Cornell's Steve Donahue, Temple's Fran Dunphy have friendship that will outlast NCAA tournament

Cornell Coach Steve Donahue, left, and Temple Coach Fran Dunphy go way back; their teams meet today.
Cornell Coach Steve Donahue, left, and Temple Coach Fran Dunphy go way back; their teams meet today. (Wilfredo Lee/associated Press)
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By John Feinstein
Friday, March 19, 2010

JACKSONVILLE, FLA.

Steve Donahue remembers the first time he met Fran Dunphy. Not surprisingly, it was on a basketball court.

"All the Philly guys used to play at this one court on Eighth Street and Avalon," Donahue said Thursday afternoon, soon after his Cornell team had practiced at Veterans Memorial Arena. "There was a group of us, all bad Division III players, all little guys. We called ourselves the 'gnats.' We're playing Dunph's team. He was a few years out of college but he'd been a big-time player [at La Salle] and could still play.

"I took the ball from Dunph and fouled him in the process. He didn't say a word. He would never call a foul. But the rest of the game he was so angry and intense the rest of the game I knew there was absolutely no way we were going to win."

Dunphy's version of the story is different: "I have no memory of it at all," he said laughing. "But then Stevie's got a better memory than I do."

On Friday, Donahue and Dunphy will be on opposite benches here when Dunphy's fifth-seeded Temple team plays Donahue's 12th-seeded Cornell team in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Both men are thrilled to be playing in the tournament. Neither is happy to have to face the other.

"I was standing outside the room when our name came up on Sunday," Dunphy said. "Someone came out and said we were a five seed. I said, 'Yeah, and we're playing Cornell, right?' "

Right. Donahue, who at 47 is 14 years younger than his old boss, was more surprised. "I thought for sure Temple would be at least a four seed," he said. "I mean look at the season [29-5] they had. I didn't think we'd be a 13, so I didn't think we'd play them.

"CBS had asked me to sit right in the middle and be ready to react when we went up on the board. When I saw we were playing Temple I was so stunned I didn't react at all. Everyone else was jumping around and I was just sitting there."

Dunphy and Donahue spent 10 years working together at Pennsylvania. Donahue was friends with Fran O'Hanlon, then Dunphy's top assistant, and when a volunteer coaching job opened in 1991, O'Hanlon recommended Donahue.

"I told him, 'I can pay you very little, in fact I can pay you a lot less than very little,' " Dunphy said. "Fortunately he really wanted to coach. I was lucky to get him."

For five years Donahue's job was to coach, but his income came as a salesman for MAB paints. It was only after O'Hanlon left to become the head coach at Lafayette in 1995 that Donahue went on the Penn payroll. Five years after that, he was Dunphy's top assistant when the Cornell job opened. Cornell had been -- to put it mildly -- down for a long time in an Ivy League dominated by Penn and Princeton. Dunphy encouraged Donahue to pursue the job.


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