Sunday, March 14, 1999

World needs more people like Chaney

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BOSTON — Everyone should have a chance. Everyone who wants an education should get one. No one should be left out. When the dog ran away, John Chaney's mother always left the door open. This is what the coach said.

        Who is anyone to say a kid can't go to college? What are they doing at an exclusive place such as Harvard, a few miles from here, but “educating the educated?” Chaney asked.

        Chaney would take 'em all. Every single one. College is a right, not a privilege. Throw them all the education life preserver. If they sink, it's their problem. But they deserve the right to swim. This is the world according to Chaney.

        Chaney, the Temple basketball coach, wasn't pleased by a federal judge's decision to invalidate achievement test scores as a requirement for being a college jock. It seemed a victory for Chaney's logic. But too many aspirations have been spoiled already by Props 48 and 16, he said.

Setting standards
        I don't agree with Chaney. You need standards. Education should be for those who want it. Too many big-time athletes couldn't care less. Take a survey of second-semester seniors still in the NCAA Tournament, you might find a majority have dropped out of academia entirely. Eligibility was preserved last semester or quarter. Now it's time to play ball.

        If Chaney could convince me that as many athletes were as committed to school as he is, I'd switch chairs right now. Until then, what we need is a minor professional league for people interested in dunkademia, not a further dumbing-down of student bodies.

        That said, Chaney is a treasure. He is a saint in the city. If only there were more like him.

        His Temple team, the one the University of Cincinnati meets today, plays the damnedest defense in college basketball. The matchup zone works because it demands diligence. It is not at all about running and jumping and fluttering for ESPN. “It makes you think. It makes you negotiate,” Chaney said.

        He is 67 years old, a coach for 27 years, and not one of those years was not spent helping a basketball player get an education and/or a degree. The two are not always the same.

        Some kids won't play for him. Some can't play for him. Chaney yells, demands, criticizes. He finds players “with teeth in their stomach,” he says, who can chew up what he dishes them, and spit it out.

        He forces a style that is incompatible with the times: Slow, patient, earthbound. There are kids now who greet prospective coaches with a what-can-you-do-for-me look. They wouldn't play for John Chaney, who would kill them by nightfall.

No coddling
        There aren't many coaches like him. Players want to run and shoot. They want to be on TV. They don't want to practice at 5:30 in the morning. That Chaney gathers enough players with teeth in their stomachs to make the NCAA Tournament nearly every year is a tribute to him. And to his players, who all emerge better for the experience. Isn't that what college should be about?

        Bob Huggins has some Chaney in him. He yells. He even demeans. But his players play hard for him. Most praise him after their eligibility is done.

        “I want to see what you're made of,” Chaney said. “The guy that does not want to be yelled at should play for somebody who will accept mediocrity.

        “People in the stands may not understand. But my mother used to say to me, you can feel truth. You can feel love. Kids can feel it. They know when all this is over, I'll be standing in front of them crying my eyes out.”

        To beat the matchup zone, you pass the ball crisply and overload areas in the defense. “You put more men where they have less and less men where they have more,” Chaney said. “It really is that simple.”

        To give hope to people who might not have it otherwise, you offer them an education, no test scores attached. This is what the coach said. I don't agree. But the man is trying, and he cares. Lord, does he care.

        Columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.