Legendary former Temple University basketball coach John Chaney died on January 29, 2021, as first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Mike Jensen. He was 89.
While coaching the Temple University basketball team, he won a total of 741 career games and took the team to the NCAA tournament 17 times, and reached the Elite Eight five times. Before retiring in 2006, he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2006, he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
His Hall of Fame bio describes Chaney as a tough but loving coach, famous for his “crack-of-dawn practices at Temple University.”
While the time of day the workouts began was distinctive, more famous are the values the veteran coach instilled in his players: discipline, teamwork, commitment, excellence, and execution. Chaney’s teams, first at Cheyney State in Cheyney, PA where he won the 1978 NCAA Division II national championship, and later at Temple University in Philadelphia, played hard-nosed, grind-it-out basketball.
In 2019, Chaney, who twice named national coach of the year, joked about his old age. He told The Athletic, “The worst thing about getting old is that all the people you knew die. So you have to make new friends.”
Chaney is survived by his wife Jeanne Dixon, whom he married in 1953, and their three children.
Chaney was a Major Figure in the Black Community & Spoke Out About the Black Live Matter Movement in June
While basketball was always the main passion in Chaney’s life, he played at Bethune-Cookman College in Florida before he went to coach at Cheyney State in Pennsylvania, where he won the 1978 NCAA Division II champion, he also helped set the bar for Black coaches. His drive for equality didn’t stop after he retired from coaching.
While speaking to the Philadelphia Enquirer in June, he discussed his upbringing in Jacksonville, Mississippi, and the night his mother told him and his three siblings to hide under the bed as members of the KKK were burning a cross nearby their home.
“Racism is a fight all the way to the end,” Chaney said. “I used to say to my players, you will never ever be winners in this game until you can see yourself in others. You must see yourself in others. You must understand others. You must have empathy.”
Months before his 89th birthday, Chaney couldn’t imagine taking on the issues facing NCAA Basketball amid coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The people who are saving this society from being a complete disaster are young people,” Chaney said. “They’re out in the streets. That’s bravery. That’s bravery at its best. We have some of the most brave students and young people, who will fight to possibly their death because of this pandemic.”
“Thinking about where do we go from here?” Chaney said. “You can not play basketball without fans. To me, it’s impossible.” As for how and when things will return to a sense of normalcy, “It’s going to be very interesting. To me, it’s almost a task beyond anybody’s memory.”
For now, however, “Us old people just find a way to sit in our rocking chairs,” amid COVID-19.
My daughter and son-in-law come by and my neighbors check me out,” Chaney continued. “My daughter-in-law keeps me stocked with groceries. It’s just, I’m not able to get out and move around at all. It’s a terrible thing. My wife and I, we’re at the age of 88, nothing good ever happens.
“I’m hanging in there, like the last limb on the tree the wind blows, I’m gone,” Chaney said, before bursting out into a deep hearty laugh.
Heartfelt Tributes to Chaney Filled Twitter Following the News of His Death
Chaney’s presence and legendary career as a coach touched the lives of numerous athletes, basketball players, and sports analysts across the nation.
Philadelphia radio host Natalie Egenolf tweeted, “John Chaney was about as Philly as it gets. Synonymous with @TempleUniv. Before I knew anything about the actual university, I knew John Chaney. He will be cherished in this city forever. #TempleMade.”
Chuck Swirsky tweeted, “RIP HOF John Chaney. In my pre NBA days broadcasting /calling college hoops. In 1987 the NCAA first round was at the Rosemont Horizon.Temple blasted Southern, the Owls had to wait for drug testing. Coach went off. He granted me a 10min interview it was GREAT. I loved his passion.”
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