This year’s Coaches Vs. Cancer breakfast, the morning after Selection Sunday. Full tables on the Palestra floor, the City 6 coaches on a dais. Also up there, Villanova radio analyst Whitey Rigsby. Asked for his March Madness picks, Rigsby proved he still knows how to scan the whole court. He spotted a lone figure who had just slipped in, maybe an hour after the breakfast began, sitting against the bleachers across the way.
“Fran Dunphy is a little late this morning,” Rigsby deadpanned to the crowd. “Someone should write that down on a list somewhere.”
In fact, Dunphy had started the morning in Indianapolis, after helping choose the NIT field late into the night before, before grabbing a sunrise flight home so he could get over to the Palestra.
The question right now, as La Salle brings in a favorite son to coach the Explorers, isn’t whether Dunphy, at age 73, has the energy for the job. That’s never the question with this man.
“He came to 20 of our practices this year,” said Bobby Hughes, the men’s coach at Division III Rosemont.
» READ MORE: La Salle hires Fran Dunphy as men’s basketball coach
Another college coach said Dunphy was probably at more high school games this season than any of the current Big 5 head coaches.
“He is a basketball maniac,” one college coach said.
His age will be used against him on the recruiting trail. How long is he going to coach? And just getting everywhere at Temple didn’t always land him targeted recruits. (And there were some misses for sure, on players they should have targeted.) At La Salle, it only gets harder. A former Explorers staffer told me recently that he once did an analysis based on resources that showed, based solely on those resources, La Salle should win 3.4 games a year.
“3.4 A-10 games?” I said.
“No, 3.4 games,” he said.
So here’s the bar La Salle folks should hope Dunphy can get the program over: Can he get enough resources into the program and help get an arena project completed so that the next coach can hope to sometimes get into the top half of the Atlantic 10?
Dunphy can coach. Penn wasn’t at the top of the Ivy League when he took over the Quakers. It was consistently when he left. Temple folks, understandably spoiled by the Hall of Fame success of John Chaney, didn’t all take to the new man, and correctly pointed out Dunphy never got the Owls to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, which is a true and serious hole in his resume, and even a fair measure of success coming off the Chaney era, which featured five Elite Eight appearances.
Let’s also point out, however, that during Dunphy’s first five seasons at Temple, he won more than John Chaney did in his last five seasons (a lot more, 110 to 85), and in his last three seasons on North Broad Street, Dunphy made it to the NCAA Tournament once and the NIT once, which Aaron McKie didn’t do either of in his first three seasons.
Not saying that Temple fans weren’t allowed to expect more. But maybe there were more factors in play than just the coaching ability of the head coach?
So I’m in the tank for Dunphy? Guilty. He can be a pain in the butt to cover. Doesn’t give you much. Gave me nothing during this coaching search, per usual. Never even acknowledged his own interest. (Great in retirement, though. “If there’s a good Swarthmore game you’re planning to get to, let me know,” he told me once.)
He’s not easy to play for, in the sense that he’s old school in making demands of his players, and old school in his vocabulary when he’s cupping his hands around his mouth. But I’ve never seen former players more loyal to a coach than Dunphy’s guys are to Dunphy. Away from the court, good luck finding a better person to represent your family, your civic enterprise, your place of employment. The tireless side of Dunphy extends to being on half of the funeral viewing lines extending around this region.
This is a tough job, beyond tough. But Dunphy agreed to be Temple’s interim athletic director just after the pandemic all but shut life down. That was legit crazy to accept that. Agreeing to coach the sport he loves at his alma mater must be a trip to the Bahamas compared to that.
Getting the right staff will be paramount, strong teachers who know both the recruiting scene and the ins and outs of the transfer portal. I admit I didn’t think of Dunphy first when I thought of candidates for this job. But I didn’t go to La Salle. I didn’t quite understand how much his name still resonated around 20th and Olney.
You could ask why La Salle athletic director Brian Baptiste didn’t follow a time-honored path of finding an up-and-coming coach. My thought: Baptiste is on a pass-fail mission at La Salle. Get the arena renovation done or at least going, Baptiste is a viable candidate for tons of bigger jobs. He’s not allowed to fail. This moves all that closer.
As for wins and losses this season and next … beats me. You just shouldn’t sell this man too short. A former local coach told me he did just that when he took over, he figured he could simply outwork Dunphy, since this coach planned to work hard. He found out soon enough, he said, that task was impossible. Keeping up with this man was a good day.