John Chaney died yesterday at the age of 89, and he and Fran Dunphy have been the face of Temple’s basketball program for the last 39 years. This article and interview with the couple of great coaches were originally posted in January 2013.
By Theodore N. Beitchman
At first glance they seem an odd couple.
One is black and will be 83 in January.
The other is white and turned 66 last October.
The older fellow is a bit of a fashion plate. When he coached he liked cardigan sweaters and painted ties, which were always pulled down and flapping in the breeze created by his constant movement.
His young friend is a sartorial everyman, as the cover photo reveals, though he does know his way around a glen plaid. He is also more circumspect than his older friend who, once he trusts the motives and bona fides of an interviewer, dispenses wit and wisdom in a ra-ta-tat manner.
Differences aside, they share at least two passions:
A lifelong love of basketball, especially as it is played in Philly; and a loyalty to Temple University, which, thanks in part to their coaching excellence from 1982 through today, has become the hottest sports school in town. Getting into the big-time — the Big East for football in 2012 and basketball next season — coincides neatly with a building program that would make China blush.
Temple, the largest public university in town, is also enjoying a renewed importance in the pecking order of scholarship that has attracted a new president, Neil Theobold, who comes from Indiana University in Bloomington to take office on January 1. And perhaps more importantly, Temple has become the engine of the renewal of North Broad Street, 20 years after Mayor Ed Rendell launched Avenue of the Arts on South Broad Street.
It wasn’t that long ago that the neighborhood surrounding Temple and all of North Broad Street resembled a wasteland with boarded up houses, deteriorating buildings and empty lots dominating the landscape. Today, Bart Blatstein, who built the Shops at Avenue North at 1600 Broad Street — including the first movie theater in North Philly in 40 years and the Edge at Avenue North student housing — is soon to open the transformed state office building at Broad and Spring Garden into apartments, and he is planning a casino-based development in the art deco building a mile south that formerly housed the Inquirer and Daily News.
And Eric Blumenfeld is developing the dilapidated Divine Lorraine Hotel at Broad and Fairmount into an apartment and restaurant complex. He already jump-started North Broad Street a few years ago by converting the former Mulford Building at 640 N. Broad into apartments and Marc Vetri’s way cool Osteria restaurant. And he has big plans for the schools in the surrounding area.
Not to mention an opportunity to develop the Sixers’ new practice facility within the community of North Broad, where he says it belongs, not hidden away in the Navy Yard, tax credits be damned.
It seems that half the cranes in the Philly region air are located on or near the Temple campus (the other half would appear to be at Drexel), and it is impossible to drive north on Broad and not notice the economic activity that has been attracted to the 116-year-old university.
In the 1960s and 1970s if you said you went to Temple, the response was, “Oh.”
Today, the response is, Wow!”
The Diamond Club does not say, “wow,” either in ambience or menu. Rather, it is a serviceable restaurant in the lower level of Mitten Hall, which has been at the heart of the Temple campus since before Bill Cosby matriculated in the early 1960s.
When Fran Dunphy and John Chaney walk into the Diamond at 11:30 on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-October heads don’t turn, and the only server in the place brings menus and asks for an order.
Temple has had only four basketball coaches since 1952 — Harry Litwack, Don Casey, Chaney and Dunphy. Chaney was coach from 1982 through 2006, making five appearances in March Madness’ Elite Eight and winning five Atlantic-10 titles along the way with players like Marc Jackson, Aaron McKie, Eddie Jones, Mark Macon, Nate Blackwell, Tim Perry and Duane Causewell. He first coached at Gratz High and then won the 1978 national Division II championship at Cheyney State in the Philly suburbs before being hired at Temple by then-president Peter Liacouris.
“I told Peter I can’t do this [be successful as Temple’s coach] unless I get help,” Chaney says. “So he put $300,000 into academic advising to help us deal with the NCAA’s new Prop 48” — an NCAA regulation requiring that high school senior athletes have at least a 2.0 grade point average, and either a minimum of 700 on the SAT or a score of at least 15 on the ACT in order to participate in NCAA athletic competition.
Just then, Dunphy’s academic advisor, Eleanore Myers, a law school professor, walks by, trades a joke with Dunphy and says to Chaney, “My son still has the Temple shirt you gave him years ago.”
You might say that Dunphy is the heart of the Temple identity and Chaney is its soul.
Chaney was born in Jacksonville, Fla., and moved with his family to South Philly when he was a kid. He always loved basketball, played it in the schoolyard and was good enough as a point guard at Ben Franklin — “the point was my position but I basically did what I wanted” — to be named Public League player of the year in 1951. A fellow named Tom Gola at LaSalle was Catholic League player of the year in 1951.
