John Chaney’s raspy, booming voice drowned out the gym when he scolded Temple gamers over a turnover — in the very top of the basketball sins — or poor work. His voice was when it came to picking unpopular fights, lashing out in NCAA policies he said discriminated against Black athletes. And it could be profane when Chaney let his own sense of justice get the better of him with fiery confrontations that threatened to undermine his role as father figure to scores of his players that are senile.
Complicated, cranky, quick with a quip, Chaney was an imposing presence on the court and a court jester off it, while constructing the Owls perched in rugged North Philadelphia into one of the hardest teams in the nation.
“He wrapped his arms around you and made you a part of his loved ones,” said Chaney’s successor, Fran Dunphy.
Chaney died Friday, just eight days after his 89th birthday, after a brief, unspecified disease.
Chaney had 741 wins as a college coach. He was twice named national coach of this year along with his teams at Temple won six Atlantic 10 conference titles.
When Chaney retired in 2006, the scowl was gone, the shadowy, deep-set eyes hidden behind sunglasses, along with the over-the-top personality turned dimmed:”Excuse me while I disappear,” he explained.
He became a de facto father to heaps of his players, many coming to Temple from broken homes, violent upbringings and poor schools. He often said his main goal was simply to give poor children a chance to get an education. He said the SAT was culturally biased and he joined Georgetown’s John Thompson — another giant in the Dark coaching community, who died in August — in denouncing NCAA academic requirements that seemed to single out”the youngster who’s from a poor, disadvantaged background.
Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie, perhaps Chaney’s two greatest players, were Prop 48 recruits who parlayed their own Temple years into successful NBA livelihood. McKie is now Temple’s trainer and leaned on his mentor when he had to shape the program.
“Coach Chaney was just like a father to me,” McKie said. “He taught not only me, but all of his players over just how to succeed in basketball. He educated us life lessons to make us individuals off the court. I owe so much . He made me the man I am now.”
When Chaney combined Temple in 1982, he took over a program that had only two NCAA tournament bids in the prior decade and wasn’t widely known beyond Philadelphia. Often, as he exhorted his staff, he placed himself in situations he afterwards regretted. He was known for a fiery temper — sending a player he predicted a”goon” into a 2005 game to commit hard fouls. Chaney served a suspension and apologized.
Back in 1994he had a heated exchange after a game against UMass where he threatened to kill coach John Calipari. Chaney apologized and was suspended for a game. The two later became buddies.
“Coach Chaney and I fought every match we competed — as everybody knows, sometimes literally — but ultimately he was my friend,” Calipari tweeted. “During my career, we would talk about basketball and life. I will miss these discussions and that I will my friend.”
In 1984, Chaney grabbed George Washington coach Gerry Gimelstob by the shoulders at halftime during a game.
His loud, booming voice could be heard across an arena, and his near-perfect designer clothing have been in shambles after many matches. After a particularly awful call, he’d melt referees. He gazed in a referee for an whole timeout using a look that he dubbed the”One-Eyed Jack.”
Though he appeared permanently cranky, especially during games, Chaney was often funny and tender. He loved telling stories. His postgame news conferences have been sometimes more entertaining than the games that preceded them. They included amusing anecdotes, pokes in the college administration and playful threats to slap the mayor.
After losing to Michigan State in his final trip to the NCAA regional finals, in 2001, he had been the same old John Chaney — with eyes that were jagged , wearing a tie ripped open at the collar and waxing poetic about a second missed opportunity at the Final Four.
“It is something all of us dream about, but quite frequently dreams appear short,” he explained. “Quite often you do not realize everything. But you have to realize that the growth you see in kids like these is most likely the highest achievement you may reach.”
Temple’s style of play beneath Chaney’s advice was never as pretty as that of Duke or North Carolina. Slow, patient and disciplined, his best teams seldom made mistakes, seldom turned the ball always played hard defense. Chaney was just fearless in all aspects of his job.
He refused to load his schedules together with easy teams, and traveled to hostile courts to play groups supposedly brimming with talent. He was vocal about the NCAA’s recruiting rules, which he explained hurt players attempting to improve their standing in life.
“John Chaney was more than just a Hall of Fame Basketball coach. He was a leader of Fame in life,” Dunphy said. “He touched countless lives, including my own.”
Chaney came at Temple before the 1982-83 season. Sitting one of Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods, Temple has been the perfect match for a mentor who prided himself on assisting gamers turn their basketball skills into college degrees.
He was 50 and had success at Cheyney State University, where he had a list of 225-59 in 10 seasons.
Chaney was born on Jan. 21, 1932, in Jacksonville, Florida. He lived in a neighborhood there known as Black Bottom, wherehe explained, flooding rains would bring rats.
Though known as a Hall of Fame trainer, he also was one of the best players ever to come from Philadelphia. He had been the Philadelphia Public League player of the year in 1951 at Benjamin Franklin High School.
A graduate of Bethune-Cookman College, he was an NAIA All-American and also an NAIA championship MVP prior to going pro in 1955 to play the Harlem Globetrotters. With black players still being discriminated against in the NBA, he spent 1955 to 1966 in the Eastern Pro League with Sunbury and Williamsport, where he had been a two-time league MVP.
“He understood what I needed when I started training. He just fostered that and let me grow and allowed me to make mistakes and was there to pick me up when things were not working out as I thought that they should,” said South Carolina coach and former Owls coach Dawn Staley. “Everyone in their lives, whether they’re in training, outside of coaching, or whatever profession, needs someone like coach Chaney in their life.”