Temple honors basketball coaching legends

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  • Temple News special on John Chaney’s induction into the Hall of Fame

    Temple Hall of Fame basketball Coach Harry Litwack was affectionately known as “the Chief.”

    But to John Chaney, Litwack was simply known as “the Coach.”

    Chaney learned a lot from the Chief — his mentor — including how to coach a basketball team.

    Litwack and Chaney will both be honored tonight before Temple’s men’s basketball game against Charlotte at 7 p.m. Both Hall of Fame coaches will have banners unveiled at the Liacouras Center.

    Litwack, who passed away in 1999 at the age of 91, coached at Temple from 1947-1973 and was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.

    “That was one of the proudest days of his life and mine,” said Harry’s widow Estelle Litwack, 80, of his induction. “He was very humble but extremely honored to be inducted and have his family there to support him.”

    Chaney was inducted into the Hall of Fame in October.

    “Chaney deserved it very much,” Litwack said. “I watch his games and he is a very emotional coach. Harry was much calmer and laid back. Obviously, they both got the job done in their own ways.”

    Both are known for their defenses — Chaney for the matchup zone and Litwack for developing the zone. But the two coaching styles were very different.

    Chaney is known for a loud, voracious approach, while Litwack sat back with a cigar in his mouth and more in his pocket.

    “He was one of the greatest mentors for all of our players and students at a time when they desperately needed someone,” Chaney said of Litwack.

    Chaney made sure before this season that Temple honored Litwack as much as they honored his own recent induction into the Hall.

    “I wanted to make sure that everything we did, as people try to honor me, that we find it possible to put him at the top,” Chaney said. “I should be at the bottom in terms of what he left behind.”

    Litwack was born in 1907 in Austria. He went to South Philadelphia High School from 1921-1925 and then onto Temple.

    He was the MVP and captain of the Temple team in 1928 and 1929. He then played for the Philadelphia SPHA’s of the Eastern and American Basketball Leagues from 1930-36 and helped the team win championships in both leagues.

    Litwack started coaching the Temple freshman team in 1931. He led the team to a 181-32 record over 16 seasons. He became the varsity head coach in 1947. He finished with a record of 373-193 and had only one losing season.

    His Owls went to 13 postseason tournaments and won the NIT title in 1969 and went to the NCAA Final Four in 1956 and 1958. Litwack is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, and the Big 5 Hall of Fame.

    From 1948-51, Litwack was also an assistant coach of the Philadelphia Warriors under Head Coach Eddie Gottlieb. Gottlieb was a mentor of Litwack’s, according to his wife.

    “Gottlieb taught Harry not only about the game of basketball but the game of life,” Litwack said. “If there was one way to describe Eddie to Harry, Eddie was his guardian angel.”

    Temple will do its part in honoring Chaney and Litwack tonight. The half-court circle at the Liacouras Center is already named after the pair.

    “The idea was to honor these two fine gentlemen in front of the Temple fans,” said Don Haskin, Temple’s associate athletic director for external affairs. “Many fans did not get to join us in welcoming Chaney to the Hall so this is their opportunity to be apart of it.”

    There will be a Pep Rally at McGonigle Hall at 5 p.m. and then the banner ceremony at 6:45 p.m. in the Liacouras Center.

    Temple Hall of Fame basketball players Bill “Pickles” Kennedy, Ollie Johnson, Jay Norman and John Baum will also be part of the ceremony. Chaney and the Litwack family will receive framed replica banners to commemorate the occasion.

    “I just wish Harry could be alive to see them honor him,” Litwack said. “He really never cared if anyone knew who he was. [But] I always made a point to say he is Harry Litwack.”

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