Philly coaching fraternity battling for elusive Sweet 16

Chad Leistikow
Iowa's Fran McCaffery laughs during practice Thursday at the Barclays Center.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The NCAA Tournament, like it or not, defines college basketball coaches and programs.

It’s something Temple coach Fran Dunphy said he has ruminated about when he would walk his dog. Dunphy has taken Temple to seven NCAA Tournaments now in 10 years, but he’s never taken the Owls past the second round.

“I would think about it all the time,” Dunphy said of his 2-6 NCAA record there. “I’d like to reverse the number, but that’s not what life has presented to me.”

Dunphy has company in two fellow Philadelphians. The coach he’ll face in Friday’s 2:10 p.m. game at the Barclays Center, Iowa’s Fran McCaffery, is 3-7 in the NCAA Tournament. McCaffery’s never been to the Sweet 16.

One of those coaches is guaranteed to play Sunday — likely against Villanova’s Jay Wright, who has had his own NCAA problems of late — for a spot in the South Regional semifinals next week in Louisville, Ky.

Iowa takeaways: Uthoff's defense, McCaffery's demeanor

While Dunphy and McCaffery have generally led teams expected to win one tournament game at most, Wright has been at the head of three disappointing second-round losses — twice as a No. 2 seed (2010, 2015) and once as a 1 (2014) — and a 3-5 tournament record since 2010.

Wright agrees with Dunphy, who said, “When we sign the papers to be head coaches in this world, we know what the pressures are.”

“People in Texas and California, they don’t get to see us coach every day. What do they see? They see you in the NCAA Tournament,” Wright said. “What do you do? So that’s your national perspective. I think that’s fair.”

The good news for Dunphy, McCaffery and Wright is that unless 15th-seeded UNC-Asheville shocks the world, one of them will break through this week.

Many of the media questions to all three Thursday stemmed around their longtime roots in the Philadelphia area. Dunphy was a longtime coach at Penn before taking over at Temple. McCaffery grew up in Philly and played at Penn. Wright was born in Western Pennsylvania and has been a fixture at the helm of the Philly area Wildcats for the last 14 seasons.

McCaffery has known Wright since they were kids. He lauded Dunphy for being able to coach at a high level “in the city that he loves.”

But this weekend, they’re combatants.

“There’s a mutual respect,” McCaffery said, “but also an understanding on that day we’re going to try to beat each other up. And then we’re going to be best friends when the game is over.”

FULL PRESS CONFERENCE VIDEO: Hawkeyes explain mindset before Temple game