Dunphy set to turn over Temple to assistant McKie
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Aaron McKie had player development duties in his first season as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, which gave him a second-row spot on the bench based on the organizational seating chart. Just months removed from the end of a 13-year NBA career, McKie found it tough to disconnect from his former role as a team leader with his new one in his listen-and-learn role as a rookie coach.
“I’d be back there yelling all kinds of stuff,” McKie said, laughing. “I had no coaching etiquette whatever. I just didn’t know.”
Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks eventually pulled McKie aside and told him he needed to take it down a notch: “This is why we have these other guys sitting up on the front of the bench.”
But Cheeks, a basketball Hall of Famer, recognized the potential in McKie and knew one day the guard who helped lead the Sixers to the 2001 NBA Finals would eventually take a more prominent spot on the bench.
“One day you’re going to be a coach and you’re going to have an opportunity,” McKie recalled Cheeks telling him.
McKie is finally ready to check in as head coach.
McKie is a coach-in-waiting at Temple, the program he took to the 1993 Elite Eight and where he sits sixth on the career scoring list as the Owls start their final season under Fran Dunphy. Temple appoints coaches much in the way the senate confirms a Supreme Court justice — they’re practically jobs for life. Temple has had just four coaches since 1952 and Dunphy, who also coached Penn for 17 seasons, has held the job since 2006.
But in 2019, it’s McKie’s turn to resuscitate a program that has just one NCAA Tournament berth since 2013 and was picked to finish sixth this season in the American Athletic Conference. The Owls open their season Tuesday against city rival La Salle and McKie will be by Dunphy’s side.
“He’s still the head coach,” McKie said. “I have all these ideas and things in my mind that I want to do. But this is his team.”
The 70-year-old Dunphy, who has a 557-315 career record, has said the decision to leave at the end of the season was his own and he wasn’t encouraged to step down by the administration. He first met with Temple athletic director Patrick Kraft shortly after the Owls were eliminated from the NIT and a transition plan was put in place.
Dunphy offered few specifics on why he decided to leave other than, “it just seemed like the right thing to do.” He also did not handpick McKie as his successor, though he endorsed the move. McKie has not yet added additional responsibility to his duties.
“I’ve given Aaron and everybody else tremendous ownership over the years,” Dunphy said. “It’s just sort of business as usual. We talk a lot about the process. He’ll do great. His learning curve is not steep.”
Dunphy’s departure comes with a caveat that he’s not retired. He’ll continue to teach his management, theory and practice courses at the Temple business school and refused to rule out an eventual return to the bench.
“There’s an unknown out there that is sort of exciting,” Dunphy said. “I haven’t given it a whole lot of thought. These guys deserve my utmost attention to every game, every bounce, every pass.”
Known as one of the classiest coaches in basketball, Dunphy was recently feted with the Dean Smith Award.
“He’s not the norm. He’s a throwback because he cares about people,” McKie said. “Does he want to continue to coach? Absolutely. He’s a competitive guy and he wants to continue to coach. I’m sure it didn’t play out the way he wanted it to play out. But I believe he’s been very supportive toward me.”
McKie is a bit of a throwback himself for a program he helped take to some of its greatest heights under Hall of Fame coach John Chaney. Raised by his grandmother in one of the roughest parts of North Philadelphia, and starred at Simon Gratz High School before he signed at Temple. He failed to meet the SAT minimum and sat out a year as a Prop 48 student but went on to earn a degree in social work. A starter for all 92 career games, he averaged 17.9 points and led to Owls to 60 wins, three NCAA Tournaments and was a first-round pick by Portland in 1994.
When he returned to Temple in 2014, there were days he thought he wasn’t cut out for the recruiting grind rather than the luxe life in the NBA. But the pull to make a difference for disadvantaged kids made the job worth sticking out.
“They’re a lot like me,” he said. “A lot of these kids, they come in with scars.”
Charles Barkley stopped by a recent practice and former teammate Allen Iverson hits up McKie with potential recruits in Virginia. After a recent scrimmage against Georgetown, where Iverson starred, McKie told Hoyas coach Patrick Ewing how Iverson had some players he thought could help Temple.
“Man, I’ve been trying to get him up here for two years now and I ain’t seen him yet,” McKie recalled Ewing’s response with a laugh. “That’s AI.”
McKie will soon join a list of former players such as Ewing, Chris Mullin at St. John’s and Penny Hardaway at Memphis who returned to their former programs in hopes of returning them to similar glory as when they were all-conference stars. Temple lost its shine in part because the program sacrificed the local rivalries in the Atlantic 10 for the geographically challenged AAC for the sake of the football team. For all his success, Dunphy never led the Owls past the second weekend of the tournament and not even Chaney, who made the Hall of Fame, went to a Final Four.
McKie sat out his freshman season at Temple. He can wait out one more to get his shot as head coach.
“If you do things right, the wins and the success will come,” he said.