The Father of Villanova Football



Claire Ferry

Courtesy of

As South Dakota State’s eventual game-winning field goal flew in slow motion, thick irony hung in the air. The ball bounced off the upright and through to solidify the Jackrabbits’ 10-7 victory over Villanova in the second round of FCS playoffs. The era of Andy Talley—one built on his own ambition and self-made legacy—was decided by the fickleness of the wind and the pigskin.

Villanova’s impressive defensive performance just wasn’t quite enough last Saturday, though they held South Dakota State to 197 total yards. The ‘Cats only scoring play came from a 6-yard pass from Zach Bednarczyk to Alex Padovani with two seconds left in the first half. Snow flurries rained down as both teams came up empty throughout most of the second half, but it was the Jackrabbits’ freshman kicker Chase Vinatieri who ultimately decided the contest. With 1:21 remaining, the nephew of NFL great, Adam Vinatieri, watched as his 37-yard field goal ricocheted off the right upright for three points. The Wildcats came up short on their final drive, as they turned over downs to South Dakota State after two incomplete passes.

Talley’s legacy in history books will be marked by numbers—221 victories, 12 playoff appearances, six conference titles, two AFCA National Coach of the Year honors, and one national championship title. Though impressive, those numbers hardly tell the whole story of Andy Talley, the “Father of Football” at Villanova. 

Long before those 221 wins, Talley arrived at Villanova with a completely blank slate. The University cut the football program in 1981 because of budget struggles, but Talley was brought in three years later to reinstitute the program. Starting from scratch might have meant building his own office, but it also allowed him the chance to make Villanova football his own.

“There were no offices, no players, no coaches and I had no reputation with anything at that point,” Talley explained at a press conference in the Pavilion. “But it was a tremendous journey for me.”

Talley went to work with a squad of 25 freshmen, three graduate students, and a handful of walk-ons that first year, notching a 5-0 record as a DIII independent team. In five years, the Wildcats had moved up to the DI-AA level and claimed a share of the Yankee Conference title. 

Such immediate success should have been a sign of things to come, as the Wildcats under Talley’s guidance celebrated continued success over the next 30 years. Villanova football boasted a perfect record in 1997, and the team occupied the No. 1 spot for six weeks straight. Talley’s teams reached the national semifinals three times, and the 2009 squad finally hoisted the elusive national championship trophy with a 23-21 victory over Montana. 

The Talley era is so much more than championships and awards, though. There’s a plaque above his desk that reads, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” The players on Talley’s teams serve as a testament to his favorite phrase. Most impressive, though, is his ability to instill these values in players while also honing their athletic talents. With 11 Villanova players in the NFL who played for Talley, his clout as a coach is undeniable.

“Andy has done an excellent job of being able to understand what matters to the University,” Vince Nicastro, Villanova’s former athletic director, said. “The academic, leadership and service components of the job are just as important or more important than what he’s done on the field.” 

Perhaps Talley’s most notable contribution to Villanova has nothing to do with football, however. His involvement the Be The Match Registry began in 1992, and it boomed into a full-fledged non-profit organization by 2010—the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. In his football players, he saw 90 potential bone marrow donors. In a university, he saw thousands of donors with the power to save lives. Through his organization, over 61,000 possible donors have registered from 50 colleges nationwide, resulting in 260 transplants.

Matt Szczur—a World Series Champion and 2009 Villanova football national champion—embodies everything Talley’s legacy holds important. Szczur registered as to donate bone marrow, and despite the 1-in-80,000 chance, he was found to be a match for a Ukrainian girl with leukemia. Though it meant missing some of his baseball season, Szczur went through with the procedure.

“The guy is a hero,” Talley told the Chicago Tribune of Szczur. “Matt was very adamant about doing it. He knew he could miss the rest of the [baseball] season, which tells you what kind of person he is.”

Though he might not openly admit it, Talley himself had an influential hand in shaping Szczur into such an honorable young man.

It seems unfair that Talley’s tenure was forced to a close by a lucky field goal, but his influence on the Villanova football program will far from vanish. Mike Ferrante, Talley’s award-winning assistant coach of 29 years, is poised to take the reigns. From his time as Talley’s quarterback at St. Lawrence University to his position as Vice President of the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, Ferrante has learned closely about his mentor’s approach to football and life. 

“We’ve done everything we can to get this program where it needs to be,” Talley told “I’m here for another year and a half [to help with the transition]. I’m just moving my stuff out of my office down the hall to my new office. And I’m looking out the window of the Andy Talley Athletic Center. So we’re good.” 

Talley arrived at Villanova with no office, but he leaves with a top-notch facility bearing his name—what a metaphor for the work he’s done in 32 years. He’s had a lasting impact on his players and the University as a whole, and for that, the Villanova community will be eternally grateful. 

Thank you, Coach Talley.