At 73, Fran Dunphy was content in his retirement.
After leaving coaching in 2019, the Drexel Hill native continued to teach a course in Management, Theory & Practice: From the Locker Room to the Board Room along with associate professor Lynne Andersson in Temple’s Fox School of Business that he has done for many years. He admitted he missed coaching. You don’t spend nearly 50 years in a profession, including 30 as a head coach at Penn and Temple as Dunphy did, and not miss it. It wasn’t easy to walk away, whether it by choice or not.
And then Dunphy’s alma mater, La Salle, came calling.
The school had just dismissed Ashley Howard after four losing seasons and was looking for someone to right the ship. Being a loyal Explorer, Dunphy was willing to do anything to help, whether that was to make recommendations or serve on a search committee to find a replacement. Dunphy quickly found out that La Salle wanted him to be the person to rebuild the program. Again, being the loyal alum, he said yes, just not right away.
“I wrestled with this thing,” Dunphy said in a Zoom call Thursday morning. “It wasn’t like when the ask was made, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m jumping in feet first.’ I have two little grandsons that I can’t get enough of and it means I’m going to spend less time with them. That’s sacrifice, but my family is behind me. Would I have taken it without the assurances? Yeah, it’s my alma mater. It’s what we do.”
It was a big ask, even for the winningest coach in Big 5 history and a Philadelphia sports icon. Dunphy’s career record at Penn (1989-2006) and Temple (2006-2019) is 580-325. But La Salle’s men’s program has had just one winning season in the last eight years and has qualified for the NCAA Tournament just once in the last 30 years.
La Salle also lags behind many of the other schools in the Big 5 and Atlantic 10 in facilities and financial resources. But that was another reason why Dunphy agreed to come out of retirement. A former co-captain for the Explorers under coach Tom Gola and a 1970 graduate, Dunphy is not just returning as the head basketball coach, but also as an ambassador for the university.
He did serve two stints as an assistant coach at his alma mater, first in 1979-80 and again from 1985-88.
“We’re going to need everybody,” Dunphy said. “This is going to be a daunting task that we all have to be a part of. It has to be a team, the alums, people that have been around La Salle for a long time. I need them. I need the students of today to come to the games and support our guys in each and every game that we play. If we can get as many students in the Gola Arena, that would be fantastic, no matter who we’re playing and no matter what the time of year is, please support. And I hope I can galvanize some of that. The people do trust that I’m going to do the best that I can each and every day. I’ll represent La Salle any way that I can, whether that’s in the games that we play or the practice sessions, around campus or in the community.
“I want as many La Salle people to say, ‘We can do this. We can arrive.’ Whether or not I’m the rallying point and somebody thinks I can do, I’ll try my best.”
Dunphy has worked several La Salle games as an analyst for ESPN+ so he’s familiar with the players. He just has to convince them to stay. Jhamir Brickus (Coatesville), Anwar Gill, Jack Clark, Christian Ray (Haverford School), Clifton Moore, Mamadou Doucoure and Khalil Brantley have all reportedly entered the transfer portal, which would leaves the roster a little thin if they all go, to say the least. Dunphy said he spoke to the team yesterday and plans to meet with the players individually over the next few days. He hopes to convince those who have entered the transfer portal to stay at 20th & Olney.
“If we all stay together and what I know about the makeup of the team and their talent level and skills, I think we can be OK,” Dunphy said. “I think we can be a pretty good team if we all stay together. But I’m also understanding of many of them being in the transfer portal so we’re dealing with that. … When you go into the portal it doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to transfer. It means that you’re seeking and I’m hoping that they re-seek La Salle and hope that they all stay together and we become a good team.”
As for the coaching staff, that remains intact for now. Kyle Griffin, Jamal Robinson, Donnie Carr, John Cox, Mike Doyle and graduate assistants Matt Karpowicz and Fred Lagarde III are still listed on the roster on the school’s athletic web site and will be out recruiting this weekend, Dunphy said. Will there be changes? Most likely, but not before Dunphy meets with each one individually, too, which he plans to do next week.
It’s not what Dunphy expected to be doing at this stage in his life but he’s up to the challenge.
“I would do anything for La Salle and it just turned out that they thought that the coaching would encompass everything in this case,” Dunphy said. “I’ve been in the classroom for the last 17 years at Temple and I’d like to do the same thing at La Salle starting in that fall semester, because it gives you a sense of the vibe of the institution and you’re looked at differently that you’re not just sitting in your office worried about men’s basketball, you’re worried about every kid on campus, the faculty; you want to blend in with everybody.
“This is all a team thing and if I can go back and join La Salle again it would be coming full circle and this is the only place I think I would have gotten back into coaching.”