To judge John Chaney on his on-court accomplishments alone would sell John Chaney short.
There is no system of measurement for passion, spirit and emotion, attributes Chaney critics would say the coach has an overabundance of.
Chaney’s career win total – 741, for those who were counting – was a testament to his commitment to the game. But knowing Chaney is to understand that his unique commitment transcends wins and losses.
He is a basketball history buff. In press conferences, Chaney dropped names like Chuck Share and Jim Luskatoff, with whom only long-time hoops fans are familiar.
He constantly tells stories of former coaches from his bench or on the opposition’s.
He cherishes the game as it is known in Philadelphia. The importance and storied past of basketball in this city is something Chaney understands completely. He wants to make sure others are equally aware, too.
In his final season at Temple, he reminded members of the media which were the most successful college basketball programs. No, it is not La Salle or Villanova in Philadelphia, both of which have won a National Championship, Chaney would say.
The history of Philadelphia college hoops lies with Penn and Temple, Chaney had said, in an effort to teach the writers a history lesson.
But that is his way.
“When I lecture to the kids, I always try to come with a theme,” Chaney had said.
Opposing coaches, players and fans never really saw Chaney’s shouting fits as a lesson plan. Chaney steamed outsiders with his press conference openness and on-court uproars, and Chaney seemed to have no qualms with that.
He complained to referees and fought to make sure his players got the most favorable calls. Along the way, he might have stomped his feet or let out a bellowing tone or two. He was an intimidating sideline presence.
His spicy spirit occasionally got Chaney into trouble over the duration of his 34-year collegiate career.
But as much as Chaney’s attitude had bewildered onlookers and critics to the program, his inspirational nature has served as a fountain of second chances and humanitarianism for the people and players who are closest to him.
High school seniors with nowhere else to go, displaced by either injury, broken families, weak academic scores or disciplinary issues, were welcomed onto Chaney’s teams. They made Temple their home.
Chaney turned troubled students into four-year college graduates. Fettered, untamed players had been transformed into all-America candidates or 1,000-point scorers. Beneath the coach’s rough, cold exterior, the 74-year-old is warm. His fatherly style of coaching made him less distant than his critics depicted him to be.
“To everyone on the court, he was always like your second father. If you didn’t have one, then he was your father,” said Levan Alston, who played at Temple from 1994-96. “He would tell you how to be a better player but to also be a better person.
“… I always wanted to come here to play, when I was a kid. I wanted a chance to play for someone like Chaney. When I came here, I told coach Chaney that we could have had practice at three in the morning, just so long as I had the opportunity to play for him and learn from him.”
Aside from his early-morning practice schedule, Chaney is best known for his self-giving temperament. Chaney would loosen his tie and hand it off to a fan following a Temple loss. He coached with a strong belief in karma and bad luck.
But in his later years at Temple, Chaney had said he couldn’t give away his ties as frequently because the Owls were losing far too many games.
During the high times of his Temple coaching career, Chaney was a winner. And his teams won with him.
The apex of his career was Temple’s 32-2 season in 1987-88. The Owls rose to new heights that season, sweeping through all of their Big 5 and A-10 games unbeaten.
They had but one loss at the end of the regular season, helping them clinch a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and the No. 1 spot in the national rankings, both program firsts. Chaney earned consensus National Coach of the Year honors and freshman Mark Macon was a first-team all-American.
Chaney stumbled out of the glory days of his career by experiencing possibly his lowest moment in the 2004-05 season. The Owls had not been to the NCAA Tournament for three straight seasons, and were on the brink of advancing to the National Invitation Tournament for a fourth year in a row.
In a Feb. 22, 2005, contest with Saint Joseph’s, Chaney perceived the Hawks to be using illegal screens. Rather than sending a tape of the game to A-10 officials in the days following the game, Chaney inserted a seldom-used reserve to rectify the situation. The bench player committed hard fouls, one of which resulted in the broken the arm of a St. Joe’s player. Afterward Chaney protested the officiating of the game and called his player a “goon.”
His actions and words earned him two suspensions totaling five games, including two in the A-10 tournament. Members of the media called for his resignation.
Chaney may be remembered more for his extreme coaching decisions and on-court antics than for his hospitality and convivial heart.
When offered a pay raise, Chaney rarely accepted. He had said someone far less privileged than he deserved the money. With his wife of 54 years, Jeanne, Chaney still resides in the same Mount Airy row home.
That’s where he’s disappeared to in the days following his retirement. But he will always remain a part of Temple.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.