Can Fran Dunphy lead La Salle back to college basketball relevance?

To understand the depth of the challenge that Fran Dunphy faces as the new men’s basketball coach at La Salle, just listen to him talk about his decision to accept the job.

“It was not something where I said, ‘Man, I want to go back and let myself do this,'” Dunphy said Thursday of the week-long process that ultimately led to him stopping at age 73 for to train his Alma Mater. “There was none of that.”

»READ MORE: Fran Dunphy may be 73 and taking over La Salle, but he has not slowed down

After a brilliant 30-year coaching career that led him to build consistent winners at Penn and Temple, Dunphy is well aware of the burden he has imposed on La Salle. It’s 29 years since the Explorers have had three winning seasons in a row, a stretch that has seen them finish over 0.500 five times in total. The last three coaches have gone 294-351 together without conference titles and one NCAA Tournament spot in 21 seasons. Last month, the school divorced Ashley Howard, a former Villanova assistant who went 45-71 in four seasons.

While calling basketball games ESPN + for the past three years, Dunphy has taken a closer look at the challenges Howard faced as he tried to build a program at La Salle. The school has seen a dramatic change in its place in the hierarchy of athletics and higher education since the former point guard shared a court with two future NBAs as Explorers senior in 1969-70.

University-level financial problems have caused an already small athletic department to contract even more, complicating efforts to invest in a basketball program whose arena and facilities are among the smallest in Division I. While a posthumous alumni gift of $ 6.2 million earmarked for a new home court has raised hopes of renovating the Tom Gola Arena with 3,400 seats, La Salle is less than two years back from eliminating seven scholarship sports in a cost-saving measure. Participation and enthusiasm – prerequisites for most successful capital campaigns – are close to record low levels.

“Listen, I was struggling with this thing,” Dunphy said. “It was not like that when the question was asked, I said, ‘Yes, I jump in the foot first.’ I measured this. I have two small grandchildren that I can not get enough of, and that means I will spend less time with them. They are victims. But my family is behind me. … It is “My alma mater. That’s what we do. When we are asked to serve, we do it.”

»READ MORE: Take it from a La Salle alumnus who loves the place: It will take more than Fran Dunphy to save it

But Dunphy said his pragmatism should not be confused with a lack of enthusiasm or commitment. While initially imagining that he would play an off-field role in helping La Salle turn the program around, he eventually found himself convinced by alumni and administrators’ insistence that he had to actively lead the effort.

“We’ll need everyone,” Dunphy said. “Listen, this is a daunting task that we all need to be a part of. It’s a team. The alumni, the people who’ve been around La Salle for a long time, I need them. I need them. that the students today come to the fights and support our guys in every single game we play … I want so many La Salle people to say, ‘You know what, we can do this. We can come . ‘ “Whether anyone thinks I’m a rallying point or not, I want to do my best. That’s all I can do.”

While Dunphy’s reputation as a coach’s coach is well deserved, his tenure at La Salle will ultimately depend on his ability to recruit the kind of talent that has largely escaped his three immediate predecessors. His first task will be to address the future of the five members of this year’s team that have entered the NCAA’s transfer portal. From there, Dunphy will have to figure out a way to convince high school kids and potential transfers that La Salle can offer them something that other small private schools cannot.

“A unique child who can see the value of coming to a tiny little school in the Germantown / Olney part of Philadelphia,” Dunphy said. “I know the kind of guys I went to school with and how committed they were. Just complete and total commitment. … We are not in the situation where someone is necessarily committed to you for the next four or five years in the world we live in today.It just requires a unique guy and maybe it’s also some guys from Philly who went to school like a Clifton Moore that we now have in the program who went to Indiana and then decided to return back and play for Ash and La Salle.

“Maybe it’s also some of those guys who make a different decision after going away and seeing that home might be where the heart is, and maybe I can make my life in Philadelphia.”

The work has already begun. This weekend, Howard’s assistants will catch out to colleges around the country for their regularly scheduled recruiting trips, while Dunphy assesses potential combinations for his 2022-23 coaching staff. Sometimes the first step towards fixing the future is to focus on the present.

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