The softball team was the only program at Temple to have increased its win total every season for the past five years, before this season.
Economic reasons forced DiPietro to leave his previous gig at La Salle. In 2008, his title abstractor business went under, and he needed a full-time job. Since Temple was near his home in Mount Laurel, N.J., it was “a perfect spot.”
DiPietro built up the Temple program, turning it into a contender within a few years. Last season, the team set a program record for wins and led the country with 94 home runs.
“Where we could have gone, if they wouldn’t have cut us – we’ll compete for the league this year – I think we were in a really good place,” DiPietro said. “We had good kids coming in next year.”
Now, though, he has to bid goodbye to Temple, and DiPietro said that while he’s frustrated with the athletic department, there are still plenty of things he will miss.
“I’m going to miss my players, especially the freshmen and sophomores,” DiPietro said. “I recruited them, I helped develop them. The girls I have here, I wouldn’t trade them for anyone.”
“We just respect him so much,” senior shortstop Sarah Prezioso said. “Our team loves him, because he’s so approachable, and because he’s so laid-back and fun to be around. Just a nice guy.”
In a one-on-one interview session, Ryan Wheeler has never been one to skew an answer.
The third-year Temple baseball coach isn’t afraid to shoot from the hip when paged for a non-masqueraded line.
Staying true to character, his response regarding how Temple transfers and twins Eric and Patrick Peterson would fare among a star-studded North Carolina State University pitching staff oozed nothing but the pure honesty of a baseball coach who has had a rather rough time of it since his team was marked for the chopping block last December.
“Do you want me to be honest?” Wheeler said.
The Peterson twins are two of nine players who have jumped ship to other schools amid news that the baseball program is one of seven sports being cut from the athletic department, effective July 1.
Juniors Matt Snyder (Kentucky), Adam Dian (Pittsburgh) and Eric Ferguson (Hofstra) transferred during the holiday break, mere weeks after the announcement. Junior Nick Lustrino, one of the team’s top regulars for the past two seasons, left the team as well.
Before the cuts, Wheeler, 42, thought the direction of the program was going in a positive direction.
“I watch us practice now and I don’t have to say much,” Wheeler said. “These guys know what to do. I felt like the quality of our players was improving. I certainly felt like I had tremendous support from the alumni and had really engaged them and gotten them involved.”
“I felt like we were doing a lot of great things, which is why the decision on [Dec. 6] came as a surprise,” Wheeler added.
With three young kids at home – two boys and one girl – moving to a different city isn’t as easy as it was before. Wheeler said he is lucky to have a family that is willing to do so, however.
For this baseball lifer, he just wants to keep doing what he knows and loves: coaching baseball.
“As we move closer to playing now and being on the field, I just recognize how special that is,” Wheeler said. “I think a month or two ago I said, I could be OK walking away and not being on the field. Now, getting ready to start the season and play this weekend – knowing this could be the last – it makes it seem all the more special.”
“I hope it doesn’t end,” Wheeler added. “I hope that I can continue coaching, but right now it’s just too early to tell what the future holds.”