It's difficult sometimes to write colorfully about Fran Dunphy. At the least, Temple's head basketball coach is not the type to write your story for you. Dunphy was in the Army, and while he isn't quite a name, rank and serial number guy, he doesn't give up too much.
Thursday was a bit different. Dunphy has been named the fourth winner of the Dean Smith Award by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, given to an individual who embodies the spirit and values of the late North Carolina coaching legend.
That name on the award would mean something to any coach, and it clearly did to the Owls coach, who was given a likeness of Smith at Thursday's Coaches vs. Cancer preseason luncheon.
What Dunphy did for much of his acceptance speech was talk about Smith, what Smith meant to his profession, how Smith "taught all of us how to do the right thing."
Dunphy gave a personal example — how he had been La Salle's third assistant coach when Smith brought his North Carolina Tar Heels to the Palestra; how, before the game, as the coaching staffs shook hands, Smith said, "Fran, have a great game tonight."
Dunphy joked about how he was supposed to chart the offense, and when the game got to halftime, he'd written down nothing. Dean Smith knows my name.
Later, he got to thinking about what Smith had done, how Smith had no idea about the name of the third La Salle assistant, but had taken the time to look up the staff in the media guide. "He knew that if he said my name, I was never going to forget it."
Dunphy said he stole that little trick. Not that every third assistant is going to remember the time Fran Dunphy knew his name, but it was a little thing to show respect.
(In the audience, Palestra legend Dan Harrell mentioned that he had once been at a Marines Corps scholarship dinner attended by 200 people, and Dunphy seemed to know all 200 by name. Harrell asked Dunphy how he did it. "Bartending,'' Dunphy told him.)
Dunphy related one other interaction with Smith, how Dunphy, by then Penn's head coach, was told Coach Smith was there to see him.
"Who might that be?" Dunphy said.
Uh, Dean Smith, was the answer.
It turned out Smith's daughter went to Penn, and the coach didn't feel he should step on the campus without checking in with Penn's coach. Another simple, little gesture.
Dunphy, who is starting his final season at Temple, received this award because the national basketball writers realized this Philly guy is another master of the simple gesture, that it's nothing to turn around on a viewing line to see him waiting to pay his respects.
I'm not trying to paint Dunphy as some kind of secular saint. Any of his players could tell you about his colorful vocabulary. He can be stubborn to a fault. But this award so obviously got it right. Whatever his faults, Dunphy always could see outside his own shadow.
Talking about his Delaware County upbringing: "We were taught not to judge anybody, not to prejudge anybody. Everyone has a song to sing."
Dunphy saluted retired St. Joseph's athletic director Don DiJulia — who probably was on that same viewing line — another guy who taught his generation of coaches and administrators how it was done. Thursday, DiJulia was presented with the Champions Award by Coaches vs. Cancer. Hawks coach Phil Martelli, who has honchoed the local group's efforts with Dunphy, noted that since the group formed in 1996, it has had 65 breakfasts, lunches, galas, and golf outings — raising $15 million, the most of any city in the country — and that only DiJulia made it to all 65.
Martelli and Dunphy had each missed one — "Jay missed one because he was meeting the Pope," Martelli said, looking at Jay Wright as the City Six coaches assembled on the dais.
DiJulia remembered how 12 people showed up at the first luncheon, how they'd walked out to the parking lot to see whether anyone else was coming. Nobody was.
Thursday, 500 people were in the room. More than a couple of tables were there for Dunphy, including his Malvern Prep coach, Dan Dougherty, who later hired Dunphy as his grad assistant when Dougherty was the head coach at Army.
Dougherty noted that Dunphy was at the Presidio in San Francisco, next stop Vietnam, when a couple of calls were made, and he was reassigned to West Point.
There was a knock on Dougherty's door in the middle of a snowstorm.
"My mother thanks you,'' said the familiar man at the door. "My father thanks you."
Listening to Dougherty tell the story was another former Army head coach, Zach Spiker, now Drexel's coach.
Sportswriting legend Dick "Hoops" Weiss introduced Dunphy, noting that he merely goes back with Dunphy to the Llanerch Hills Little League.
"He was a strong player,'' Weiss said. "I wasn't."
That's Philly. If you think you go back with him, somebody two seats away probably goes back longer.