Imagine the expectations. Imagine the criticism. Imagine the pressure.
Imagine what Fran Dunphy must have gone through during his first two years at the helm of Temple’s men’s basketball program.
His predecessor, former Owls coach John Chaney, was an institution at Temple University for 24 years. As much as any other administrator, Board of Trustees member or alumnus, his numerous contributions, on-and-off the court, undoubtedly helped make this university what it is today.
Then, after more than two decades, this iconic figure is gone. And in the years leading up to his exit, the program that he guided to 17 consecutive NCAA Tournaments between 1984 and 2001, is in the midst of a slow-but-sure decline.
Now, here you come. And here comes the second-guessing.
You’ve got the pedigree, leading the University of Pennsylvania to 10 Ivy League Championships and nine NCAA Tournament appearances in 17 years — but can you have the same success at this level?
Can you attract top recruits?
Can you change the culture of the program?
Can you do it? And can you do it quickly?
Well, after leading the Owls to the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship last Saturday, earning Temple its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001, Dunphy could give a simple, two-word response to those critics’ questions.
But, of course, even after leading Temple to a second-place finish in the A-10 standings after a 6-10 conference record last year, he wouldn’t say that.
Dunphy’s too much of a class act to ever do anything like that. That’s why he’s the leader of a revived college basketball program and not an ignorant sports columnist for a student newspaper.
From day one, Dunphy has stood under the glare of taking over a program marked in Chaney’s fingerprints. He’s never shied away from that glare, if anything, he’s embraced it.
From day one, he’s embraced the challenge. The challenge of replacing a legend. And his peers have taken notice of what he’s accomplished.
“He went to [Temple] and started a program,” Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said after his team lost to the Owls in the A-10 Championship game. “That’s not knocking John Chaney. John Chaney’s entity at Temple ended and then Fran Dunphy came in and he changed the mindset. He changed the mindset of how to play offense and how to play defense.
“John Chaney’s program is in the Hall of Fame with John Chaney,” Martelli said. “This is a new setting.”
A new setting, indeed. And a flourishing one at that.
But, as Martelli pointed out, Chaney hasn’t – and will never be – forgotten. Nor should he ever be.
The characteristics of his legacy – hard work, dedication, discipline – live on through Dunphy.
And the players who played for both coaches appear to respect and appreciate both men equally.
“I learned a lot my first two years under coach Chaney, who was a great mentor and a great coach [and] I learned a lot under coach Dunphy,” senior Chris Clark said.
In a marathon press conference following Temple’s victory over St. Joe’s Saturday, Dunphy praised the senior leadership of Clark and Mark Tyndale.
The exhaustion of two years’ worth of work quietly etched across his face, he answered every question honestly, intelligently and thoughtfully.
When it was over, he stood up from his chair and accepted a congratulatory phone call from none other than coach Chaney.
Imagine what it felt like.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.