Hall of Famer Chaney retires

Outspoken basketball coach leaves Temple after 24 years, 516 wins

March 14, 2006|By CHRISTIAN EWELL | CHRISTIAN EWELL,SUN REPORTER

John Chaney came to his final public appearance as coach of Temple's men's basketball team almost looking cool.

He showed up late to his own retirement announcement yesterday, wearing sunglasses and a brown suede sport coat that wouldn't be out of place at a swanky hotel bar.

It was the polar opposite of everything that comes to mind when thinking of Chaney, who stamped his impassioned persona on Temple during a 24-year, 516-win tenure that carried the program into the nation's elite before a series of mediocre seasons in recent years.

The relaxed pose eventually dissipated during the Hall of Famer's going-away speech, coming three days before the Owls were set to play a first-round game in the National Invitation Tournament. The tie eventually loosened, and by the end, the tears streamed beneath the sunglasses while Chaney thanked administrators, fellow coaches and his players.

"I have said all along that I would know when it would be time to step down, and now is that time," Chaney said. "It has never been a job for me, but a passion. When I look back, it will not be the wins and losses - but the people who influenced me and touched me greatly."

Chaney, 74, will not coach the Owls (17-14) in their first-round game because of family reasons, leaving the duties to assistant Dan Leibovitz. It is unclear whether he would coach beyond that point.

If not, his career would end with an overall record of 741-311, including two National Coach of the Year awards at Temple and one Division II national championship at Cheney State. His win total is the fifth-highest among active coaches.

In the national arena of college basketball, he was well-known for pre-dawn practices, a constant use of the matchup zone, tough scheduling, players with rough backgrounds, taking controversial stands and his emotional decisions, some of which turned violent.

In fact, Chaney's hold on his job became tenuous last year when he called on one of his players to make intentionally rough fouls at the end of a game between Temple and Saint Joseph's.

While the fouls were meant to send a message to the officials about illegal screens, the last foul ended with Saint Joseph's forward John Bryant sustaining a broken arm, and a defiant Chaney describing himself as "mean" and "ornery" in the post-game news conference.

Coupled with Chaney's threat of bodily harm to then-Massachusetts coach John Calipari in 1994, and the grabbing of then-George Washington coach Gerry Gimelstob during a game in 1984, the coach's last eruption resulted in calls for Temple to fire him. Instead, he received a five-game suspension.

"Obviously how people feel ... should be considered, but ultimately, the president, the director of athletics and the board of trustees are making the decision in the best interest of the university," Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw told the Associated Press last year. "I don't want to talk about the details about how the decision was announced or got to what it was, just that the right decisions were made."

However, Chaney leaves the game with a largely positive image, taking chances on athletes from poor neighborhoods that often have deficient schools and violent gangs.

He chose to install a matchup zone that few teams use - "when you think of the zone defense, you think of John Chaney first," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said yesterday.

"The game is losing one of the great teachers. He's always been a champion of the little guy, and he's also been a great coach."

Also, one of his first moves upon coming to Temple in 1982 was to use an "anyone, anytime" creed of scheduling. "I remember writing a list of the 50 teams and hearing, `do you want us to play all of these teams?' " Chaney recalled yesterday.

Those gambles paid off, giving the Owls a higher profile while winning seven Atlantic 10 titles and reaching the Elite Eight five times in 17 NCAA appearances.

"Look at what Temple has done to bring you here," he told the audience at yesterday's conference.

As an advocate of education's role in helping the disadvantaged, Chaney was notable for his stinging criticism of the entrance standards for athletes enacted by the NCAA during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Chaney's resume has also been considered influential in terms of increasing the number of African-American coaches in college basketball, after his success, as well as the success of former coaches Nolan Richardson at Arkansas and John Thompson at Georgetown.

"Because he came in and won," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of Chaney's effect on hiring. "John proved that you can win, and you can win in a tough situation."

christian.ewell@baltsun.com

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