This was four years before the establishment of the Big 5 when the athletic directors at La Salle, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova decided they would all play the majority of home games at the Palestra on Penn’s campus in doubleheader formats. Out of this arrangement, the city series was born, an annual round-robin tournament between the five schools.
“But in 1951,” Chaney explains, “all five schools were commuter schools for city kids. Only Temple [Sam Sylvester] and LaSalle [Jackie Moore, who later played in the NBA for the hometown Warriors] had black players and no one was beating down the door to give me a scholarship. In those days most schools only gave partial scholarships. Even Guy Rodgers and Jay [Pappy] Norman only got partials at Temple.
“Philadelphia is stubborn,” Chaney philosophizes. “We don’t like change.
“I just wanted to get out of town and play basketball. In those days there no aspiration level to go to college in the black family. So I got a job at Sears up on the Boulevard.”
It wasn’t until Bethune-Cookman, a tiny black college in Daytona Beach, Fla., offered him a scholarship that Chaney got his break.
As Chaney talked, Dunphy picked at his club sandwich and stared at the man who is something of a mentor.
Litwack was a legendary coach for 25 years, Casey was a good one for nine, but it was Chaney who raised the bar on the court and off, making Temple a fearsome opponent for national powers; his coaching excellence and the force of his personality imbued the school with pride and passion.
Chaney is part professor, part philosopher, part prince of darkness — the latter mostly to opposition coaches such as John Calipari, who, when he was at Massachusetts in 1994, dared question Chaney’s right to call him out over referee-baiting in a UMass 56-55 victory.
The two almost came to blows but have since buried the hatchet.
Chaney won 516 games at Temple out of a career total of 741, and when he decided to retire — for want of a better word — after the 2006 season, he called a press conference attended by many of his pals like Cosby, donned shades to hide his tears, and quoted the poignant lyrics from “Angel Eyes”:
“Excuse me while I disappear.”
Like Frank Sinatra, who also retired using that lyric only to come back again and again, Chaney doesn’t disappear, and his pal Dunphy is happy for that.
College basketball coaches in Philly are members of what is a cross between a fraternity and the CIA. Very few get the calling, but those who do are in it forever.
Even Jack Ramsay, arguably the greatest coach in this city’s storied history, who won an NBA title in Portland and also coached the Sixers and the Pacers, talks about his time in the Big Five with reverence.
“That was a great period in Philadelphia sports,” Ramsay told PHILLY SPORT about the Big 5 during his salad days as coach of St. Joseph’s from 1955 to 1966.
“The Big 5 had just started, and all five teams had fine coaches and we were all able to draw players from within the city and the suburbs of Philadelphia. Of course, this was before ESPN glorified talent the way it has now.”
Beginning with its inception in 1979, ESPN shined the spotlight on college basketball’s most glamorous college programs, and it wasn’t long before the inner city kids who had been ticketed for one of the Big 5 schools longed for UCLA or Kansas or Duke or Arizona.
But when Ramsay became the Hawks’ coach in 1955, Philly college basketball was like a religion and the catechism was shaped by the Catholic League, which was exemplified by tough defense, discipline, ball control and a strict adherence to fundamentals.
Ramsay’s teams played a suffocating zone press that kept a lot of teams stuck behind the 10-second line; Litwack’s Temple teams used box-and-ones and triangle-and-twos; Villanova’s Jack Kraft’s squads employed the ball defense; and Chaney’s teams used a match-up zone that they learned at 5:30 a. m. practices.
Great coaches are born, not made; the tactics they employ vary, just as Bjorn Borg used topspin, but the DNA is the key.
“The culture is different here [in Philly],” volunteers Dunphy, who doesn’t have a name for his defense, though he has eschewed the match-up zone for a man-to-man. “Once you’re in the coaching culture here you’re part of it. The older guys set it up for us,” gesturing toward Chaney.
When did he first meet Chaney? “Maybe when he was coaching at Cheyney,” Dunphy responds. “Or maybe it was at Belfield Rec [the hoops hotspot near the LaSalle campus] in the late ‘60s.”
Dunphy’s journey to North Broad Street was not as circuitous as Chaney’s, but it did take a few twists and turns.
It started at St. Dorothy’s Grade School in Drexel Hill, then off to the Catholic League’s Malvern Prep, where he first came under the spell of coach Dan Dougherty.
