Tuesday evening, La Salle officially announced the hiring of Fran Dunphy as head men’s basketball coach. The university is his alma mater.
Dunphy, already the first to be head men’s basketball coach at two Big 5 schools after long runs at both Penn and Temple, is about to make it three schools. So what is already a unique Philadelphia coaching career is veering into never-to-be-repeated territory.
“During my time at La Salle, I have met many passionate alums who personify what it means to be an Explorer,” said La Salle athletic director Brian Baptiste. “Fran Dunphy is at the top of that list, and to be able to introduce him as the 20th head coach in La Salle men’s basketball history is an honor and privilege. In my conversations with Fran, he has made it clear that he still has a passion for coaching and a burning desire to help his alma mater. I know he’s excited to get to work and I know our student-athletes will benefit from having him as the leader of our program.”
The news was first reported by The Inquirer. According to several sources, Dunphy is taking the job after he himself tried to convince several others, including former assistant Matt Langel, now Colgate’s successful head coach, to take it. Dunphy’s concern, one alumnus close to him said, is for the institution itself, beyond the basketball program.
If that sounds lofty, consider it in the context of a Tom Gola Arena renovation fundraising project needing to get to the finish line. Also, remember that Dunphy, now 73, agreed to be Temple’s interim athletic director early in the pandemic. This is not the man’s first tough mission.
Heading La Salle’s program is considered to be the toughest of basketball missions. Between the lack of Atlantic 10-quality facilities, and most of the current team now in the transfer portal, it’s the heaviest of lifts.
Dunphy will replace Ashley Howard, let go after a 13-19 season, his fourth in charge of the Explorers. In 30 seasons as a head coach at Penn and Temple, Dunphy had 24 winning seasons, going to the NCAA Tournament 17 times. But this isn’t about sprucing up a resume. This is about a native son returning to his school, trying to lift it into relevancy, or prevent it from sinking further. One source said Dunphy would take the job only if the school listened when he told it the program needs something, no questions asked. Several sources said Dunphy is the one who could make phone calls and get old-guard alumni supporting the program again.
“La Salle has given me so much over the years,” Dunphy said in the statement. “It gave me a chance to be a part of multiple teams as a student-athlete, an opportunity to form life-long friendships, and helped mold me into the man I am today. I can’t wait to work with the young men on the team, re-introduce myself to the campus community, and to help my alma mater any way I can.”
The day Howard was let go, La Salle sent a note to alumni from the office of the president noting that La Salle’s board of trustees had approved “the next phase of the design process for an arena project,” with external fundraising continuing. Then the key part: “In 2013, the University…
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