Dunphy's Philadelphia Story

Penn fans saluted former coach Fran Dunphy before last week's emotional Big Five game against Temple, where Dunphy now coaches.
Penn fans saluted former coach Fran Dunphy before last week's emotional Big Five game against Temple, where Dunphy now coaches. (By Rusty Kennedy -- Associated Press)
By John Feinstein
Sunday, January 28, 2007


At the end of a long day and a long night, Fran Dunphy got almost exactly what he wanted.

"I understand why the focus is on me," he had said, standing a few feet from his locker room before his new team, Temple, faced his old team, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday night at the Palestra. "But it really should be on the kids playing the game. It should be on those kids from Penn I got to coach, and it should be on the kids I'm coaching now. I know pregame it won't be that way, but once the game starts, that's the way it ought to be."

Amazingly, on a historic night in college basketball's most historic building, that's the way it turned out. What made the night unique was Dunphy. Last April, he became the first coach to jump from one of Philadelphia's Big Five schools to another. After 17 wildly successful years at Penn -- 10 Ivy League titles and 310 victories -- he couldn't turn down the chance to almost triple his salary and take over a program that has been one game from the Final Four as recently as 2001, all without having to move.

Which is why, when he walked into the Palestra on Wednesday, there were camera crews and photographers recording his every step and every word. The first person to greet him was his successor, Glen Miller, who was standing a few feet from the home locker room when Dunphy walked in, no doubt wanting to be sure Dunphy didn't take a wrong turn en route to the tiny visitors' locker room at the other end of the court.

"The funny thing is, Fran and I have coached against each other in this building a bunch," said Miller, who spent eight years at Brown. "The difference tonight is, I get the good locker room."

Dunphy didn't seem to mind, even if the visitors' locker room at the Palestra is slightly smaller than a walk-in closet and considerably darker. He is 58, someone who always has been respected by his peers, and finds himself facing a new challenge at a time in his life when he could have kept coaching Penn and contending for the Ivy League title every year until he was ready to retire. But there was a sense that he had maxed out, that making the NCAA tournament, perhaps winning a game, was the best he could expect.

"It just seemed the right fit," he said of the move to Temple. "It isn't all that different a job. I still have to recruit, I still have to watch a lot of tape, I'm still working with kids. I've always felt that coaching, getting paid to coach, was a privilege. I felt it at Penn. I feel it now."

Of course, he is being paid considerably more (reportedly close to $800,000 annually, compared with about $300,000 at Penn), and he will be expected to take Temple back to the heights it climbed during John Chaney's highly successful and equally controversial 26 years at the school. Five times, Chaney took Temple to a region final of the NCAA tournament, never making the Final Four. But the Owls hadn't been to the tournament since 2001, and Chaney had been involved in numerous eyebrow-raising incidents -- including his admission two years ago that he ordered one of his players to hurt an opponent in a game against Saint Joseph's.

Enter Dunphy, the anti-Chaney in many ways. If he has an enemy in college basketball, no one knows who he is. Jack Scheuer, the venerable Associated Press basketball writer who has covered every coach in Big Five history, says simply that Dunphy is "my all-time favorite -- and that has nothing to do with his coaching ability."

For years, Scheuer has organized pickup games played at the Palestra on Wednesdays at noon.

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