A Quaker Turns Owl

In typically economical fashion, legendary Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril may have summed up Fran Dunphy as well as anyone. It was back in the early 1990s in one of the periods when the Tigers were in ascendance and Dunphy’s Quakers were struggling to keep up. After one Princeton win, Carril was asked about his counterpart and replied simply, “The one thing about Fran is, he always has his kids ready to play, and play hard.”

That last word is an appropriate one to describe what it will be like to imagine Penn men’s basketball without Dunphy, who was introduced as Temple University’s new head coach on April 10. It is at once a step up and a move laterally: For the first time as a head coach, Dunphy will be able to recruit from a far wider pool than he could at Penn, with its daunting academic standards and lack of athletic scholarships; yet he will remain a fixture in Philadelphia’s Big Five and an occasional presence at the Palestra, scant miles from his new home on North Broad Street.

The obvious forces at work here are that for all his success at Penn—10 Ivy titles, five undefeated Ivy seasons, and more than 300 wins—Dunphy yearned to push the envelope beyond the hard boundaries of being an Ivy League basketball coach, of making the NCAA Tournament and playing valiantly in a first-round loss. Temple has not even qualified for the Big Dance in the last several years, but the Owls got to within a game of the Final Four in 1988 and there is no reason to assume they couldn’t go farther under Dunphy.

“When you’re coaching at Penn, your thinking is, ‘Why can’t we go on the kind of run George Mason went on this year?’” he said at the news conference introducing him at Temple. The truth is that despite Penn’s heroic effort against Texas in this year’s tournament or Princeton’s upset of UCLA in 1996, an Ivy League team reaching the Final Four again as the Quakers did in 1979 is about as likely as pigs sprouting wings.

While Dunphy now turns to the task of restoring Temple to its former stature, he has left Penn with a program whose success is unparalleled in the Ivy League over the last 15 years, and one that should attract a strong field of coaching candidates. Dunphy’s legacy to them is Penn’s success on the national level, outside the Ivy cocoon, an achievement that should outlast the hard fact of his leaving.—D.P.


©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 05/05/06




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