Cue The Smoke Machine! La Salle Has Hired A 73-Year-Old Basketball Coach

I went to college intending to be a computer programmer, or maybe a teacher if I turned out to hate computer programming. The one thing I didn’t really intend on doing was writing. But I went to an informational meeting about the school paper, picked the sports staff because the editor had gone to my high school, and that was that. I fell in love with it. I became a sports editor at one point. I ended up trying to do everything.

I covered a lot of sports at school, but my favorite by far was men’s basketball. Penn was pretty good in those days—they were in the mix for the Ivy League title every year, even the year they started 0-8, and went to the NCAA Tournament twice—and covering them made me feel like a real, adult professional journalist. On press row we’d sit next to reporters who actually got paid to write about the same stuff we were covering. We’d travel to away games, stay over in hotels, and resist the urge to cheer from press row. (The only time I remember cheering was when my friend Dave Zeitlin and I bet on the little kids playing basketball at halftime of a Penn/Yale game. I won.) I like to think of it as the start of my career. My head is full of fond memories of this time, including ones in which I didn’t win five bucks from my buddy.

Penn’s coach at the time was Fran Dunphy—he’s pictured above in 2003, when I covered him and his team—and I thought I got adult treatment from him, too. I actually appreciated when coaches complained when we wrote something they didn’t like. Maybe I was wrong! I was just a teenager! But Dunphy actually criticized something I wrote about him at an NCAA tournament press conference in 2003 and while I don’t think I was necessarily wrong—my memory is a little hazy, but I think he just took something the wrong way—I was also flattered. The coach was reading my work and responding to it. Maybe I’m remembering this too fondly; It’s hard to think of a college coach who has come off well by going after some college junior for being insufficiently deferential. But I actually thought this was true of all a lot of the coaches I covered during my time covering college hoops: Dunphy, John Chaney of Temple, Phil Martelli of Saint Joseph’s, even Jay Wright of Villanova all gave a kid the time of day.

When I was a freshman, Dunphy almost took the La Salle job after the 2000-01 season. He decided to stay. (He’d played for La Salle.) He eventually left for Temple, Penn with a 310–163 record and nine NCAA tournament appearances. He’d go 270–162 at Temple, getting to the tournament another eight times, although the last one was a First Four. Dunphy announced his retirement before the 2018-19 season, when he was 69, with assistant Aaron McKie (a former Temple player himself) taking over after the season. McKie is still Temple’s coach. Everyone that cared about Philadelphia basketball figured, quite reasonably, that Dunphy was retired.

You’d still see him around, though. People in basketball never seem to disappear. I saw Dunphy at both La Salle games I attended this past season, as he did color commentary for them on the radio occasionally. In 2020 he was named Temple’s interim athletic director. And now, at age, 73, the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Mike Jensen reports Dunphy will finally take that La Salle job after all. The school fired Ashley Howard after the season. Already the first man to coach two Big Five schools, Dunphy will now become the first person to coach three.

Jensen’s report of the deal includes some strange details, such as that Dunphy wanted someone else to take the job:

According to multiple sources, Dunphy is taking the job after he himself tried to convince several others, including former assistant Matt Langel, now Colgate’s successful head coach, to take it. Dunphy’s concern, one alumnus close to him said, is for the institution itself, beyond the basketball program.

Dunphy’s hire seems to be an attempt to set the team up for the future, as odd as it may sound. The school recently hired Daniel J. Allen, a prodigious fundraiser, as president. He’s already embarking on his new campaign: In 2013, candy maker and La Salle alum John Glaser died; $6.2 million of his estate would go to La Salle for a new or renovated arena, as long as it began construction by 2023. Dunphy appears to be the guy who is going to help push donations. “Several sources said Dunphy is the one who could make phone calls and get old guard alumni supporting the program again,” Jensen wrote.

Dunphy will have a tough job on the court, too. At least five La Salle players from last year are currently in the transfer portal; the team currently has no commits for next season. They’ll likely have to retool through the transfer portal themselves. It seems like it will be a tough job, but Dunphy seems to have a thing for those. Or maybe it’s more that he doesn’t know how to stop caring about this stuff.

Either way, I will be happy to see him back on the sidelines. Hopefully I can even write something to piss him off again. Is the headline on this post mean enough?

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