College basketball fans are enduring some trying times. Hopefully, we will be able to patch together something resembling a Division 1 college basketball season. Fans of small college basketball may very well hav to do without… D2 and D3 seasons don’t seem likely. There have been extensive cancellations at the D1 level. Scores of teams have shut down for 2-week periods following positive tests. All things equal… One would anticipate the cancellation of the season.
But… All things ain’t equal…
There is a big fuckin’ pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If most schools competing can get to 12, 13 or 14 regular season games played, the NCAA will find 68 of them and populate the field for the 2021 NCAA Men’s basketball Tournament.
At that point, they are printing cash…
When the tournament is held, over $1,000,000,000 will flow into the coffers of the NCAA.
The NCAA has an opportunity to make in excess of a billion dollars from the TV rights to its basketball tournament starring unpaid basketball players. Furthermore, these unpaid players are competing under stressful and medically challenging conditions. And… that billion doesn’t include the money the NCAA and member schools make from other media rights and ticket sales.
But I digress…
We are gonna have an NCAA tournament… The NCAA is gonna get that muthafuckin’ bag!
What will the journey to the bag look like? Who knows?
So far, the big boys have literally been parked outside the gym at Indian Casinos asking “who got next?”
I’m tellin’ y’all… The show must go on…
So… While we are bumbling, fumbling and stumbling our way into another season of college basketball, it seems like a perfect time to discuss the head coaching careers of two legendary local figures, Fran Dunphy and Phil Martelli. Their Big 5 head coaching careers are in the books. Both are over a year removed from their stints as Big 5 Head Coaches.
So… start to finish… Where would you rank their respective bodies of work amongst best in Philly’s illustrious college basketball history?
Full Disclosure: Both of these guys are friends of Black Cager Sports. Over the years, both gave Black Cager Sports unfettered access to their respective programs. Both have appeared multiple times on Black Cager Sports talk. These are my guys. I tried my best to control for the friendship factor and objectively assess their accomplishments and place them in the pantheon of great Philly coaches. Don’t know if others will agree.
Both would be extremely uncomfortable in discussions placing themselves alongside the great college coaches in Philadelphia. Well… Dunph would be uncomfortable… I think Phil would perhaps be a little more open for such conversation. Nonetheless, Black Cager Sports is committed to recognizing and honoring excellence and sparking interesting sports dialogue whenever possible. In that spirit, we set out to compare the the careers of Dunphy and Martelli against those of the very best college coaches to come through the City of Brotherly love.
All errors and omissions are my fault… Here we go…
#1 Jay Wright
Over the course of his 20 year stint at Villanova, Wright has played in the post-season every year but one. He has reached the NCAA Sweet 16 six times, the Elite Eight 4 times and the Final Four 3 times. Wright’s Wildcats were crowned National Champions in 2016 and 2018. Wright entered the season with 471 wins at Villanova and 593 overall. He’s won 72.1% of his games at Villavona.
Jay Wright is the finest college basketball coach Philadelphia has produced… Period.
#2 John Chaney
Tough to type that #2 next to Coach Chaney’s name. It’s really hard to place anyone over Coach Chaney for so many reasons. It almost feels like I’m betraying a fundamental truth… a core belief. Coach Chaney is the best. For so many reasons… Coach Chaney, the man, the social commentator had my full attention throughout his career. His perspective on collegiate athletics, the NCAA, student-athletes and race influenced my outlook. I first became aware of racial, social, economic and cultural aspects impacting collegiate athletics by paying attention to what Coach Chaney said publicly.
On January 13, 1989, William Rhoden wrote about what he described as a “contested piece of legislation that some feel could slow the influx of black athletes into predominantly white Division I universities.” I remember it like yesterday. I remember my visceral response when I read Rhoden’s recounting of the responses of John Chaney and John Thompson. Chaney, the basketball coach at Temple, referred to the N.C.A.A. as ”that racist organization.” He was deeply angered by NCAA action on scholarship eligibility that would limit opportunities for Black student-athletes.
The late, great John Thompson said, ”I think it’s sort of ironic when they began to integrate the South athletes were the ones used to pave the way, and they were used under the pious assertion that ‘we’re helping these poor kids… Now, apparently someone has said, ‘Enough,’ so they don’t need the kids anymore. They’re using the same rationale they used to get them in to begin to keep them out. I guess it’s a situation where we’re like shoes and clothes. We’re not in style anymore.”
It’s like Coach Chaney and Coach Thompson came into a dark room and turned the lights on for me. For that, Coach Chaney will always remain my personal number 1 college basketball coach. He literally helped create the intellectual space for me, decades later, to interject strong opinions on racial dynamics the manner in which they impact HS and college sports.
Coach Chaney was directly impacted by American Apartheid/Jim Crow social conditions when he graduated as the best player in Philadelphia’s Public League. He was not afforded an opportunity to play for one of the local college programs because he was Black. This is Coach Chaney… The man forced to play at a Black college, Bethune-Cookman, in the deep south.
In 24 years as Head Coach of the Owls, Coach Chaney led his team to post-season appearances every year except his first season at the helm. The Owls went to the post-season every year from 1984 through 2006.
Every year… 23 straight seasons. Chaney’s Owls made 17 NCAA appearances. They made 5 Elite Eight appearances. The Owls won the Atlantic 10 regular season Championship 8 times and the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship 6 times.
