The Owls are replacing Fran Dunphy, a proven big winner at Penn and Temple, with an untested assistant, Aaron McKie, whose primary responsibility has been recruiting. How’s that worked out?
We agree with the Delaware County Daily Times:
With little noise, it was announced that Fran Dunphy would coach the Owls for one more season, as a lame duck, then slip the job to his assistant, Aaron McKie.
Two questions: What could possibly go wrong there? And what’s the big idea?
But what was Temple’s rush to replace a coach who from 2008 through 2016 won at least 20 games eight times? Two years ago, just two, the Owls were in the NCAA Tournament. In 2013, they were in it for a sixth consecutive time. Even this season, Temple had a winning record, played in the postseason, and uncorked regular-season victories over Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Wichita State.
For decades, Temple has been trying to figure things out, usually on the fly, never quite understanding that it will never regularly play football to rampaging popularity or why its basketball games seldom attract substantial crowds. Even when it was coached by Hall of Famer Harry Litwack, Temple needed to play doubleheaders in order to (maybe) fill the 9,000-seat Palestra. Hall of Famer John Chaney needed to have the No. 1 team in the nation to fill McGonigle Hall, capacity 3,900. Few on-campus college basketball facilities are as ideal as the Liacouras Center. But if no one goes there, that is not Fran Dunphy’s fault. Temple has never been a basketball draw.
The cranky fringe that tries to rule the college-basketball coaching industry behind internet camouflage used two ordinary seasons to re-imagine Dunphy, 69, as too old to matter. But Duke has a coach who is 71, not that he doesn’t win a basketball contest from time to time.
If Temple’s basketball program seems stalled, then Temple can blame Temple. Even if the larger checks typically arrive through a robust, major-college football product, the way the basketball program has been made to join that bumpy ride is unfortunate.
The Owls were ideally placed in the Atlantic 10, a high-level conference centered in the East with some long rivalries, including two within one SEPTA transfer-pass away. But the administration was determined to push the football program up a notch and was promised a Big East slot which, after a football-basketball split, left Temple in the convoluted American Athletic Conference. Suddenly, Temple was required to play unfamiliar teams, plenty with a different view of how recruiting should be handled. Suddenly, instead of hosting Massachusetts or Richmond, the Owls were trying to interest Philadelphia customers into paying to watch Tulsa or Tulane. The Big 5 remained a draw for nearby recruits. But the ECU-USF-CFU-SMU American Conference mouthful had to be enough to confuse fans, players and parents of recruiting targets.
In six AAC seasons, the Owls went to the NIT Final Four, an NCAA Tournament and another NIT, and from 2014 through 2016, they were 47-23. That’s 2016. That recent. Suddenly, though, Temple was in a hurry to hint at blaming the coach for not immediately dominating a more difficult conference.
It’s almost impossible for one athletic department to so thoroughly misread the Philadelphia market. Brazenly annoy neighbors by trying to ram a football stadium into their compact, residential streets, while simultaneously de-valuing a Big 5 Hall of Fame basketball coach with multiple generations of ties to the area basketball community: