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Dear John

Hall of Fame status and good deeds aside, you need to do the right thing and resign for your "goon" stunt.

By GARY SHELTON
Published March 6, 2005


Not much left to say about John Chaney but this:

Goodbye.

Not much left of a wonderful career but the sight of a disgraced man walking away. Not much left to think but how differently it should have ended. Not much left to argue but the distance he went over the line and the proper cost of it.

Not much left to ask of Chaney but this:

Ah, John. What were you thinking?

Temple's basketball team finished its regular season Saturday, and Chaney was nowhere to be seen. It begins its postseason Tuesday, and Chaney will remain in exile. Soon, the NCAA Tournament will begin and, no matter what happens, Chaney needs to sit it out.

You wish it were different. This is the time of the year you started to think about Chaney, about the crazy things he would say, about the wild things he would do. No one was more fun to watch, more interesting to hear, as the tournament began. Everyone else was in charge of March; Chaney was in charge of madness.

Saturday evening, for instance, it would have been great to see Chaney. After the game against La Salle, the 73-year-old Hall of Fame coach would have been all unraveled, the way he is after most games. The coat would be missing and the tie would be so loose you would think it was a belt. Watching Chaney coach was like watching a bed unmake itself.

It would have been great to listen to him, too. Maybe he would have tried to make Temple's case for the NCAA Tournament. Maybe he would have jousted against the NCAA in the wake of the terrible grade report his program just received. Maybe he would have told the old stories of when he played, stories that could make you laugh or cry or both.

Instead, Chaney was off to himself, pondering whether to suspend himself again or not.

Lately, deciding his own punishments has been the bulk of Chaney's workday. Chaney, it turns out, is a lenient judge. After sending an enforcer into the game against St. Joseph's - a goon, Chaney confessed - Chaney decided that he should be suspended for a game. Just one. When it turned out St. Joseph's John Bryant suffered a broken arm, Temple added two more games. Chaney then decided, upon appeal, that he deserved to sit out the Atlantic 10 Tournament, too.

Who knows? Soon, perhaps he will also suspend himself for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and the Labor Day weekend.

Imagine. Chaney's first punishment would be over by now. His second punishment, too. If Butch Cassidy were in charge of punishing himself for robbing banks , his sentence probably would be over, too.

A confession: Chaney has always been my favorite basketball coach. I like the way he laughs. I like the points he chooses to debate. I love the tough love he shares with his players, especially his "back-to-the-wall" players from disadvantaged homes. I love the old stories about growing up in Jacksonville and playing at Bethune-Cookman, where his coach once was so angry at the team that he had it wait on the bus while he went in and ate a postgame dinner by himself. More than most things, I would have liked to see Chaney finally reach that elusive Final Four.

Understand, then, how difficult it is to say this:

Chaney needs to step down. And he shouldn't wait until he sees if Temple gets a tournament bid before he decides it.

It's odd. For more than a week now, people have tossed stones at Chaney from all directions. Yes, he deserves it. Chaney is one of those coaches who demands so much from his players. If he demands less from himself, then he fails his own teachings.

True, Chaney has spent a long time at Temple, 23 of his 33 coaching seasons, and his good deeds could fill a set of encyclopedia. Funny how quickly those stories come up when a coach messes up, isn't it?

But across the line is across the line. Sending in a goon to knock people around is across the line, even if a man has coached more than 1,000 college games beforehand.

Let's be honest here. Chaney isn't the first coach to send in someone to knock an opposing player on his rear end. To imagine otherwise is naive. Still, there is a difference in playing physically and sending in a talentless player to scatter bodies until his fouls are up.

What if one of Chaney's players decided, on his own, he was going to make the other team pay for illegal screens (Chaney's motive)? What if he forgot about basketball and began to endanger those around him?

Would Chaney tolerate that? Of course not.

Should Temple tolerate this? Of course not.

In the end, it is Chaney's own words that convict him. If he had kept quiet before the game, if he had shrugged and talked about physical play afterward, then perhaps you could see a shorter sentence. On the other hand, confessions are admissible.

Here's what I believe. I don't think for a second that Chaney grasped the possibility that Nehemiah Ingram, designated goon, really would break bones. I think this was one of those froths that college coaches work themselves into on the ledge of bad decisions. I think Chaney had one of those brain cramps the size of when he threatened to kill rival coach John Calipari, then at Massachusetts. I think Chaney is being bone-honest when he says he's sorry.

Still, Chaney violated the spirit of good, hard competition. Every coach, every player, knows the difference between playing hard and playing dirty, between being tough and being a thug.

For Chaney, this situation will never wash off of his reputation. He will be remembered for it the way Woody Hayes is remembered for striking an opposing player, the way Bob Knight will be remembered for throwing a chair across a court.

Some of us will remember other times, too. The kids he helped, the games he won, the money he raised, the points he argued, all of it. Chaney isn't a bad man. He's just a flawed coach who went out the wrong exit.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, Chaney said.

Dumb, dumb, dumb, he should have added.

Bye, bye, bye, he needs to say now.

[Last modified March 6, 2005, 00:15:13]


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