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January 29, 2021

John Chaney, legendary Temple basketball coach, dies at 89

Owls great was a mentor, advocate and shining example of success in the face of adversity

John Chaney, an oracle of Philadelphia basketball and long-time head coach of the Temple University Owls, has reportedly died at 89 years old.

The news of Chaney's death was first reported Friday by the Inquirer's college basketball reporter Mike Jensen.

The circumstances surrounding Chaney's death were not immediately known.

Chaney was an institution in Philadelphia, leading the Owls during a 28-year-run that produced five appearances in the NCAA Tournament's Elite 8 between 1982-2006. Prior to joining Temple, Chaney was the head coach at Cheyney State University, where he led the Wolves to a NCAA Division II title in 1977-78.

Chaney was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, having finished his coaching career with a record of 741-312. 

A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Chaney was raised in poverty and moved with his family to South Philadelphia at 14 years old, where he attended Benjamin Franklin High School and began to play pickup basketball. His competition included eventual NBA superstar Wilt Chamberlain, whom he mentored as a temp teacher at Overbrook High School.

With an athletic scholarship opportunity, Chaney attended Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, becoming an all-American point guard and leading his team to a Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament title in 1953.

Chaney later went on to play in the Eastern Professional Basketball League in Pennsylvania, where he suited up for the Sunbury Mercuries and Williamsport Billies in the 1950s and 1960s. The NBA did not hire Black players at the time, and Chaney spent a short period with the Harlem Globetrotters.

A knee injury in 1966 ended Chaney's playing career, but he spent the next four decades rising to fame as a coach in Philadelphia.

As a basketball coach, Chaney was a fiery figure and a trusted mentor among his players, including eventual NBA talents like Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie, who now coaches the Owls.

His temper sometimes led to public outbursts, including a memorable 1994 tirade against John Calipari, who was then coaching at the University of Massachusetts. During the rant, Chaney threatened to kill Calipari, among other things, and was suspended for a game. He later apologized and the two men eventually reconciled.

Chaney was a lifelong advocate for the advancement of African-Americans, often taking troubled young players under his wing and accepting so-called "Prop 48" players who struggled academically and needed to sit out from college for a year.

And during last year's civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd, Chaney said he saw reasons for optimism in the protests that took place across the United States.

In an interview with The Athletic a few years ago, Chaney said his spirit for helping others is the quality he wanted people to remember about him.

“I just want to be remembered as someone who cared. It’s that simple," Chaney said. "What we need more of these days — I don’t care how you look at it — is caring for others, whoever that is."

Former players, friends, the Temple community and many others mourned Chaney's death on Friday.