John Chaney, the legendary former Temple Men’s basketball coach and beloved mentor, has passed away at age 89, Temple University confirmed Friday.
The hoops icon began his coaching career at local high schools and rose through the ranks to become one Philadelphia’s winningest athletics figures.
Chaney’s first college coaching position was at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, a historically Black college, where he won a Division II national championship in 1978. He moved to Temple in 1982.
There, Chaney made a name for himself with his “leave it all on the floor” approach — a style that landed the Owls in the NCAA Tournament 17 times in 23 winning seasons during his 24- year tenure.
Chaney’s brash style made him famous. His early morning practices became a personal brand — a reflection of his dedication to both the sport and the players he led. Even in the face of pushback, the coach gave Proposition 48 players, who did not meet the SAT criteria, a chance to play.
From former Sixer and current Owls head coach, Aaron McKie, to NBA swingman, Eddie Jones, Chaney’s impact on players off the court cannot be overstated. In a 2019 interview with The Athletic, he said that he simply wanted to be remembered as “someone who cared.”
“Coach Chaney was like a father to me,” McKie said in a statement. “He taught not just me, but all of his players, more than just how to succeed in basketball. He taught us life lessons to make us better individuals off the court. I owe so much to him. He made me the man I am today.”
In a 2020 interview with The Inquirer’s Mike Jensen, Chaney commended people taking part in anti-racism protests over the summer.
Chaney was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.
Since the first reports of his death, reactions have poured in from throughout the basketball world:
The Sixers described him as “one of the preeminent Black coaches in the game.” The barrier-breaker was a “mentor and father figure to countless players and coaches in our city,” the team said.
(2/2) He was one of the preeminent Black coaches in the game, and more than that, he was a mentor and father figure to countless players and coaches in our city.— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 29, 2021
Our sincerest condolences go out to the Chaney family and the Temple basketball community. He will be missed. pic.twitter.com/JB6iF8Vy2r
Growing up in North Philadelphia, Danny Pommells, now an anchor and reporter at NBC Sports Philadelphia, said that he didn’t initially “get” Chaney’s strict rules.
“But what you come to realize as you get older is he’s trying to instill in them a foundation of getting after things that you want to achieve and being forthright and determined and working hard for what’s important to you,” Pommells said.
Pommells was a student reporter at Temple during Chaney’s tenure. He got the chance to interview Chaney after the death of Wilt Chamberlain. To his surprise, Chaney joked with the budding reporter and made him feel at ease.
“And I came in. I introduced myself and he shook my hand, and it was … the fact that he took me serious validated me as a journalist and it empowered me,” Pommells said.
Pommells believes that the coach’s impact reaches far beyond the hardwood.
“I think he obviously represented the epitome of leadership as his role, leading these young men, a lot of them being kids who have never been or exposed to this type of platform that the Temple University basketball team will provide because of the national spotlight the winning tradition, and then taking those kids and trying to show them life through basketball,” Pommells said.
John Calipari, University of Kentucky basketball coach and former rival turned friend, described him as a “molder of young men” and the “ultimate competitor.”
Coach Chaney’s ability to coach hard, yet build trust and teach life lessons, is unmatched in our profession, in my opinion. Although we were competitors, it’s what I admired most about him.— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) January 29, 2021
ESPN’s Jay Bilas recalled early-morning lectures “like sermons” to inspire his players.
RIP to the great John Chaney, the iconic former Temple coach. Chaney was an American original. I absolutely loved talking with him, including his early morning practices where he had a lecture for his players that would rival any sermon. A great, great man. pic.twitter.com/bzLEBuBXvc— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) January 29, 2021
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