A former la Salle star with close to 30 years' coaching experience, Fran Dunphy has found a perfect fit at Penn. Since taking over the head coaching duties at Penn 10 years ago, Fran Dunphy has rejuvenated a century-old college basketball program and brought it back into the national picture. After winning eight Ivy League titles in the '70s and going to the Final Four in 1979, Penn had a relative slump in the '80s. But Dunphy has led the Quakers back to the top of the Ivies, and they are on track this season to bring home their sixth title in the past eight years. Nonetheless, the past decade has been full of ups and downs for Dunphy and the Quakers. Taking over a program in 1989 that had not had a winning season in four years, Dunphy did not have much pressure to immediately succeed. After Penn went 12-14 and 9-17 in Dunphy's first two years, the new Quakers head man realized that the transition from assistant coach to head coach was harder than it seemed. "I had some insecurities myself as to how to go about this thing," said Dunphy, who took over after just one year as a Penn assistant. "As an assistant coach, you think you have all of the answers. Then you are given the top spot and you quickly find out that the experience factor is critical in this." Showing support, then-Penn Athletic Director and current Big 5 Director Paul Rubincam re-signed the Quakers head coach to another three-year contract with one year still remaining on his old one. "We had a good recruiting year coming up and Rubincam liked the direction of the program," Dunphy said. "They gave me a new three-year contract, which in today's world, that doesn't always happen. I was grateful for the University and Paul Rubincam for doing that for me." While Rubincam was expecting some improvement, the result was beyond his wildest dreams. Dunphy's ability to coach and attract talent became evident as he lured recruit Jerome Allen, transfers Matt Maloney and Ira Bowman and several other Ivy future stars who wound up lighting up the basketball courts and rewriting Penn's record books. "Like anything else, the better the player, the better the coach," Dunphy said. "We had a group of good kids coming in. The more talent you have the more chance you have to be a good basketball program." From 1993 to '95, the Quakers had a combined record of 69-14, including 42-0 in the Ivy League -- a streak that would last six Ivy games into 1995-96 and become the longest conference winning streak by any program in Ivy history. "Dunph was really good in keeping us focused from game to game," said Scott Kegler, a member of the Class of 1995 and second on Penn's all-time three-point percentage list. "We prepared for every team as if it was Kentucky. He worked us that hard and paid that much attention to detail each game. That is what allowed us to be so successful." In the '93-94 season, the Quakers received their first national ranking in 15 years -- No. 25 in the USA Today/CNN Coaches' Poll -- and won their first postseason game since 1980, defeating Nebraska in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With the graduation of Allen and Maloney in '95 and Bowman in '96, the program lost its core talent. Instead of looking at other programs for help, Dunphy brought in his best overall recruiting classes ever, luring current seniors Michael Jordan, Matt Langel and Geoff Owens (who has one year of eligibility remaining). "We knew we were not as experienced as we needed to be," Dunphy said. "When you have a tremendous recruiting class, people will look at the reason that these three came was that they saw their opportunity to play right away." The initial drop in talent resulted in a 12-14 record in '96-97, Penn's first losing season in six years and its worst Ivy League finish (fourth) since '87-88, but the Quakers quickly rebounded to a 17-12 season the next year. Graduating only one starter in '98 and returning Owens to the line-up after he was diagnosed with a medical condition, Penn regained its status last season as Ivy League champion with a 13-1 record in the Ivies and a 21-6 record overall. "A couple of different factors led to our success -- another year of maturing, understanding and growing and Geoff Owens, blocking shots and influencing shots," Dunphy said. While the Quakers graduated several key players this past May, Dunphy again has attracted a high level of talent to fill the void. The Quakers coach will rely on his strong senior class to help the highly touted class of 2003 -- a deep, six-player group that might replace this year's seniors as Dunphy's best recruiting class. Whatever the ultimate success of this year's squad, the wins will add to Dunphy's current total of 173 victories as Quakers coach, ranking him third all-time -- 13 behind Edward McNichol (1920-1930) and 54 behind Lon Jourdet (1914-1920 and 1930-1943). Dunphy's win total places him ahead of Penn coaching legends Dick Harter (88 wins) and Chuck Daly (125 wins). All of this success at Penn, for a former guard who once captained Penn's Big 5 rival La Salle, is a little ironic. After averaging 18.6 points and leading the Explorers in assists as a senior in '69-70, Dunphy held coaching positions at the United States Military Academy, Malvern Prep, American University and La Salle before landing the assistant coaching position at Penn under former coach Tom Schneider. While his resume fills several pages, his coaching style definitely brings results. "He is an in-your-face kind of coach," Penn senior guard Michael Jordan said. "That is what you need. If you don't have that kind of discipline then you won't win games. He treats everybody fairly, but he treats everybody differently. He knows he can get into my face, but there are other guys that don't respond to that well." "He expects you to prepare and do your best," Penn assistant coach Gil Jackson said. "He wants you to be motivated. He is very self-driven. He delegates by responsibility and expects you to get it done." While the emphasis might be on winning, it is Dunphy's relationship with his players that allows the team to succeed. "When you come in as a freshman, he works you real hard," Kegler said. "He is not doing a lot to be your friend, but he is trying to make you a better basketball player. As you come through the system, develop, mature and your game gets better, friendship with Dunph will grow too. When you graduate, it is really hard to walk away." Dunphy also has the respect of his Big 5 peers. "He is more of a player's type coach," La Salle coach Speedy Morris said. "He can relate to them and is a very good teacher. During games he does not go nuts. He is not about embarrassing his players. He is about teaching them. Most coaches, if not all, have a lot of respect for Fran." Another piece to the puzzle has been Dunphy's ability to recruit players. Instead of blaming the Ivy League's no-athletic scholarships policy and tough admissions processes, the Quakers head coach uses the advantages of the Ivy League's academic reputation, Penn's proud basketball tradition, a top national non-conference schedule and the lure of playing college basketball in Philadelphia to bring in top talent each season. "We have a terrific product to sell," Dunphy said. "We have a great university that you can get educated in any field you would like at a high level, a basketball program rich in history and tradition, the finest college basketball facility in America, the finest college basketball town in America and the opportunity to grow and learn a lot more about yourself." Not all of the credit for the Quakers' coaching success can fall in Dunphy's lap. He has had several quality assistants over the years, including current Penn assistant coaches Jackson, Steve Donahue and Dave Duke. "They really helped me make that transition from somebody who didn't have a lot of experience into somebody who could learn a little bit and take some direction from a lot of different areas," Dunphy said. Jackson and Donahue -- who have 19 years of service under Dunphy combined -- have stayed at Penn as a tribute to Dunphy. "He lets coach Jackson and myself do a ton of on-court stuff," Donahue said. "People come to our practices and are amazed by how much input I have on the offense. It makes it fun to coach." The fans have also shared in the success of the team through Dunphy's tenure, and he is quick to show his appreciation for their support. While some Penn sports have trouble attracting crowds, sellouts are not uncommon at the Palestra. "I think the students have been outstanding," Dunphy. "Over my 10 years here they have been tremendously supportive." Like Cinderella and her glass slipper, Dunphy has been a perfect match for the Quakers. As Dunphy's first decade at Penn has come to a close, one can only hope the next will be equally exciting.Comments powered by Disqus
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