UMass, Temple rivalry steeped in tradition, intensity
Temple coach John Chaney directs his team against Massachusetts in the second half of their basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006, in Philadelphia. Temple won, 76-47.(AP Photo/George Widman) Purchase photo reprints »
Massachusetts coach John Calipari yells to his team during their game against Kentucky in the Final Four Saturday March 30, 1996 (AP Photo/Ed Reinke) Purchase photo reprints »
Bruiser Flint still likes to bust Rick Brunson’s chops when he runs into him.
In 1991, Brunson was a highly recruited basketball star at Salem High School and Flint was an assistant coach for the University of Massachusetts who was trying very hard to convince the Bay State standout to stay local for college.
Not only did Brunson, who played briefly in the NBA and is now an assistant with the Charlotte Bobcats, spurn UMass, but he chose Atlantic 10 rival Temple.
“He was the hardest person I ever recruited. He told me the reason he didn’t pick UMass was because he wanted to win championships,” Flint, who is now the head coach at Drexel, recalled laughing. “In the four years he was at Temple, we won four championships at UMass. We joke about that even today.”
Brunson’s recruitment was one of many subplots that made the UMass-Temple rivalry special.
After Saturday’s 6 p.m. game between the Minutemen and Owls at the Mullins Center, old stories and nostalgic trash talk will be all that’s left of the once great rivalry.
Realignment is leaving a trail of dying conference rivalries on its path to super conferences and bigger television deals. With UConn and Syracuse, West Virginia and Pitt, Maryland and Duke, Louisville and Cincinatti all done or dying, nobody is kicking up much fuss nationally at the end of the Minutemen and Owls.
But fans in Amherst and Philadelphia know what it meant. Even after ESPN and occasionally ABC or CBS stopped showing up for it, the games were still usually terrific right up until last year’s overtime Owls win in Philadelphia and the Minutemen’s Atlantic 10 tournament victory in Atlantic City, N.J., that helped create the momentum that kick-started their NIT run.
It wasn’t really a rivalry until UMass broke through with its first win in 1992. Prior to that, the Minutemen were just another Atlantic 10 nail Temple hammered annually as the Owls won the series’ first 21 games starting in 1983.
But once John Calipari helped the Minutemen challenge the Owls in the early to mid-1990s, the entire Atlantic 10 benefitted.
Calipari made UMass into Temple’s equal by copying Temple’s blueprint of play anyone anywhere to get television exposure.
“It wasn’t until Calipari came and he began to follow suit with us,” Chaney recalled Monday. “They were always great games and fun games especially when they got the big boy (Marcus Camby) in there, that’s when they became a big horse race for us. We would both find ourselves in the top 20 and top 30.”
The differences between Calipari, the young perfectly coiffed salesman, and Chaney, the frumpy old wizard, only added to the storyline.
The rivalry got both schools plenty of television exposure in 1994.
The national spotlight was never brighter than when Chaney barged into Calipari’s press conference at the Mullins Center. He started by yelling at Calipari for criticizing the officials after the game and then charged the podium yelling “I’ll kill you!” and “I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Mike Williams, whose legend as a buzzer-beater includes two against Temple, blocked Chaney’s path to Calipari.
“I remember Mike coming back to the locker room telling us that Cal and Chaney had just gotten into it and that he’d stepped in,” said former UMass player and current staff assistant Lou Roe. “That was the pivotal time that put the rivalry over the top.”
The clash was big news everywhere. Not only did ESPN seem to run it on a loop, but the networks and cable news all showed the footage, which still lives on. ESPN seems to find a way to show it several times a year and it will certainly show up on CBS Sports Network during Saturday’s telecast. Over 100,000 people have watched it on YouTube.
Media and opposing coaches (occasionally even hockey coaches) walk into the Mullins Center green room and ask so often “Is this the Calipari-Chaney room?” that UMass should consider marking the spot of the confrontation with a bronze plaque and include the room as part of campus tours.
Calipari and Chaney are friends now, have done fundraisers together and even posed for pictures pretending to strangle each other. Chaney, 81, who has been retired since 2006, said people don’t want to hear about their friendship. They’d rather remember the clash.
“They’d much rather laugh and pick on my ass about that because they keep showing it on television,” Chaney said. “I don’t care where I go, somebody hollers out at me ‘I’m going to kill you.’”
But while Cal vs. Chaney got the most national recognition, UMass and Temple fans will remember the games. From 1992 to the present, the teams have played 41 times with UMass winning 21 and Temple taking 20. Five were for the Atlantic 10 title, five went to overtime and 12 were decided by six points or fewer.
“There were some great games. The crowds were unbelievable,” said Flint, who was UMass’ head coach from 1996-2001. “Even today people in Philly talk about those games in McGonigle Hall and how you had to wait outside for an hour and a half to two hours to get into the game. You just don’t get that type of stuff anymore. There were a lot of things on the court, but there were a lot of things off the court with that too. They got upset when we started kicking them in the butt a little bit too. The games were unbelievably intense. The anticipation was unbelievable.”
UMass coach Derek Kellogg said continual change is now part of the landscape.
“It’s sad for the game. Those are some of the better memories for UMass basketball fans. Good or bad memories,” Kellogg said Monday. “They were fun memories but sport moves on. ... Maybe it will be us and VCU that become great rivals.”
UMass and Temple will probably play again. Flint thinks UMass will end up in the new Big East with Temple. But if not, they’ll probably schedule a home-and-home series or meet in some early season tournament somewhere many miles from Amherst or Philadelphia.
It won’t be the same.
“Much of rivalries are just going to go by the wayside. It becomes an exercise of history to think about it. It’s a memory of something that’s no longer there. It’s a shame,” said Chaney, who is recovering from vascular surgery in his leg. “Let everybody know, nobody did it like Temple and Mass.”
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.