On this day, Dunphy the better coach than Brown

"It was just kind of our turn," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy of the win over Southern Methodist.
"It was just kind of our turn," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy of the win over Southern Methodist. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 18, 2014

In the fall of 1997, not long into Larry Brown's first season as the 76ers' head coach, Fran Dunphy started visiting their practices, eager to observe a brilliant basketball mind in action.

Dunphy had never met Brown before, but in maintaining a long friendship with Gregg Popovich, one of Brown's apprentices, he'd heard Popovich praise Brown over the years and had come to admire him from afar. Now here was an opportunity to glean some insight from the man himself, to watch Brown at work - only Brown wasn't content to have Dunphy simply sit there. He'd stop practice to turn Dunphy into a participant, soliciting his opinion on a particular offensive or defensive set, testing him on tactics and techniques.

"I was terrified I wouldn't say the right thing," Dunphy said Sunday in a hallway of the Liacouras Center. "He'll look at you and say, 'OK, how would you handle this?' And you say, 'What, are you kidding? You're Larry Brown. I'm plain old Fran Dunphy.' But that's the way he is."

On Sunday, the roles could have been reversed. It could have been Dunphy doing the quizzing. Still, he attributed Temple's 71-64 win over Brown and Southern Methodist - his Owls' most impressive victory of an otherwise ugly season - to fate.

"It was just kind of our turn to win this game," he said, as if a team that had entered Sunday with a 6-17 record, with a 1-10 mark in the American Athletic Conference, and with only eight available players, was due to beat the 23d-ranked team in the nation.

No, Temple outplayed and outhustled SMU, and Dunphy outcoached Brown, implementing a strategy to switch as often as possible on defense to create favorable matchups, motivating his players with a two-week-old play on their minds.

Immediately after SMU had routed Temple, 75-52, in Dallas on Feb. 6, Dunphy had told his players that they would beat the Mustangs the next time the two teams met.

"Lucky call, by any stretch of the imagination," Dunphy said Sunday. But Temple guard Dalton Pepper, who scored a game-high 24 points, attributed the Owls' upset to their coach's show of confidence in them, and even Brown had to admit that Dunphy had gotten the better of him.

"They're 1-10. They just got blown out by Louisville [on Friday]. And they look like the team that's supposed to win," Brown said. "They had amnesia, and I think [Dunphy] does that."

Of course, part of Brown had to love that his team had lost to Temple. He hardly hid his pleasure. He's the king of these reclamation projects. He got the Nets and the Clippers to the playoffs when those franchises were embarrassments. He got the Sixers to the NBA Finals. He's turned Southern Methodist (20-6), which hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since 1993, into a top-25 program, and he could barely keep the smile from creeping over his face Sunday.

His players hadn't yet learned the consequences of taking any opponent lightly, he said, and he would relish the chance to remind them again during their next practice.

"They're going to be unhappy on Monday," he said. "I won't."

That's the thing about Brown, though: For him, the game alone is never enough, even if it ought to be. He's never content to let his work speak for itself. He always puts himself in the center of every conversation. Now he was seven minutes into his postgame news conference, and he was rolling.

He tossed laurels to Philadelphia for the six years he spent here with the Sixers: "I love everything Philly represents."

He lamented the conference realignments throughout college sports: "Maryland's field hockey team's got to go to Lincoln [Nebraska]. You think they're going to [take a] charter?"

He pleaded for the NBA to institute a player age limit for the sake of saving college basketball: "You have the best minor-league system in the world, plus they're getting an education."

Ostensibly finished speaking, he rose from a table, then paused because no one had asked him about Allen Iverson, and didn't everyone want to hear from him about the number-retirement ceremony the Sixers would have for Iverson next month?

"I'm not going to be there on Allen's day, and I'm sick," Brown said. "We've got a game, and I can't get the TV people to change our time. But I just want to say this, because I have a group here. I know a lot of people think we banged heads and stuff like that, but I know God put me here to coach him."

It was a line he's used a hundred times to a hundred eye rolls since that first season he coached Iverson, since Dunphy met him. The two trade text messages from time to time, and Dunphy's admiration for him hasn't abated.

"He's a basketball savant," he said. "He reads something one time. It's in his memory. He's just a remarkable guy at what he does."

There's never been a doubt about Larry Brown's brilliance. Nevertheless, as the Temple Owls celebrated and Brown walked to the locker room, there was no doubting this, either: On Sunday, he was the second-best coach in the gym.



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