by Michael Tillery
John Chaney has retired as head basketball coach of Temple University
John Chaney. What can you say? The man is a living legend and has properly made his mark on society over a 40-year career. He is grounded. He is fully aware of his historical place in not only Philly basketball, but in every place in this world where the game is played. No disrespect, but I felt like I was interviewing a prophet in a sense. His knowledge and wisdom is something to behold. He is someone that our children need to know about. To admire. To research. To follow. He stresses education and maintaining a proper spirituality that we all need to recognize. Although he never won a championship, his character as well as his human responsibility dwarfs those who have won numerous.
This was my 2nd or 3rd interview via michaeltillery.com via the defunct blacksportsnetwork.com. I was definitely new to the game because you know I would have elaborated on a few things…especially Wilt Chamberlain. This interview shot me skyward and I will always cherish this as one of the interviews that made me believe I could do this full time. Thanks Coach Chaney and David Cole…my editor at BSN.
MT: What made coaching in Philly so special?
Coach Chaney: The competitive nature, and the continuance of tradition. We have had approximately 10 to 15 or more coaches that have come out of the Philadelphia area or Big Five schools that have gone on to coach in the NBA. Some are still there. Some are great officials that are still there. I think traditionally from administrators to coaches to players to many of the referees many of them came out of Philly. We were an original franchise when the NBA started and there were only 7 or 8 teams. There weren’t teams all around the country when it all started under Gottlieb and some of the others at that time. New York Knicks, Philadelphia All Stars and Warriors, two teams in this area, also the Baltimore Bullets, Washington Capitals- they are the original members of the NBA. It grew from there and spread all around the country. This is where the NBA came from, around these three or four northeastern states.
MT: Do you think there is still a purpose for historically Black colleges in America?
Coach Chaney: One of the main reasons is the majority of white colleges’ cost is rising. They have raised their standards to the point of where youngsters cannot afford them. Many of our kids cannot reach their level in which they find themselves in because economically it is not sound. Some of the schools cost 40 or 45 thousand and we have to figure that the cost of education is going to be so out of reach for the middle class, for black people and other minorities. We are going to need to have middle of the road schools that have a tendency to say “ What we need to do is be able to not put you in a position to where you cannot reach the ceiling”. What black schools do is raise the floor so that you can reach the ceiling. It is important for us to understand that they never ever find themselves in a position where they get beyond what we as a people need to be able to do. Education right now is becoming so cost prohibitive that it’s going to be very difficult.
MT: Talk about your time at Temple and before that, Cheyney University.
Coach Chaney: I’ve had a great time here. My former president is one that took a chance and hired me years ago, Peter Liacouras. I was very thankful that he was here and I came here when I was 50 years old. So I’ve been here for 24 years. I hope I never overstayed my welcome. That’s something that we all have to come to, a time of reckoning where we have to make a decision. The school has been very good to me. The Temple fans have been really good to me. Actually there are some people on the outside that think I’m a little bit outspoken, but that’s not going to change me. I’m John Chaney and that’s who I’m going to be. I will always be outspoken to things that I think that are wrong. I had a wonderful time at Cheyney. I was under another great leader by the name of Dr. Wade Wilson who I worked under for many years. He not only provided me with a great opportunity to become one of the professors, but the proudest moment of my life, to be rewarded with being the best teacher in the state of Pennsylvania in 1978-1979. I received that award from the governor at the time, Dick Thornburg. So at Cheyney I experienced one of my treasured moments.
MT: If a young kid tugged at your shirt and told you of his aspirations of being a coach, what would you say to him?
Coach Chaney: I would ask him a few questions. One would be to establish what kind of some kind of resume of service. Such as participating in all kinds of clinics, going to church so he can learn a lot. Do you have a degree? That would definitely be a pre-requisite. Are you willing to give your time in the community working with young people at the various centers, summer leagues, participating in various programs like going to schools and working with kids on the junior high as well as the high school level. If you wanted to develop a resume, this would be a good start.
MT: What do you think of our present society and the climate of sports?
Coach Chaney: Sports have moved to the corporate level. Where the knothole gang—as I call them—kids that would be allowed to come into any game without paying. They would come in through the back door, but would be just be good kids when they got inside. Even still the cost then would be understandable so kids could have a good time and become a part of an event. Now days kids can’t attend the games because it costs so much money. My goodness, it costs you about 25 dollars to park your car! So the happiness that kids experience from these events isn’t repeated often. Many of the youngsters don’t find themselves going out to the baseball fields and playing baseball—especially minority kids—In the Major League Baseball, black participation has gone from 22% down to 7 or 8%. Hispanics are thriving. Basketball has found itself oldschool without the presence of the knothole gang because of the cost. Football because of the cost. So we find that youngsters are not growing up in an environment where they have a tendency to enjoy going out and growing into becoming an athlete in that area. Kids today are more apt to playing the various electronic devices. As a result we are losing generations of kids that aren’t physically fit.
MT: Can you comment on the Mike Davis situation?
Coach Chaney: That area is a basketball hotbed—always has been—I just don’t know what is being felt there. I’ve only heard from so many people about the kind of abuse that Mike is taking. I don’t know if it’s justified and I certainly don’t think it’s right. In my opinion, I don’t think we should give rise to irate fans who find themselves in a position where it’s a what have you done for me lately kind of thing. I don’t like that, and I don’t think that’s fair.
MT: Recently Kevin Garnett was ejected for tossing a ball into the stands and hitting a fan in the face?Should he have been punished?
Coach Chaney: If it was an accident, it certainly should have been forgiven without question. Remember Coach Tom Penders of Texas being taken out on a stretcher and being called for a technical after falling on the floor? Instead of dealing with the spirit of the rule, we are dealing with the literal rule, and that’s unfair. That’s probably what happened with Kevin Garnett. I feel that you aren’t supposed to read into some situations and you certainly have to be kind to someone who just made a mistake.
