John Chaney’s Message Was Always Clear, in Support of Black Athletes

The metaphors and the stories would find a particular resonance in the homes of recruits who were raised by their grandparents, those who could nod knowingly about a college degree — more so than basketball — being a route out of poverty.

While visiting a recruit, Chaney would ask for a show of hands for anybody in the family who had attended college. Invariably, the only one would be the prospect. Chaney readily took players who had to sit out a year because they did not qualify academically under the rule he protested. Some were like Eddie Jones, who had a lengthy N.B.A. career, and others were like Ernie Pollard, who became a cop and runs a Police Athletic League basketball program in North Philadelphia. Another, Aaron McKie, is now Temple’s coach.

“If grandparents were in the home and they were strong with the recruit, you felt like it was over before it began,” Leibovitz said. “He’d be in the kitchen talking about the South or gumbo recipes. He promised that they’d be pushed and have a chance to graduate. He’d say, ‘I’m not going to stick a lollipop in your mouth, I’m going to coach you like a man.’”

Those old-school sensibilities, though, sometimes veered over the line.

Chaney made national news when he stormed into a news conference after Temple had narrowly lost to Massachusetts and charged at the opposing coach, John Calipari, shouting “I’ll kill you,” before he was restrained. Years later, he was suspended for sending a player into the game to rough up rival St. Joseph’s — leading to a St. Joseph’s player breaking an arm in a hard fall, which enraged Hawks Coach Phil Martelli.

A Philadelphia sportswriter brokered a meeting between the two coaches.

“It was almost like a mob movie — they emptied the restaurant and put the two of us behind a screened off portion,” said Martelli, now an assistant at Michigan. “We talked it out.”

Chaney, who had said publicly he was upset about hard screens by St. Joseph’s, told Martelli the real reason: A witness in a deposition about irregularities in Temple’s program said he had spoken to Martelli. What Chaney didn’t know was that in the deposition, the witness had also said that Martelli did not know anything.

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