When Dougherty finally retired from coaching in 2010 after 36 years as the winningest coach in city history, including a 23-year stint as Episcopal Academy, Dunphy wrote the following on a celebration page:
“Dan Dougherty means the world to me. Without him, I have no idea where I’d be in my life. He was my great high school coach at Malvern and put up with my ineptness in the math classroom. He was also my baseball coach and assistant football coach and he helped me get a scholarship to La Salle. He took me to work with him at West Point and kept me around, even though I didn’t do a great job …”
Dunphy was a very good high school and college player, and he was a vital piece of the 1968-69 La Salle team that included Fatty Taylor, Bernie Williams and Ken Durrett and went 23-1, losing only to Villanova with Howard Porter. Dunphy averaged 8.5 points a game for his career and was a steady presence on a team of stars.
“La Salle runs and runs some more, probably better than any Eastern team since the days of Guy Rodgers and Hal Lear at Temple,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Curry Kirkpatrick about that Explorer bunch, which was ineligible for post-season play because of probation. ” ‘Oh, does LaSalle run,” says one Philadelphia man. ‘I get wind-burn every time I see La Salle run. ‘ ”
SI’s hoops expert gave Dunphy credit for “holding Calvin Murphy down” in a victory at Niagara.
“Joe Heyer [who was then La Salle’s coach] helped me get a partial scholarship,” Dunphy says after he has finished his club sandwich. Heyer was a great player at La Salle High who was coaching the Explorers when Dunphy graduated Malvern.
“I was still living at home in Drexel Hill and taking public transportation to get to La Salle,” Dunphy says, “and by the time I was done with classes and practice I was dead tired. Usually got home around 10 at night.”
A teammate, Larry Cannon, noticed Dunphy’s dilemma after coach Jim Harding, a disciplinarian who had replaced Heyer, yelled at Dunphy to pick it up in practice.”
“I owe Larry Cannon big-time,” Dunphy admits. “He went to Harding and got me a dorm room.”
After college, Dunphy’s journey took him to Army, as Dougherty’s assistant, back to Malvern as the head coach, then to assistants jobs at American, La Salle and Penn before getting the top job for the Quakers in 1989.
Penn had gone to the Final Four in 1979 under Bob Weinhauer and spent most of the 1980s under Craig Littlepage and Tom Schneider in mediocrity, so the alums bounced Schneider and elevated Dunphy.
Dunphy’s first two years were under water, but then he was able to recruit his own players like Jerome Allen (the current Quaker coach), Ira Bowman and a slew of kids who could afford to go to Penn (Ivy schools do not give scholarships, only grant-in-aid support). He then rattled off year after year of winning teams, nine NCAA appearances in 15 years and a Penn record 310 victories, second in Ivy history to Princeton’s Pete Carril.
In a sense, Dunphy was the perfect coach for a school whose mascot is a Quaker. Not that he headed to Big Ben’s Ivy Enclave to flee religious persecution. But Quakers are modest to a fault, hard-working and diligent, all of which describe Dunphy’s personality.
However, Mr. Franklin wouldn’t know his way around a box-and-one or a match-up zone.
And Dunphy’s Penn teams didn’t have much luck against Chaney’s Temple matchup zone, losing their first nine games before winning a pulsating double overtime game, 73-70, on Nov. 23, 1998 at the Palestra — one of the greatest games ever played on that hallowed court. Dunphy finished 3-14 against Chaney’s squads.
Dunphy would never admit it, even when asked directly, that there is a difference between recruiting and coaching at Penn and Temple. The difference is the level of athlete each school attracts. Penn gets fine players, many of whom prepped at private school; Temple gets better athletes, many of whom attended public schools, because their recruiting pool is wider and deeper.
“Nobody is luckier than me,” is all the ever self-effacing Dunphy will say.
He had no luck in his first season at Temple, finishing 12-18, the Owls’ first losing record since Chaney’s 14-15 in his first season, 1982-83. And more than one interested alum was heard to complain that Dunphy’s coaching style, so successful among the elite at the Palestra didn’t translate so well to the middle-class and public school kids who naturally gravitated to play in the Liacouris Center.
UCLA alums said the same thing about John Wooden, who took 17 years to win an NCAA title, and then the grumbling stopped. Same thing with Dunphy, who turned it around in 2007-08 and made the NCAA tourney. You haven’t heard a peep from the Owl Club ever since.
Rumor has it that basketball was founded in Springfield, Mass., in 1891, by James Naismith, a Canadian. Since then every town with a peach basket on a telephone pole laid some claim to the game’s popularity:
• Lawrence, Kansas, where Naismith went to teach and coach in 1898, and which also bragged about coaches Phog Allen, he of the field house, and Dick Harp, who tutored a fellow named Wilt.
• Boston, Mass., home of the dreaded Celtics, who dominated the NBA in the late-1950s and ‘60s thanks to coach Red Auerbach and wondrous center Bill Russell.
• New York City, which claims ownership of everything even though the Knicks haven’t won an NBA title in 40 years.