MT: Some people misunderstood your straightforward attitude. Who would you most likely compare yourself to?
Coach Chaney: Paul Robeson. He was one of our great Black leaders way before Martin Luther King Jr. or Thurgood Marshall and so many others. He was a singer, an actor and a superior athlete. He fought America when it was considered apartheid. He made it very clear that he would not perform for any audience unless Blacks were present. The People for un-American Activities drove him almost out of this country. If fact, he died here right in Philadelphia. Rutgers named a library in his name. He was one of the first Blacks to make all A’s and become Valedictorian at a school that was all white. He had twelve letters and learned to speak about 20 languages. He fought the kind of injustices that were constantly found in this country for Blacks and minorities. He was an All-American football player. He was a dissident. I guess you can call me the same kinda guy.
MT: You’ve had a couple of unfortunate incidents here that in no way shape or form should overshadow all the great things you have done for the hundreds, and probably thousands of kids you have affected in a positive way. What would you say to kids that saw those incidents occur?
Coach Chaney: I think that every time I’ve exercised poor judgment in situations where I’ve made mistakes, I’ve apologized in many cases. Several times I didn’t apologize for something I didn’t think was worthy of an apology. When people here are voting for a war in which our kids are being killed for trying to change religious views. In some countries politics are religion and religion is politics. You are not going to change that country by any means into a democracy. You are fighting against dueling factions. When I spoke out on that situation I was not apologizing by any means. When I’ve made a mistake in saying something that was worthy of my apologizing, I have and hoped that people would understand. I’m just as human as anybody else is, but when I become emotional about an issue, sometimes I make mistakes.
MT: What kid and assistant coach have impacted you the most?
Coach Chaney: I’ve had so many youngsters that helped change my life. Youngsters that came here to go to college. Youngsters that are playing in the NBA right now. Without question Mark Macon—who happens to be my assistant coach. Eddie Jones, Aaron Mckie, Ric Brunson, Pepe Sanchez, to name a few. I have so many players that have played for me here and made an impression on me. I think a coach who has helped me the most to be in the position I am today is an old Jewish coach at Ben Franklin by the name of Sam Brown that I had in high school. He is responsible for me going to college—a Black school, Bethune-Cookman College. I was the best player here in Philadelphia, but I couldn’t get any scholarships. There were not that many Black players in any schools at that time.
MT: Who is the best NBA player now and of all time?
Coach Chaney: Kobe Bryant is the best player there is now. No question in my mind that Wilt Chamberlain is the best of all time.
MT: Is there a Philly style of basketball?
Coach Chaney: Many people have tried to localize basketball in terms of having a Philly type of guard or a Philly type of player. The game has evolved from a local kind of look to a national look to an international look. When you look at all teams in this country, 331 Division I teams, I bet you that coaches look for the prototypical guard and the Philly guard can be seen in that sense. John Wooden won his first national championship with Walt Hazzard and they all thought that he was the typical Philadelphia guard at the time but originally he was from Baltimore.
MT: What is the connection with you Wilt, and Sonny Hill?
Coach Chaney: We’ve always been connected some way at the hip. We grew up together all of us. Wilt was playing with us out of the old Amish league. He played with us for many years. Playing as our center against the New York great teams that would come here during the summer. Sonny, Hal Lear, Jay Norman and Herb Janey all played with us. We all got together and developed the Big Charles Baker league. So we could play in the summer with all the NBA guys that would come home during the summer, just to stay in shape, because they were playing in the Eastern Pro League at the time. We grew up in that kind of setting. Each one of us has a franchise that goes on to this day. Even though I’m not involved in it, but it was one that we were very proud of. Ray “Chink” Scott who always won—used to coach the Pistons. He and Sonny had a team. Sonny Lloyd and I had a team from South Philly. Jay Norman and Hal Lear had a team from West Philly. Everybody had their own franchise. There were five of them. We grew up with each other and stayed around each other. In fact Hal Lear, Wilt, Guy Rodgers, Jay Norman grew up together playing in and out of Hattington recreation center. So we’ve been joined at the hip for a long time. Sonny and I have a basketball camp that goes on the last two months of July on Temple’s Ambler campus in suburban Philadelphia.
MT: What is your definition of an American?
Coach Chaney:As far as I’m concerned, it’s someone who was born in this country. Which gives you one right. Also someone who serves in a human way, a human cause in this country for the right things and believing that everyone has a right in this country. That would have to be a true American. Someone who is not depriving any other people of their rights. Someone who is human enough to believe that fellow human beings deserve those rights and falls pretty close to the thumb rules of what an American should be.
MT: Your illustrious coaching career is over, what should your legacy be?
Coach Chaney: I think one of the most important things is when you look at the field that were all in—sports and athletics—has grown to this huge corporate machine that sometimes is distasteful, because it separates so many people. Too many people believe that you are good when you win and not so good when you lose. Losing and winning takes a different connotation and I think that is wrong. Record keeping is the same. Winning and losing is the same. What I’d like to leave everybody with is the fact that I believe so strongly in even today. When I leave, I want to leave them laughing and tougher.
MT: Coach I’m extremely honored to have this opportunity to interview you. You exude great wisdom and are an immensely positive influence on not only sports but also society. We are very fortunate to have someone like you around in our lifetime. You have made a positive impact on people who matter.
Coach Chaney: Someone out there cares because they’ve elected me to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. I’m pretty proud of that. I’m pretty proud that you at Blacksportsnetwork.com called me and recognized those deeds. I’ll leave with those deeds highly recognized. Thank you so much! Take care!
Coach Chaney, we truly appreciate the voice..