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The Legacy Of Late College Basketball Coach John Chaney


The college basketball world has lost a pioneering coach - John Chaney. He died on Friday at the age of 89. Chaney was born in Jacksonville, Fla., but he was an adopted son of Philadelphia, where he spent his life coaching basketball, including 24 years at Temple University. And he was, in the words of Tyler Tynes, an avatar of Black resilience, achievement and daring conviction. Tynes is a staff writer for The Ringer and joins us now.


TYLER TYNES: How are you doing?

CHANG: Good. You know, your piece is titled "The Gospel Of John Chaney." What exactly was John Chaney's gospel, in your view?

TYNES: Well, you know, to me, it's somebody who grew up on the north side of Philly in the '90s going into the early 2000s, you know? The gospel of John Chaney was really the book that all Philadelphians read by, you know? We are a small city with a brash, big heart and a - you know, as some people would describe it, a blue-collar town. And somebody like John Chaney, a son of Jacksonville, adopted by the city and becoming the best player in the public-school leagues in the '50s when he didn't have an opportunity to go to the NBA as an all-American - you think of a guy who just adopted our style immediately and brought it to the national forefront.

CHANG: Yeah.

TYNES: Those Temple teams were tough. They were ready to punch you in the mouth.

CHANG: (Laughter).

TYNES: They played a strong match-up zone. Chaney was an avatar for the city. He was us, you know? He was adopted by our city, but he became one of us overnight. And through 24 years at Temple University, he had folks thinking it was a HBCU.

CHANG: Yeah. Like, you write in your piece, quote, "for what felt like my entire life, there was no better brawler on behalf of the Black athlete than Chaney. He made the entire country believe in the excellence of Black boys forgotten by major universities, industries, cities and the rest of the world." I mean, being someone from North Philadelphia, tell us, like, what did coach Chaney mean to the Black boys of Philly?

TYNES: You know, he was one of us - a public league superstar, a guy who went to an HBCU, came back, made Cheyney University a Division II and another HBCU outside of Philly into a national champion. And so not only was he somebody who came in, adopted our swag, adopted who we were as a persona, as a city, but then he started to transform the mechanisms that were truly near and dear to North Philadelphia. And you didn't back away from that moment. You put your hands on the community. You gave food out to people who needed it. You helped people who didn't have homes. He was just genuinely a nice guy, a warm spirit, and he loved hard. For a lot of those kids, like Aaron McKie, Mark Macon, Chris Clark - guys like that - he took them in. He made them ball players. They ended up - you know, Aaron McKie, of course, ended up going to the NBA. And now he is the head coach of Temple University's basketball program.


TYNES: And so it's a full life cycle. And I'm just happy coach Chaney was able to see, as he referred to them, one of his sons take over and help continue to build the legacy he set forward.

CHANG: Well, part of Chaney's passion was also the fact that he could be confrontational. Like, there was this time he charged at the coach of an opposing team - John Calipari - shouting, I'll kill you. Can you talk about that side of Chaney?

TYNES: Chaney loved hard, man, right? John Chaney did that to John Calipari because John Chaney thought John Calipari was trying to cheat the game. Calipari was exiting the University of Massachusetts' locker room afterwards after speaking with the refs. And Chaney said, man, I just got blasted down in West Virginia for talking to the refs the wrong way. You've got a good team. You don't need to do stuff like this. Calipari tells him he didn't understand. And Chaney said, no, I'm going to make you understand.

CHANG: (Laughter).

TYNES: And then Chaney charged. He charged that lectern. He charged that lectern. Aaron McKie and the boys were making sure they're keeping him off of him. And so that's Chaney. And moments like that have happened frequently. And I think for the white press that did not appreciate John Chaney and did not like John Chaney and thought he showed grotesque versions of power - they showed this as the true side of who Chaney was. But in reality, in Philadelphia, when the white press would write horrible things about Chaney, he invited them to his 4:30, 5:30 a.m. practices in North Philly at McGonigle Hall so they could get a sneak peek into a national power. No one speaks about those moments of John Chaney, but the city knows it well.

CHANG: Tyler Tynes is a staff writer for The Ringer.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us today.

TYNES: Oh, yeah, thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUUSTAVV'S "CLOUDS ABOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.