Coach Talley Says SLU Shaped Football HOF Career
CANTON - Former St. Lawrence University football coach Andy Talley will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on December 8.
Talley, who spent the first five years of his head coaching career at St. Lawrence, went on to coach for 32 years at Villanova, compiling a career record of 258-155-2, including a 28-18-1 mark at St. Lawrence from 1979-83.
Talley's 1982 team was one of the most decorated in St. Lawrence history, posting a perfect 9-0 record in the regular season. Talley was named the American Football Coaches Association/Kodak Division III Region I Coach of the Year, as well as the Metropolitan New York Sportswriters/ECAC Coach of the Year, and the team was enshrined in the St. Lawrence Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. The Saints were one of eight teams to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, and in their first game of the playoffs, trailed top-ranked Wagner College 34-13 in the second half.
"The coaching staff at Wagner opened up bottles of champagne in the press box," said Talley. "They were having a few drinks, expecting the game to end that way, and we had a ferocious comeback. Rod Vesling hit a 52-yard field goal to tie the game and we went on to win. Unfortunately, (starting quarterback Mark) Ferrante broke four ribs in the game. He didn't practice all week and then we had to go to Augustana (for the semifinals), who was the No. 2 team in the country and also undefeated. We were trailing 7-0 late in the game and we were on their 3-yard line, and like an (idiot) I called a pass play, and they picked it off in the end zone and ran it all the way back to win 14-0."
Talley's success at St. Lawrence was built on a national recruiting strategy; he brought in talented players from Michigan, Florida, and New Jersey, in addition to players from New York. And he really knew how to sell the Laurentian experience to recruits who had never heard of St. Lawrence.
"I think being in a small town and having the spotlight shown on you in the fall, knowing that you're representing the school and the community, really helped the overall spirit of the athletic program and in particular the football program," said Talley. "That spirit was evident on campus. Even the school colors are unique and special — you don't see many schools with that Scarlet and Brown look. I think the kids that go to St. Lawrence really buy into the small town, small college, the academics, the overall environment. That's the real stuff of life."
After the 1983 season, Talley found a new challenge at Villanova, which was reviving its football program after the team was disbanded following the 1980 season. He led the Wildcats to the 2009 NCAA Division I FCS title and advanced to the semifinal round in 2002 and 2010. He was named the AFCA National Coach of the Year twice (1997, 2009) and earned the Eddie Robinson Award in 1997. He retired from coaching following the 2016 season.
In addition to his professional success, Talley has used his platform and leveraged his relationships with college football coaches to get college students to register as bone marrow donors. He partnered with Be The Match®, holding Villanova's first bone marrow registration drive in 1992, and in 2010, he created the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, looking to expand the program's reach to as many college football programs as he could.
In 2018, St. Lawrence signed up for the first time, and with good reason. Saints' head coach Dan Puckhaber is a cancer survivor thanks to a bone marrow transplant.
"In his first year working with us, (Puckhaber) got 325 people to sign up, which is incredible," said Talley. "At Villanova, we get 350-400 a year, so for a small school like St. Lawrence, that's just unbelievable."
The "Get in the Game. Save a Life" recruitment program has partnered with 135 college football teams, adding more than 106,000 donors to the Be The Match Registry®, and the program is responsible for 621 bone marrow transplants.
"Andy Talley is everything a person in my position strives to be," said Puckhaber. "He started leading a small Division III college, was extremely successful here at St. Lawrence, and landed at the pinnacle of our sport. He did that by putting in the work, by doing things right, and by inspiring people to adopt his message and process. He is an authentic and transformational leader in every sense. Better yet, he is a person of high integrity. I know I'm biased as the recipient of a bone marrow transplant – it's the reason I'm alive today. The Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation is just one way he is a difference maker and a man of character. He is a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration to all people trying to make themselves and the people around them better."
While some may look at Talley's 32 years at Villanova and think his time at St. Lawrence is just a footnote in his career, the memories and friendships he made during his time on campus are still very meaningful to the 77-year-old.
"(Skiing coach) Bob Axtell and (former basketball coach) Rick Cassara would hold court down at the Tick Tock at lunch," said Talley. "So I would go down there for lunch every day and they would tell me what I did right, what I did wrong, why are we doing this and why aren't we doing that? It was just an old-time group of Canton folk that would keep me on the straight and narrow."
And while Canton made an impression on Talley, it's clear that he also left his mark on the St. Lawrence athletic department. Former wrestling coach and athletic director John Clark used to work with Talley to recruit prospects who could excel on both the football field and the wrestling mat.
"Coach Talley brought a 'big school' mentality into a 'small school' environment at St. Lawrence," said Clark. "Andy implemented a national recruiting strategy, raised the standards of his coaching staff, and upped the bar of excellence of everyone around him."