PHILADELPHIA (AP) – John Chaney’s raspy, booming voice drowned out the gym when he scolded Temple players over a turnover – at the top of his basketball sins – or inferior effort. His voice was loudest when it came to picking unpopular ﬁghts, lashing out at NCAA policies he said discriminated against Black athletes. And it could be profane when Chaney let his own sense of justice get the better of him with ﬁery confrontations that threatened to undermine his role as father ﬁgure to scores of his underprivileged players.
Complicated, cranky, quick with a quip, Chaney was an imposing presence on the court and a court jester off it, all while building the Owls perched in rugged North Philadelphia into one of the toughest teams in the nation.
“He wrapped his arms around you and made you a part of his family,” said Chaney’s successor, Fran Dunphy. Chaney died Friday, just eight days after his 89th birthday, after a short, unspeciﬁed illness.
Chaney led Temple to 17 NCAA Tournament appearances over 24 seasons, including ﬁve NCAA regional ﬁnals. Chaney had 741 wins as a college coach. He was twice named national coach of the year and his teams at Temple won six Atlantic 10 conference titles. He led Cheyney, in suburban Philadelphia, to the 1978 Division II national championship.
When Chaney retired in 2006, the scowl was gone, the dark, deep-set eyes concealed behind sunglasses, and the over-the-top personality turned subdued: “Excuse me while I disappear,” he said.
He became a de facto father to dozens of his players, many coming to Temple from broken homes, violent upbringings and bad schools. He often said his biggest goal was simply to give poor kids a chance to get an education. He said the SAT was culturally biased and he joined Georgetown’s John Thompson – another giant in the Black coaching community, who died in August – in denouncing NCAA academic requirements that seemed to single out “the youngster who is from a poor, disadvantaged background.
Chaney arrived at Temple before the 1982-83 season. sitting in one of Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods, Temple was the perfect match for a coach who prided himself on helping players turn their basketball skills into college degrees.
BEST PLAYER TOO
He was 50 and already had success at Cheyney State University, where he had a record of 225-59 in 10 seasons. Chaney was born on Jan. 21, 1932, in Jacksonville, Fla. He lived in a neighborhood there called Black Bottom, where, he said, flooding rains would bring in rats. When he was in the ninth grade, his family moved to Philadelphia, where his stepfather got a job at a shipyard.
Though known as a Hall of Fame coach, he also was one of the best players ever to come out of Philadelphia. He was the Philadelphia Public League player of the year in 1951 at Benjamin Franklin High School.
A graduate of Bethune-Cookman College, he was an NAIA All-American and an NAIA tournament MVP before going pro in 1955 to play with the Harlem Globetrotters. With black players still being discriminated against in the NBA, he spent 1955 to 1966 in the Eastern Pro League with Sunbury and Williamsport, where he was a two-time league MVP.
“He knew what I needed when I started coaching. He just fostered that and allowed me to grow and allowed me to make mistakes and was there to pick me up when things weren’t working out as I thought they should,” said South Carolina coach and former Owls coach Dawn Staley. “Everybody in their lives, whether they’re in coaching, outside of coaching, or whatever profession, needs a person like coach Chaney in their life.”