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Chaney won respect of Bona fans

One of college basketball's shining lights said goodbye to the game Monday when John Chaney retired after 24 mostly exhilarating, sometimes tumultuous years as head coach of Temple University.

The 74-year-old Chaney will be sorely missed, especially in a small town in Western New York's Southern Tier.

When Chaney brought Temple to St. Bonaventure, it was more than a game. It was an event, a happening, the hottest ticket in town. For fans and media, it meant an annual visit by a nationally renowned personality.

The Bona faithful didn't like that Temple left town as winners more often than not, and we all remember the "Cookiegate" affair in 2000 as perhaps the low point of Chaney's trips to Olean.

But Bona fans grew to love Chaney. Once greeted with boos, Chaney felt the warm embrace of the Reilly Rowdies. He received a standing ovation before a January 2002 game after an announcement congratulating him on his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in the fall.

Fans stood in line before games to get his autograph or just to say hello. I'll never forget a 2003 contest when Chaney stood in front of the Bona student section and started shadow boxing, much to the delight of the crowd.

"I've got to take the teeth out of them," Chaney explained later in his trademark raspy voice. "A lot of my guys have never seen craze and madness before. I don't care about all the big arenas we played in in the early part of the year. They haven't seen anything like St. Bonaventure.

"This is a haven for 40 minutes of hell. And when the game's over, the people are nice as hell. But during the game, boy, they're at you. They couldn't wait for me to come out. . . . That's why I came out boxing, but I made sure to do some bobbing and weaving."

Chaney's postgame interviews were entertainment. He usually walked in the room bellowing, "Anybody got any liquor in here? It's a Catholic school, isn't it? You're supposed to have liquor."

What made him fun to cover was you never knew what he would say. Following a loss to Bona in 1997, Chaney talked about the officiating, which led to the ejection of one of his assistants.

"It's just wrong," said Chaney, who suddenly turned the conversation into a rant about O.J. Simpson. "It's like that trial in L.A. That son of a [bleep] is guilty! He killed those two people! His [butt] should be in jail!"

It was strange and it was coarse, but it was Chaney. Whether it's basketball, Simpson or President George W. Bush ("I hope and pray that Sen. [John] Kerry just crushes this guy."), Chaney has never been afraid to speak his mind on any subject.

Sometimes his words and actions got him in trouble. He'll be remembered for sending in the "goon" (Chaney's description of center Nehemiah Ingram) who ended up breaking the arm of Saint Joseph's forward John Bryant last year. Chaney will always be the guy who threatened to kill then-Massachusetts coach John Calipari in a postgame news conference in 1994.

But those episodes shouldn't totally define Chaney, no more than they should be ignored. Beyond the 741 career victories, 17 trips to the NCAA Tournament, five regional finals and one national championship (at Division II Cheyney State in 1978), he should be remembered as a man who stood for something.

He fought for the little guy, the underdog, the underprivileged. He was raised in poverty, which might explain why he recruited kids from dead-end neighborhoods and broken homes. He wanted to give them the chance for a better life that someone gave him. He was one of the loudest critics of NCAA academic policies he felt penalized kids who needed educational opportunities afforded by athletic scholarships.

Western New York has seen many coaching characters work the sideline, but there has never been anyone quite like Chaney. He was an original, the likes of which we'll never see again.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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