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Mike Wise

There's Only One Way Out

By Mike Wise
Saturday, February 26, 2005; Page D01

In college basketball and beyond, iconic coaching figures emerge and take on labels. Bob Knight, angry bad guy. Gary Williams, neurotic good guy. John Chaney, passion-play good guy.

When the bad guys do good things, when the myths we create are challenged, evidence to the contrary is ditched. If Knight graduates all his players until he retires, he is still seen as an overbearing bully. The myth-building motors on, in both directions.


Temple's John Chaney has been involved in more than one disturbing incident the past 20 years. (Jeff Swinger -- The Cincinnati Enquirer Via AP)

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So when Chaney instructs one of his players, whom he called a "goon," to commit hard fouls Tuesday that resulted in an injury that might have ended the collegiate career of a St. Joe's senior, we're told Chaney is a well-meaning, outspoken legend who got carried away in the moment.

He is given leeway because of his longevity and Hall of Fame credentials, for what Chaney has meant to Temple and the game.

People aren't seeing him for who he is: the coach who essentially ordered a Code Red. We hear about Chaney being from the 'bow-in-the-throat school of basketball -- that you have to be nasty and physical to win at the Division I level -- and those who don't see it that way can't handle the truth.

The truth is, John Chaney does not need to be suspended for the remainder of the regular season and return for the Atlantic-10 Conference tournament next month. He needs to step down. Chaney, 73, needs to resign from Temple; continuing at this point would be a larger blemish on his distinguished 33-year career.

He disgraced the game and the university he professes to love, and the consequence should be what it would be for any coach who sanctions violence on the court: his job.

Temple suspended Chaney yesterday for the remainder of the Owls' regular season, which amounts to two measly games more than Chaney suspended himself. In a prepared statement, Atlantic 10 Commissioner Linda Bruno said, in part, "Coach Chaney's actions were completely unacceptable to the membership of the Atlantic 10, and he is aware that our Code of Conduct states any further behavior that does not reflect the standards of our conference will have severe consequences."

Unacceptable to the Atlantic 10? How about society? The replays are downright incriminating. Did you see the poor kid, John Bryant from nearby Woodridge, who was sent to the hospital with a nondisplaced fracture of the right arm by another poor kid, Nehemiah Ingram? Ingram is labeled a thug today because he did what his coach told him to do. He obeyed a direct order from his superior, who has say over whether Ingram's scholarship is renewed.

The 6-foot-8, 250-pound reserve went out to hack, if not hurt, the other team. He was a hand grenade in high-tops, picking up his allotted five fouls in four minutes. In the vein of omnipotent college coaches, Chaney made himself immediate judge and jury -- suspending himself for one game before his school stepped in. He described his actions as "reprehensible," an act of self-awareness that seems unlikely from an autocrat such as Knight.

If this were an isolated incident, Chaney would deserve no more than the slap on the wrist he has received. But this is part of a disturbing pattern of behavior for the Temple coach, going back more than 20 years. He has taken the Philly street-tough mantra too far too many times.

Chaney grabbed former George Washington coach Gerry Gimelstob by the throat in 1984 because he didn't like the actions of one of GW's players. Ten years later, Chaney got into an ugly argument with John Calipari after a Temple-Massachusetts game. That footage is frightening. It shows a deranged Chaney, his droopy eyes red with fury, threatening to kill Calipari.

If Chaney had perpetrated only a few crimes of passion, he would deserve to stay at Temple. Name a legendary college coach who has not blown his gasket. But there is a premeditation here that calls for real self-examination Chaney cannot find on the Temple sideline anymore.

The day before he sent Ingram out as an enforcer, Chaney was on a conference call with reporters. He bemoaned what he called illegal screens set by Saint Joseph's players and said he would dispatch "one of my goons and have him run through one of those guys and chop him in the neck or something."

And this isn't the first time. Remember the physical, 1993 NCAA West Region final? The day before the Michigan-Temple game in a news conference, Chaney asked his freshman brute of a center, William Cunningham, "William, are you going to attack Chris Webber?"

"Answer," the coach said to his embarrassed player.

"Yes," Cunningham said.

Chaney raised his hands. "We win," he said. Temple went out and obliterated the line between aggressive and dirty before losing.

Chaney is not Pat Riley dispatching a ruffian to dirty up an NBA game in the name of aggressiveness. He is part of a university faculty, a teacher responsible for the development of young men between the ages of about 18 and 22. They're ballplayers, not soldiers. Heated city rivalries and Philly's nasty reputation aside, none of them came to Temple to break arms.

Bryant was an invaluable role player for the Hawks with virtually no scholarship offers out of high school. He already had finished his degree in management information systems and was playing his final year of eligibility as a graduate student. His parents are headed up to visit him this weekend. It would not be surprising if they considered legal action.

When the subject is iconic coaching figures, complexities are hard to see; it's much easier to take comfort in the uniformity of the legend.

Chaney has done so much in and out of the game. A pioneer in the black coaching community, a man of conviction who has spoken out against racial injustice and been highly critical of the Bush administration, Chaney has nurtured thousands of kids over the years. Three active coaches have more victories than Chaney's 721 wins -- Knight, Arizona's Lute Olsen and Eddie Sutton of Oklahoma State.

It's much easier to say Chaney is one of the good guys, that his behavior Tuesday was an aberration, that this most recent episode is an unfortunate but acceptable byproduct of the same passion that has resulted in so much good during Chaney's career.

But when your program is becoming more renowned for thuggery than it is for your matchup zone -- when you send kids on the court to rough up other kids after threatening to do so the day before -- you must do the right thing and step aside, even if you're a legend such as John Chaney.


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