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Saturday, August 07, 2004

Big Five Coaching Intrigue -- Much Could Happen by Monday

Word out of Philadelphia this morning is that LaSalle made a long-term offer to Penn's Fran Dunphy to make Dunphy the next LaSalle basketball coach and the first person ever to be the head coach at two different Big 5 schools. The contract is in the $400,000 per annum range (reportedly Dunphy currently makes $240,000), and LaSalle apparently has committed to upgrading its basketball program, especially its recruiting budget. Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Inquirer has been all over this story, and you can read about it there (because a subscription is required, I don't think I can link to the story).

The offer raises many questions, of course. First, Fran Dunphy has tons of friends around Philadelphia, people who lovingly call him Dunph, people who may not know him well but to whom he's always nice when he sees them. He's a deeply rooted Philadelphia guy, and the word is the Coach Dunphy isn't in it for, and doesn't need, the money. The recurring theme I have heard from many different people, all professing to know the coach, is that his wife comes from money and money isn't his motivator. So, if he takes the LaSalle job, the money certainly would be nice (and would constitute competitive pay, which is probably as much as a competitive coach in a competitive situation would ask for), but the real inducement has to be the opportunity not to worry about academic indices, great point averages and SAT scores to the degree he has had to do so in the Ivies. In short, Fran Dunphy wants to see how he stacks up at a more competitive level.

That he wants to do so is no secret. He's been in the running in the past for jobs at Penn State, Georgetown and Ohio State, and probably many more. As an added bonus, he'll get to go home, so to speak, to the place where he played his college basketball, and he'll return as a conquering hero to a school and an alumni body that are starved for a winner (LaSalle hasn't had a winning season since 1992-1993). The expectations will be high, but he'll be able to handle them, precisely because he's a hard worker and a class act.

That is, of course, if he takes the job in the first place.

And then, of course, speculation will run rampant about who Penn will pick to succeed Dunphy should he go from 33rd and Walnut to 20th and Olney (it's a longer distance than you might think -- you can't walk it, there is no direct public transportation route from Penn to LaSalle, and the wags might argue that in other respects they're light years apart). I've already posted on this topic, so please click here to read up on the potential successors to the current dean of Ivy hoop coaches and the winningest coach in Penn history (which is saying a lot given that Jack McCloskey, Dick Harter, Chuck Daly and Bob Weinhauer all had successful runs as the Penn head coach).

On the one hand, you could wonder whether three of the four major contenders would leave their head coaching jobs this late in the summer (Gil Jackson, the fourth major contender, is Dunphy's top assistant at Penn). Stop wondering. Coaching opportunities are few and far between, and the Penn job is a special one. Sometimes you cannot pick your timing, so I do not think that any of the contenders, if they really wanted the job, would hesitate to turn it down just because it's summer. (For a precedent, Princeton's Bill Carmody took the Northwestern job in the late summer about 5 years ago, but he left the Princeton faithful wondering why he would go to a historically bad b-ball program and leave Princeton's strong tradition. This time around, it would be hard to second guess any of Fran O'Hanlon, Steve Donahue or Fran McCaffery for leaving Lafayette, Cornell or UNC-Greensboro, respectively; each would be taking a step up).

The bet here right now is on Donahue, unless there is some unwritten, double secret Ivy rule that you don't poach each other's coaches right before school starts. McCaffery has been away from the Ivies for too long, relatively speaking, and O'Hanlon and Jackson are both past 55. It would be hard for Penn to anoint Jackson with more than an interim tag given that cellar dwellar Dartmouth just turned him down (he was a finalist for that head coaching job, which ultimately went to Terry Dunn). O'Hanlon is intriguing, of course, and an excellent coach. In the end, if the friction reported between Penn A.D. Steve Bilsky and Dunphy was palpable, it might be hard to see Bilsky hiring Dunphy's best friend in coaching or Dunphy's best friend in coach wanting to work for Bilsky. And, to complicate matters further, O'Hanlon just signed a 10-year contract extension making him "coach for life" in Easton. To complicate matters even further, Lafayette is the only Patriot League school that doesn't offer scholarships. Lastly, we don't know what conversations O'Hanlon had with Lafayette about what he would do if the Penn job opened up. Something tells me it won't be O'Hanlon, even though I think he'd be the ideal candidate for the job and should be the person Penn pursues. Hard.

And then there's a final question, probably a minor detail, but will any Penn players opt to transfer to LaSalle to follow Fran Dunphy should he go? Typically you don't get recruited by the same schools when you're a HS player (exceptions: Penn alum Paul Romanczuk, whom former LaSalle coach Speedy Morris regrets not having pursued harder, and LaSalle alum Tim Legler, former NBA player and now NBA analyst for ESPN, who apparently opted for LaSalle over Princeton). Still, while the schools wouldn't want to admit it, the hoop recruits choose the coach as much as the school, even in the Ivies. Still, the bet here is that a) no Penn player transfers and b) no player that Dunphy currently is recruiting for Penn will find himself in the LaSalle pool. The sets are probably too disjoint, and Dunphy wouldn't be going to LaSalle to coach Ivy-type players, at least for the most part. Of course, he wouldn't turn down a future Andy Toole, Koko Archibong or Ugonna Onyekwe if they showed up on his doorstep.

We should know more early next week. If Dunphy takes the offer, look for the Penn Quakers to move very quickly to get their next coach in place.


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