#3 Fran Dunphy
Dunphy won 310 games while coaching Penn for 17 seasons… Then… He won another 270 while coaching Temple for another 13 seasons. Overall, Dunphy won 580 games while coaching in the Big 5.
Fran Dunphy is the all-time winningest coach in Philadelphia Big 5 history.
Dunph has coached in seventeen NCAA tournaments. Some may feel that Dunph’s ranking is elevated. I don’t think he would place himself in the top 10.
He wouldn’t want me to do it… But, I’m doing it… I got Dunph 3rd all-time.
#4 Jack Ramsay
Saint Joseph’s hired Jack Ramsay as coach for the 1955-56 basketball season for $3,500. It would prove to be a great decision. In his first season at St Joseph, the Hawks went 23-6 to win their first Big 5 crown. This season also marked the school’s first-ever postseason playoff berth, as St Joseph’s placed won in the NIT. Ramsay would remain at St. Joseph’s through 1966, leading the Hawks to six more Big 5 crowns, five straight seasons of first-place finishes in the Middle Atlantic Conference, ten postseason appearances, and a Final Four in 1961.
Is Ramsay ranking being dinged for leaving to pursue a World Championship in the NBA? Yup…
His ranking is a tough call… Do you give him credit here for the NBA championship? Naaaah…
Ranking Dr. Jack is like ranking Gayle Sayers… You didn’t see many do it better… Dr. Jack won 76.5% of his games at St. Joseph’s. He was 306-234 overall.
#5 Harry Litwack
Litwack coached the Owls to 2 NCAA Final Four (1956, 1958) appearances. That’s right… Two Final Fours… He also led the Owls to the NIT Championship in 1969. Litwack compiled a record of 373–193. Recognized as one the very best coaches of his era, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1973.
#6 Phil Martelli
Martelli is my guy… I had a front row seat as Martelli led Saint Joseph’s to seven NCAA Tournaments and six NITs in 24 seasons as head coach. Phil had a damn good run at St. Joseph’s.
His highs were very, very high… At times, astronomical…
He was good out of the gate… In his very first season as head coach (1995–96) the Hawks reached the NIT Finals.
Now before we go further… Full disclosure… Martelli is my homie… My guy… Throughout his tenure with St. Joseph’s, Phil Martelli afforded Black Cager Sports and Delgreco Wilson unfettered access to the Men’s Basketball team. I attended/covered virtually every home game. I openly pulled for the St. Joseph’s Basketball program under Phil Martelli’s leadership.
Over the years, Phil delivered some big wins…
In his second year, led by junior Big 5 MVP Rashid Bey flanked by Arthur “Yah” Davis and Terrell Myers and Harold Rasul, Martelli’s Hawks captured the A10 title. This talented and entertaining crew made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 1997.
After a 3 year dry spell, Martelli embarked upon one of the best runs in the past 25 years. In 2001, his Hawks finished 26-7 losing in the second round. Marvin O’Connor dropped 37 in an epic performance in the 83-90 loss to Stanford.
St. Joe’s would go 23-7 in 2002-03. Nice… Very good team…
The following year, with Jameer Nelson as his senior point guard, Martelli led the Hawks to the greatest season in school history. They ran the table during the regular season, going 27-0. The Hawks lost to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and ultimately reached the Elite Eight to finish with a record of 30-2.
This is “officially” the deepest run that St. Joseph’s has ever made in the tournament.
But, the fact is the 1960-61 SJU team went all the way to the Final Four and won the third-place game. Do I give Dr. Jack full credit for this Final Four appearance? Yup…
Will I note that his Final Four run was erased from the books due to a gambling scandal? Yup…
In 2004-05, Martelli led the Hawks back to the final game of the NIT, where they lost to South Carolina.
In 2008, Martelli led Saint Joseph’s to its first NCAA Tournament since 2004 with a team led by Pat Calathes and Ahmad Nivins.
Martelli captured the A10 Tournament titles in 2014 and 2016.
#7 Rollie Massimino
Massimino won a National Championship. He defeated John Thompson, Patrick Ewing and the mighty Georgetown Hoyas to get it done. Over the course of a 19 year run at Villanova, Massimino won 355 games. He made 11 NCAA appearances. Massimino Villanova teams made to the Elite Eight five times.
Massimino also insisted on playing Big Five City Series games on the Villanova campus. Under Massimino, Villanova decided no longer play a full slate of Big Five games. Massimino insisted on playing just two Big Five games a year.
It is what it is…
Massimino’s positions were clear… Philadelphia traditions did not matter… The Big Five was expendable. As far as Massimino was concerned, no Palestra, no round-robin, no Big Five.
Do I hold that against him? Yes
#8 Kenneth Loeffler
Coached at La Salle from 1949 to 1955. His record at La Salle was 144 wins and only 28 losses. He won an NIT when it really mattered. He led La Salle to two Final Four appearances and a National championship.
What do you do with that record? How do you rank him? I don’t know… But, I feel strongly he is worthy of being mentioned. Coach Loeffler got shit done… in a big way.
#9 Speedy Morris
Speedy Morris coached La Salle men’s basketball team for 15 years from 1986 to 2001. His first six years were outstanding. Morris led the Explorers to 4 NCAA appearances and 2 NITs over his first six seasons. He won 100 games in his four years.
#10 Herb Magee
Herb Magee has spent more than 60 years as either a player or coach at what is now known as Jefferson University. His career record stands at 1096-440. Magee is one of only four college coaches to surpass the 1,000 win milestone. On August 12, 2011, Magee was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Where do you rank Dunph and Phil?