The Temple News talked with Hall of Fame coach John Chaney before his induction into the Big 5 Hall of Fame last Friday. Temple honored him at last Saturday’s game.
John Chaney coached at Temple from 1982 to 2006. During those 24 seasons, Chaney amassed a 516-253 record for the Owls and became the winningest coach in Temple men’s basketball history. He led Temple to 17 NCAA Tournament appearances, including five trips to the Elite Eight. His 1987-1988 team entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 1 in the nation. Prior to coming to Temple, Chaney won a NCAA Division II title with Cheyney University in 1978. In total, he racked up 741 career wins in 34 seasons.
Chaney, already a member of Temple’s Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, was inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame last Friday along with former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino (the only Big 5 coach to win a national title) and former La Salle coach William “Speedy” Morris. Chaney celebrated his 78th birthday Jan. 21.
The Temple News talked with Chaney about his induction into the Big 5 Hall of Fame, his most memorable moments at Temple and his thoughts about this year’s team.
The Temple News: How does getting inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame compare to being inducted to Temple’s Hall of Fame or the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame?
John Chaney: I think each one has its own identity. Each one is separate. Naturally, the world Hall of Fame is something that is very high on my scale, in that it measures the total sum of all your work. To be recognized by your peers, in your own city and to be recognized by your place of, work and what all of our youngsters did, [ranks high]. More importantly, you just can’t get away from the fact that this just didn’t happen because of one person or one man. It happened because you’re able to motivate young people into getting out and performing. Each one has its own place.
TTN: What is your best Big 5 memory?
JC: I think one of my great memories has been over a period of many years of going to the Palestra and playing on this historic court with all of our teams from the beginning to the end. The ones that were so memorable were the ones when we were going to play for the Big 5 Championship and to see all the streamers coming out of the ceiling on the first shot of the ball game. It’s better than the students running out on the court. That gave us an identity. To see all kinds of streamers and to look up in the stands and see signs with the students making fun of you, those are things that I cherish.
TTN: Would you say the Palestra is one of the best college basketball arenas you have coached in?
JC: No, I wouldn’t say that. I think our arena’s pretty good. I like our arena [the Liacouras Center] much better. But I think what you can say about the Palestra is that it has such Philadelphia history behind it. I remember walking up to the Palestra and the guy with the little pretzel cart and the old-fashioned mustard and me getting four or five pretzels and peanuts so I could go up in the stands, sit up there and eat the pretzels. And the mustard was all over my suit and all over my hands and the peanuts that I’m shelling and dropping on the floor. Just that kind of ambience exists there. It just seems like it reverberates. It was made for college, not for professionals. It has something that just goes back in history because nobody else has what we have.”
TTN: When you coached, you were known for putting together a tough non-conference schedule. How would you rate the schedule that coach Fran Dunphy has put together this year?
JC: I was going to take Temple to new heights by making sure we played the best teams in the country and by making sure we forced the best teams to come here. I said very clearly, the Top 50 teams, I’ll play them at their place two and three times before they play me one time at Temple. That happened with everybody but [North] Carolina. North Carolina still owes us a game. Dean Smith lied to me. I played down at his place twice, but when we beat them down there, he didn’t come back. UCLA came to us, Louisville came to us, Indiana came to us, Duke came to us. I felt that Temple needed that kind of visibility, and we eventually got it. We were always a ranked team, just like we are today with the great job that coach Fran Dunphy’s doing. I find that he was equal to the task. His hands were tied when he first came here. I think that what he’s done since, in terms of the schedule, is to find the top teams in the country and play those top teams, and that is bringing in a great deal of respect. Of course, he doesn’t need that because he’s been a great coach all his life, including at the University of Penn.
TTN: What do you hope you will be remembered most for during your time here at Temple?