• Crystal City, Mo., and Wilmington, N. C., where Bill Bradley and Michael Jordan grew up.
• Chapel Hill and Durham, N. C., homes of the University of North Carolina and Duke, one public school and one elitist private school, hence their rivalry.
• Westwood, a section of Los Angeles, where from 1964-75 Wooden took UCLA to 10 NCAA championships in 12 years, a run just as impressive as Auerbach’s nine NBA titles in 10 seasons.
Which brings us to South Philly, where Eddie Gottlieb, described by the Philadelphia Record’s Red Smith as, “a wonderful little guy about the size and shape of a half-keg of beer,” founded and coached the SPHAs, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, in the 1920s.
Gotty — or the Mogul as he would be called when he owned Philly’s Warriors and singlehandedly produced the NBA schedule — was born in Kiev, in Ukraine, in 1898, seven years after Naismith invented basketball. He came to Philly with his family after the turn of the last century and befriended lots of other European-born kids, among them a Polish-born fellow named Harry Litwack, whom he recruited to play for the SPHAs, along with Cy Kasselman (who never missed a foul shot, even in his 50s when he ran Max Myers playground), Harry Passan and Hughie Black
Litwack was like a second coach on the court, and soon after he graduated from the relatively young commuter school called Temple, he began coaching fulltime in 1952.
If he were alive today, Litwack would be shocked and amazed by how Temple has grown since he retired in 1973 and died in 1999. The Chief, a nickname bestowed by the great Guy Rodgers because he looked like an Indian chief, ran practices in 200-seat South Hall, a decrepit gym with an overhanging balcony that served as a built-in shot blocker. McGonigle Hall opened in 1969 and the modern arena at Liacouris Center in 2000.
The Chief won 373 games, including 27 in 1955-56 with a Hal Lear-led team that went to the Final Four and lost to Iowa in the semis, and 27 in 1957-58 with a Guy Rodgers-led squad that also went to the Final Four and lost to eventual champ Kentucky.
The 1960s were the Big Five’s Golden Era, with each team having its moment in the sun — and the coaches were all stellar: Ramsay at St. Joe’s, Dudie Moore at LaSalle, Jack McCloskey at Penn, Jack Kraft at Villanova and the Chief at Temple.
Perhaps Litwack’s greatest triumph was the 1969 National Invitation Tournament, which was losing its stature to the rocketing NCAA post-season tournament. But in those days every game was played at Madison Square Garden, a short hop for Temple alums, and the Owls knocked off Boston College, coached by Bob Cousy, for the title, with Temple’s John Baum getting 32 points. The Owls broke BC’s win streak at 19 with the 89-76 win, but the Eagles’ Terry Driscoll was named the tournament’s MVP, not Baum.
Litwack was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975; Chaney got his call to Springfield in 2011, and it would be a waste of time to ask Dunphy when he would be elected, or if he is worthy. He is far too self-effacing to contemplate his legacy.
But he was happy to talk about how he got the Temple job after 17 years at Big Five rival Penn, a first in the 57-year history of the Closed Society of City Coaches.
When Chaney told Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw he intended to step down, Bradshaw, who graduated a year ahead of Dunphy at La Salle and had been the Explorers’ AD from 1978-86, cleared it with Penn and called Dunphy about the job.
“As soon as Bill called me,” Dunphy says, “and asked me if I was interested in coming to Temple, I made one phone call – to John Chaney.
“We met at Colleen’s [in Park Town Place at 22nd and the Parkway, not a likely spot to be seen by the media], and we talked for two hours. I should say John talked for two hours.”
Chaney has always been a Dunphy fan. “I saw him play on the playground — he was very tenacious, balanced, level-headed. He used his head and that’s important when you play and when you coach.
“But I told Fran when he was offered the job that the culture is very different here than it is at Penn. We’ve got students here who aren’t the same as Penn.”
And Dunphy agrees. “The environments are different, the missions are different.”
After that two hours at Colleen’s, “I got his blessing, but I knew how immense the challenge of coming here would be.”
Chaney limits his calls to Dunphy after a game — “I only call him when he gets a lot of turnovers.”
“And I listen to him,” Dunphy says. “He achieved the greatest accomplishment of taking Temple to a new level.”
And Bradshaw adds, “When Fran accepted the job, John called me and said, ‘Now you’ve got a third Hall of Famer.’ ”
Chaney had 516 wins at Temple (in addition to 225 at Cheyney State); as of Nov. 26 Dunphy had 137 (in addition to 310 at Penn).
And as lunch at the Diamond Club ended and after the not so odd couple posed for photos on Dan Polett Walk, they hugged like the brothers they are.
Then they left — Chaney to play golf and Dunphy to practice and then on his path to the Hall of Fame.