BY REBECCA AGULE
I always thought he was one of the good ones. Temple’s basketball program does not usually find its way into the news with the programs of schools like Fresno State or Georgia; the school does not regularly align itself with scandal and misfortune. Hall of Fame Coach John Chaney verges on iconic status, amassing 721 wins during his 33 seasons. He has coached the old-fashioned way, taking chances on recruits and building a respected reputation for himself and for the school’s program.
But Chaney’s recent actions eclipse all the shining precedent set by his past performance. And his punishment, both the original self-imposed one game suspension and regular season remainder suspension – three games in total -later handed down by the university, do nothing but make the whole incident that much more laughable. More of a tickle than even a slap on the wrist, Chaney’s suspension in no way sets him up as an example for other coaches throughout the NCAA.
Angry that referees were not calling illegal screens being run by St. Joseph’s, Chaney sent Nehemiah Ingram in to act as an enforcer. The 6-foot-8, 250-pounder rarely saw game action, and in this instance the only reason for his entering the court was to extract retribution. Retribution came in the form of a broken arm to St. Joe’s senior forward John Bryant.
Chaney’s action sent a message, loud and clear, though perhaps not the message he hoped to transmit. He wanted officials to call a cleaner game; instead he has tarnished not only his own reputation but also that of his school and all of college basketball.
After the game, Chaney showed no shame as he admitted to using Ingram as a “goon” to “send a message,” his words. A few days later the coach called Bryant to apologize, apparently offering to pay medical bills, admitting, “I feel very contrite about John Bryant.”
Contriteness is lovely, Coach, but it will not heal bones, and it certainly does not return the experience of a senior season to Bryant.
Instead of the punishment that was handed down, Chaney should be forced to ride the bench for the same length of time that Bryant’s injury keeps him off the court. This would include not only the rest of the regular season, but all possible post-season play. Bryant, in his last year of college basketball, is not fortunate enough to be able to return after just a trifecta of games. He cannot play on Senior Day, a day for which he waited the entire length of his career, or for St. Joe’s run during the Atlantic 10 tournament. He also will not be available for any tournament play, whether St. Joe’s, atop the A-10 at 15-10 as of Sunday, receives an NIT or an NCAA bid.
Since Chaney’s suspension, Temple assistant coach Dan Liebovitz has taken over coaching. But Chaney will be back in his seat come post-season, claiming to use this time to decide whether or not he will return to the helm next for the 2005-2006 season. Looking at an NIT berth, Temple will not really miss his courtside presence during those final three regular season games and will have the use of his services when it really counts.
The one light in Temple’s decision making process through this debacle has been to allow Ingram to continue playing. He is guilty only of heeding instruction, of following the influence of his coach, the very attribute for which student-athletes are often commended. But this incident highlights the ever-increasing power wielded by coaches, and as such, the caution they must exercise when dealing with their teams.
As much as we might miss hockey in this stricken season, we shouldn’t look to college basketball to come in with goons and enforcers. Chaney’s proper course of action, were he really upset with the officiating during his team’s game against St. Joe’s, would have been to take it through proper channels, going to the Atlantic 10 offices, even speaking out during his press conference. But sending in a kid to do his dirty work was nothing but despicable.
By his shameful actions, Chaney disgraced his team and the entire profession of coaching. He brought the act of winning down to its barest, most disgusting reduction, abusing his authority and risking the mental and physical well-being of the players on both teams. Using Ingram in such an abhorrent manner resulted in a horrible, season-ending injury to another player. But even if Bryant had come through unscathed, Chaney should be paying a higher price.
In light of the continually dwindling role of decency in college athletics, coaches must understand the example they set, both for their own players and for upcoming younger players across the country. Chaney, by violating the basic ethics of coaching and of human nature, negated, at least in part, the good work he accomplished through years of coaching. While we can hardly expect further action to be taken by Chaney, Temple or the A-10 Conference, we can only hope Chaney will find a way to send the correct message, that winning at all costs, no matter the price, is not the proper way to play the game.
Rebecca Agule likes writing about sports. This piece went to press before Coach John Chaney pulled himself out of the A-10 Tournament.