JC: I just think that one of the most important things for any coach is to make sure he works with a great deal of integrity, in terms of making sure he doesn’t cheat. That’s something that I was very proud of. I made it very clear that my coaching staff, when they went out to recruit, that they would never find themselves stooping so low as to making promises or making statements of any kind that would lead to us being put on probation. You have to operate with a great deal of integrity. With me, that was high on my list. I required that of my coaches. In terms of the youngsters we recruited, maybe they weren’t All-Americans, but we made sure they went to class and operated with the kind of honesty that was required.
TTN: Does it bother you at all that you never made a Final Four appearance?
JC: I think having been in the final eight five times in 14 years, only Duke had a better record in 14 years than us, and they won many titles. When you put that kind of perspective on it, and that you had that kind of opportunity, just remember there are more than 330 Division I teams, and if you end up in the final six or the final two, just remember, you’re still going to be somewhat unhappy if you don’t accomplish that final prize. My mama always said to me, ‘You’re only as good as the company you keep.’ Keep in good company, and guess what? You’re damn good yourself.
TTN: Do you have any regrets?
JC: I’ll start trouble, you know. The only regret I have is that I exposed so much of myself to the media. Certainly, I regret the language I used with Calipari [Chaney threatened then-Massachusetts coach John Calipari after a Feb. 13, 1994 game]. I should have waited until after the game was over and then took him outside and beat the hell out of him.
With the Saint Joseph’s incident [Chaney sent in Nehemiah Ingram to commit hard fouls against the Hawks, and Ingram ended up breaking the arm of St. Joe’s senior John Ingram], remember, at the time, it was just a hard foul. It wasn’t called a flagrant foul. It wasn’t called a bad foul. It was just a foul, and he went to the line and shot two foul shots. It was only when I went in and told the media that in the old days, every team had players they would send in, and they called them their ‘goons’ [that the uproar started]. But I don’t regret teaching basketball and making people understand that when you come to the basket to shoot layups, we’re going to deny you.
TTN: How would you evaluate the job coach Dunphy has done so far?
JC: Magnificent, magnificent. Second to none. With the youngsters that he had, second to none. I know him. He’s the best-kept secret in this city, and he was that way at the University of Penn. Not a lot of hoopla, not a lot of anything for that great man. He won more championships in the Ivy League than I did [in the Atlantic Ten Conference]. I think he thought Temple would be good for him because he’s a Philadelphia guy.
TTN: How would you compare this year’s team to some of your teams in the past?
JC: I think each team has its own identity. Each one of them is completely different. It’s difficult to compare. Our guys played under a great deal of scrutiny in some years when I made it very difficult, and yet they still overcame. I think Franny would agree with that. Each of his teams [at Penn] were completely different.
TTN: Does this year’s defense make you proud?
JC: There are two things that make me very proud of this team. You can look at the stats from game to game. First of all, the defensive principle that coach Dunphy has, even though he plays a lot of man-to-man, is the same as when we played zone and matchup. We led the country every year with our defensive differential. Nobody wanted to play our defense. The other thing is that you can look at the stats and see the turnovers. We led the country every year with low turnovers. Our average was nine turnovers. We were able to stay in every game and have a chance to win those games. Protect that basketball. Make sure you run an efficient offense. I mean, you don’t take the gun out of your hand and give it to someone to shoot you. You don’t walk out Friday night with the money you made and give it to a bum. No, that’s a turnover.
TTN: How far do you think this year’s Temple team can ultimately get?
JC: You’re going to have to be lucky. You’re going to have to be healthy also. That’s extremely important. Look at what happened to us in football [when freshman running back Bernard Pierce injured his shoulder]. We died a natural death. You’ve got to hope that your team stays healthy. The other thing is, you need luck. There’s no way you’re going to be on your game every night that you play. With so many great teams out there, I think what we want to do is hope and pray that our team gets through the conference again [and wins] the conference championship. When you get to the NCAAs, anything can happen.
Jennifer Reardon and Pete Dorchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the full audio interview with Coach Chaney here: