They should be pissed off.
As the party makes its way from the upper-crust Main Line to hard-scrabble Center City this Friday, celebrating in parade fashion a 2015-16 national championship for the Villanova University men’s basketball program, a suburban entity staking its claim as the holy grail for Philadelphia’s long-suffering sports fan base, heck, yeah, they should be ticked off … to red-faced Tom Coughlin extremes.
Of all the slaps to the face Temple University, its administration, its alumni, its student body, its own men’s basketball program and its supporters have endured, this one tops ’em all in the last 31 years, which marks the last time the same damn thing happened.
Not for nothing, but no way in hell, heaven or anywhere else should ’Nova ever be able to brag about being the city’s primary college basketball team, never mind a saving grace to the entire region in these difficult times for those who bleed any assortment of colors attributed to the city’s foundering professional franchises. It is a mere fraction of Temple’s size, both in current and graduated bodies, has a far lesser on-campus facility at its disposal and none of the state funding the Owls receive to back a single thing, hoops or otherwise.
Yet, here it will be, downtown, rejoicing with its people and bandwagoners, all “outsiders” taking over, while the college basketball team at the biggest school in the actual city resides a mere 2 miles up Broad Street from the culmination of the proceedings in Dilworth Park.
So, they damn well better be pissed off, ticked off and any other off imaginable up there, and anywhere else the Cherry & White’s athletic fortunes make the heart skip a beat … and they ought to be embarrassed, too.
Because this, all of it, the fading of the Owls’ program, the Wildcats winning favor in town, and the latest freakin’ ticker-tape caravan, is their own fault.
Fear, mediocrity and the acceptance of that have essentially KO’d what had been a proud and, frankly, prodigious program. Heck, even today it ranks sixth nationally in all-time wins, trailing only Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and top cat Kentucky.
But, as Friday will hammer home, it also ranks no better than No. 2 in its own city … to a team from the ’burbs.
Temple’s fall, ironically, coincided with the start of Villanova’s rise 15 years ago. While the latter was busy making a brilliant hire in previous Wildcats assistant Jay Wright as head coach, the former’s higher ups didn’t have the stones to nudge the legendary John Chaney out the door despite his increasing mindless “facts” and hateful acts clearly having already started to eat away at all that he had created. Five years then passed with Wright turning a weak outfit into an Elite 8 power and Chaney turning a fine-tuned Elite 8 entity into some disorganized, 17-16 NIT opening-round loser slop.
Fortunately, thankfully, mercifully, Chaney opted to step down at that point, realizing that his goal of reaching the Final Four was getting further away with each passing season, and that five regional finals and a spot in the Hall of Fame would have to suffice.
Faced with an opportunity to right the ship, so to speak, Temple made what was deemed far and wide an inspired choice to have longtime Penn coach Fran Dunphy succeed Chaney. Reality is, it has been anything but … unless being a postseason punching bag really lights your fire.
Get it now, got it then. Dunphy is a good coach and a good man who represents the university with dignity and class and a touch of humanity that Chaney, especially in his later years, sometimes lacked. But he was a bad fit then, and remains a bad fit now, the tape-loop “Philly guy” rationalizations being utterly meaningless considering not all of Philly is the same, that Temple Philly ain’t no Penn Philly or La Salle Philly or certainly no Malvern Prep (outside of) Philly, and the general “OK” pass Dunphy routinely gets from the school, its administration, its alumni, its student body and the Owls’ supporters, not to mention the vast majority of a local sports media contingent that really doesn’t get “it” despite thinking it does, has cemented the Owls’ second-fiddle status to Villanova in these parts.
The program has gone from one with some serious national cachet for much of Chaney’s reign that could land the likes of No. 1 high school player in the country Mark Macon to one that struggles for the type of condescending respect given most quality mid-majors under Dunphy which couldn’t even land the offspring of one of its greatest players. To add further insult to injury, Rick Brunson’s kid, top-5 recruit Jalen Brunson, just finished his freshman season as a national champ. Yeah, that’s right, with Villanova.
Sure, Dunphy wins. He’s good for, oh, say a 21-12 campaign and a postseason appearance, usually in the NCAA, pretty much every season. He’s also good for a first-weekend ouster from the Big Dance each time the Owls are in it, too. Frankly, his failure in the tournament goes much deeper. Counting his nine berths during his 17 years at Penn, Dunphy is 0-for-16 in his attempts to reach the Sweet 16. His best team at Temple, the 2009-10 squad that entered the NCAA at 29-5, got blasted in its first game by his former Ivy League rival Cornell, for Russell Conwell’s sake.
Meanwhile, Wright, just during Dunphy’s 10 years at Temple, has rattled off three Sweet 16s, two Elite 8s, two Finals Fours and a title with the ’Cats.
You hate to call for a man’s job, especially one belonging to an individual whom you actually like and in many ways admire, but if Temple and its people ever want to start making the changes necessary for the Owls to reclaim their rightful place atop the city’s college basketball pecking order, that is the first one which needs to happen.
Otherwise, get comfy with being pissed off.
- Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
TALE OF THE TAPE
A little comparison between the Temple and Villanova men’s basketball coaches, showing how they stack up in the 10 years since a change was made at the Owls’ helm following John Chaney’s retirement prior to the 2006-07 season.
Postseason appearances: 8
NCAA bids: 7
Sweet 16s: 0
Elite 8s: 0
Final Fours: 0
National titles: 0
NIT bids: 1 (Final Four 2015)
30-win seasons: 0
10-loss seasons: 7
Conference titles: 3 (2010, 2012, 2016)
Conference tourney titles: 3 (2008, 2009, 2010)
Notable: Has won four conference coach of the year awards, twice in the Atlantic 10 (2010, 2012) and twice in the American Athletic (2015, 2016). His 2013-14 team set a program-worst mark with 22 losses, the only time in now 120 years of Owls basketball that Temple endured 20 losses in a season … Has never advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament (0-for-16). That includes nine appearances during his 17 years at Penn, where he went 310-163 with nine outright Ivy League titles and one shared.
Postseason appearances: 9
NCAA bids: 9
Sweet 16s: 3 (2008, 2009, 2016)
Elite 8s: 2 (2009, 2016)
Final Fours: 2 (2009, 2016)
National titles: 1 (2016)
NIT bids: 0
30-win seasons: 3 (2009, 2015, 2016)
10-loss seasons: 5
Conference titles: 3 (2014, 2015, 2016)
Conference tourney titles: 1 (2015)
Notable: Has a 354-157 record overall in 15 years at Villanova, as well as Sweet 16 appearances in 2005 and 2006, and an Elite 8 in 2006 not mentioned above. Also won an original Big East regular-season crown in 2006. Named national coach of the year in both 2006 and 2016, and Big East coach of the year five times (2006, 2009, 2014, 2015, 2016). Has 14 postseason appearances all told with Villanova, 11 NCAAs and three NITs. His Wildcats’ 97-13 record the last three seasons is the best in college basketball during that time ... Was 122-85 with two NCAA bids and one NIT bid in seven seasons at Hofstra before taking over ’Nova for 2001-02 season.