Penn all-time moment No. 5: Hiring Fran Dunphy

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Penn is next because (shameless Penn plug alert) Wet Hot American Summer: First Day at Camp, starring Penn alumna Elizabeth Banks, is out on Netflix on July 31. 

Three years after the giddy Final Four run of 1979, Bob Weinhauer made the jump to the Pac-8, thus creating a decade long victory vacuum for the Quakers. Craig Littlepage, who basically made a career out of saying he recruited Ralph Sampson to Virginia, was 40-39, while his successor Tom Schneider went a mere 51-54.

But in 1989, Schneider’s assistant Fran Dunphy was promoted to head coach and the next 17 years were arguably the best in Penn basketball’s illustrious history. If anyone was born to coach in Philly (perhaps besides current coach Steve Donahue) it’s Franny. A local kid who played at La Salle, Dunphy compiled a 310–163 overall record for the Quakers and won 10 Ivy League and three Big 5 titles. His .655 winning percentage is only bested by Hall of Famer Chuck Daly (.747), but “Daddy Rich” coached far fewer games at the Palestra.  Still, the 310 wins are the most by any Penn coach and are second all-time in the Ivy League to Pete Carril.  Dunphy’s Quaker teams won 48 straight Ivy League games and four league titles from 1992 through 1996. The 1993–94 team had a 25–3 record casino and was ranked 25th in the CNN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll, the program’s first such ranking since 1978–79. In 1994, Penn upset sixth-seeded Nebraska 90–80 in the NCAA Tournament (a game in which I thought Penn was vastly underrated and Nebraska terribly overrated). His overall record against the rest of the Ivy League is demonstrative of his coaching prowess:

Brown 28-6

Columbia 28-6

Cornell 30-4

Dartmouth 30-4

Harvard 29-5

Princeton 20-15

Yale 26-9

And now another AQ Penn Basketball Moment….

The best thing I remember about the Dunphy years was that when Fran was on the bench, Penn never seemed out of a game.  Before the internet, the only way to get up-to-the-minute basketball scores, if you weren’t already at the game, was by Sports Phone. (“Hi and welcome to Sports Phone! At the half, it’s Dartmouth 27, Penn 14.”)   These days a score like this (or even a five-point deficit) and one could safely assume that the contest was effectively over. Yet with a Dunphy-coached team, I never worried. Penn would invariably come back to win the game. What’s more, The Coach always seemed to keep his cool. I cannot ever recall him having a Carril-like tantrum or Massimino Meltdown.™ He was a class act all the way who is now sorely missed. Coupled with his current success at Temple and 503-271 (.650) head coaching record, I think he is a lock for the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

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