Before he got off the court, his opening-night tie magically loosened, hanging on for dear life. As soon as Temple coach Aaron McKie got under the stands on his way to the locker room, his suit jacket came off, not to return.
The new Owls coach might not be a look-at-me type, but he is a tell-it-like-it-is guy. Yes, McKie is 1-0 lifetime. Yes, he’ll take it. Feels good, McKie said right away. The new man in charge at the Liacouras Center just isn’t counting on 2-0.
“A lot of emotions running through me throughout the week leading up to this, even throughout the day,’’ McKie said after Temple eventually put Drexel away Tuesday night, 70-62.
He’s found out what every coach realizes.
“As a player, you have some control over the outcome, sometimes,’’ McKie said. “You’re one of five out there on the floor, and you can control your nerves. But I realized right away, as a coach, sometimes you don’t have that luxury. It’s up to 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids to settle your nerves.”
His nerves did settle — “when the horn went off, at the end of the game," McKie said. "I just never felt settled. I didn’t like the way we were playing. It could have been the first home game. A lot of guys were trying to do too much.”
McKie immediately hit on how midway through the first half, his team had started to gain control of the game, taking a double-digit lead. It almost seemed that the Owls players suddenly thought maybe they could put on a little show on opening night. Drexel made a mockery of that in a hurry. This one was to be earned possession to possession.
The scattershot turnovers that came right there. Timeout to talk about plays they were trying to make that weren’t there.
“The main thing I put up on the board — I had a conversation with Coach Chaney this afternoon,’’ McKie said.
John Chaney, McKie’s own Temple coach, didn’t make it for this, although a who’s who of former Owls were right behind the bench. And McKie’s former boss Fran Dunphy was spotted in the upper deck.
“I’ll be watching. You know what I’ll be looking for,’’ Chaney had told McKie.
You couldn’t blame McKie for flashing to an “Oh, man. I know what he’s thinking,’’ even during the game. Chaney has that effect on people.
“It’s all I could think about during the course of the game ... not turning the ball over,’’ McKie said. “When you do that, especially against teams that convert, you beat yourself. We worked too hard to give a game away. If somebody’s going to beat you, you want them to beat you straight up.”
There’s always a fine line. McKie wants to push the pace a little bit more.
“It’s a risk that you take,’’ McKie said. “That’s part of the risk. … When you play faster, you run yourself into those situations. You’ve got to get used to playing at that type of pace.
"Not that we were playing at a breakneck pace. I was actually trying to get those guys to slow down. I want to play faster, but it’s something that we’ve got to work on.”
Frequent substituting, we found out, is a McKie thing.
“Guys looked like they were winded,’’ McKie said. “I was just trying to rotate fresh bodies in. Keep trying to find the combinations that were working for us. Guys would get out there and miss an assignment; you’re coming out. Miss a rebound, you’re coming out. No questions asked. They know that, and understand that.”
McKie liked his defense just fine. He thought Drexel had a lot to do with dictating how things worked out. Loose rebounds found the Dragons more than the Owls. That’s not happenstance. Temple players talked about it. They have big hopes for this season.
“If we don’t rebound, we can throw those out the window,’’ Owls forward J.P. Moorman said.
McKie said he likes to treat the coaching staff as a lot of hoops coaches do now, like a football staff, with Monte Ross in charge of the defense, Chris Clark in charge of the offense, and Jimmy Fenerty in charge of specialty plays. When there was a timeout, though, McKie jumped in the huddle and started talking. You didn’t detect any first-game uncertainty.
“I have the final say,’’ McKie said. “They give me ideas. I can say yea or nay. It’s their voice. We talk about that.”
Putting eyes on specific areas — “so everybody’s involved. The last thing you want to do as an assistant, you’re just sitting there, really just watching the game.”
McKie was asked about the tenor of his first halftime speech. Not the content, the tenor. At the break, McKie had moved off the floor as if it was another fast break, the score 31-31.
McKie laughed as he flashed back to his locker room.
“I didn’t like how the first half ended, so I went in there and gave them a big piece of my mind,’’ he said. “I don’t know if you can translate what that means. I let those guys know how I felt. … I thought we played like a selfish group. I thought everybody was out there trying to win the game on one play. That’s not how we practice. That’s not what we talked about throughout the summer.”
McKie went back to the idea of pace of play.
“We want to play with a good pace,’’ he said. “When I talk about pace, it’s really about we want to control the game. Control the pace of the game. We didn’t do that.
"I thought Drexel did a really good job of controlling pace. Every time they got an opportunity, they were advancing the ball, trying to make plays. They got some good looks, didn’t knock them down. They’re going to be a good team.”
Control what you can control. McKie got into his first postgame press conference, saw a familiar face holding a mini-camera.
“You’ve got that bright light on that camera?” McKie said.
The bright light dimmed.