At the age of 72, Temple basketball coach John Chaney still has it. And chances are he’s never going to lose it.
With a little less than three weeks before the Owls open the season against Auburn, practice has commenced. Chaney orchestrates practice as if he is the conductor. And once something goes awry, he grimaces and slams down his baton on the podium, demanding the undivided attention of his players.
What exactly does he have? Everything. His knowledge of the game, the way he inculcates his players, his wit and his adorning charm.
During his infamous morning practices, he seems to be the only person that does the talking. The assistant coaches say very little, and players only speak unless spoken to. And that’s the way Chaney likes it.
This is how practice goes: Chaney orders a play for point guard Mardy Collins to run. Collins dribbles to his right and whips a pass to freshman Mark Tyndale on the wing.
“Stop!,” Chaney demands.
He asks Tyndale what he just did wrong and explains what he has to do right to get open for a shot.
“Run it again,” Chaney harrumphs.
Collins moves to his right and dishes to Tyndale, who gets ready to spot up for a jump shot.
“Stop,” says the old man.
The always inquisitive Chaney asks Tyndale, the fresh-faced rookie, why he didn’t drop the ball inside to sophomore forward Wayne Marshall. Or why he should have passed the ball back to the top of the key since there wasn’t a shot available.
Tyndale tries to remain impervious to Chaney’s hands-on approach and just shrugs his shoulders. Chaney tells them to run the play again. This continues about three more times until Tyndale finally gets it right. Chaney then questions his freshman on everything that he did and why he did it.
Tyndale explained how he read every player’s movement on the court and recognized the shot was there for him to take. But he still missed the final point.
“You read the last chapter of the book,” Chaney barked, “but you forgot to read the foreword!”
“He saw 15 guys and tricked all of them, but I’m waiting for him to say he tricked his own man,” Chaney later chuckled to reporters. “That’s the guy you have to trick.”
It was a dual practice between the men’s and the women’s team Monday morning. For about 20 minutes, coach Dawn Staley and her team watch the genius of Chaney. When the men’s practice broke up, both teams had a short scrimmage.
Chaney saunters over to the women’s team and tells the players to get out there. They slowly get up, so Chaney yells at them in encouraging fashion.
“Come on ladies, let’s get out there. I’m guarding you, coach,” he joked to Staley as everyone else laughed.
It’s refreshing to hear his shrieking voice, to see his cragled face and look into his drooping eyes. Right now, he looks healthy and raring to go.
But three games into the season, that will all change. His trademark scowl will remain on his face through the rest of the season. He’ll lose his voice screaming at his players, and his tie will be loosened and hanging past his gut.
During press conferences, he’ll cuss and denigrate his players, even after they win. And he’ll say that they were lucky to beat whomever they’re playing at that time.
Yes, it has been three years since the Owls have marched into the NCAA tournament. And with this year’s daunting schedule and youthful but experienced squad, there is no question Chaney still knows how to command this ship.
Jason Haslam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.