FILE – In this April 2, 2019, file photo Temple NCAA college basketball coach Aaron McKie listens to his introduction during a news conference in Philadelphia. McKie is just the third head coach for Temple since Hall of Famer John Chaney was hired in 1982. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
Aaron McKie stayed up all night before he was set to address Temple for the first time as head coach. McKie thought hard for the right words as they raced through his mind, trying to craft the perfect pep talk to assert points of emphasis for the Owls as they headed into summer.
Once McKie gathered the Owls the next day after a workout, he had his approach down.
“I blew the whistle like I’m this badass,” McKie said. “C’mon, hurry up! Couple of guys were walking, jogging. I just wanted to set the tone.”
McKie stood at Temple’s huddle, surveyed his new team and, well, blanked. He forgot what he wanted to say.
“I just said, ‘How’s everybody feeling? Good morning,'” McKie said, laughing.
McKie even struggles to find the words of appreciation he has for landing a dream job as just the third head coach for Temple since Hall of Famer John Chaney was hired in 1982. He learned at the knee of Philly high school coaching great Bill Ellerbee. He played for Chaney and came within a win of the Final Four. He nearly won a championship with his childhood team, the 76ers, as a super sixth man under Larry Brown. And he studied as Fran Dunphy’s successor.
“It’s happening. It’s moving fast,” McKie said. “It’s like, this is your life. I was a Philly kid. I went to Temple. I talk to some of these guys just about the honor it is to be able to coach this university. But the path I had to go on to get here wasn’t an easy path, by no means.”
McKie joined Temple’s staff in 2014 and spent last season as head coach-in-waiting as the choice to replace Dunphy, who left the program after 13 seasons and eight NCAA Tournaments. He gets his shot to revitalize a program that has just two tournament berths since 2013 and was picked to finish seventh this season in the American Athletic Conference. Temple barely matters in a Philly winter sports landscape that is dominated by the Philadelphia Eagles and in a city basketball sphere that has seen rival Villanova blossom into the upper echelon of college programs.
He has to make the Owls matter again, as much as he needs to make them winners.
McKie is also among the crop of former NBA stars that turned to college coaching, among them Penny Hardaway and his top-ranked recruiting class at AAC favorite Memphis and Patrick Ewing at Georgetown. The 47-year-old McKie finished a solid NBA career in 2007, so long ago that he’s a YouTube search for recruits to know exactly who they’re dealing with when he walks through their door. A starter for all 92 career games, he averaged 17.9 points and led the Owls to 60 wins, three NCAA Tournaments and was a first-round pick by Portland in 1994. Then again, those teens could be playing NBA 2K20 and recognize him from the 2000-01 Sixers team when gamers want to use their controller for a crossover and play as Allen Iverson.
“I’m still relevant because of AI,” McKie said. “A lot of kids, they play the 2K game and they play as AI. All these kids grew up watching him and loving him. They end up seeing me on the screen.”
Iverson and McKie starred on the last Sixers team to play for the championship in ’01. Iverson, the league MVP and future Hall of Famer, and McKie, the NBA sixth man of the year, formed a familial bond in Philly that has lasted decades. When Iverson clashed with Brown (yes, over practice, and other grievances), McKie stepped in with brotherly, off-the-court mentoring that kept the tempestuous guard in line.
“I’ll never disrespect him by taking away from what he did for me to be able to wear this ring,” Iverson said, flashing his Hall of Fame ring. “He had so much to do with that, as far as the mental part. All of the things that maybe coach couldn’t get through to me, he got through to me. In some way, I think coach was probably getting messages to me through him. He knew that I wouldn’t take anything that (McKie) said to me the wrong way. I would look at it as something positive.”
Iverson said “knowing how much he cared about me” made it easy to listen to McKie, and the Owls would be wise to do the same.
“Because of his voice,” Iverson said. “He’ll tell you, I still did all of the things that I did. But his thing was, with the talent that I have, you can do all of those things that you do, but this is how you do it. The physical ability is there. But he gave me so much as far as just thinking instead of just doing and reacting and going off, ‘OK, I’m Allen Iverson, I’ll just do it this way.’ No, you can still be Allen Iverson, but do it this way. Do it this way quietly instead of doing it loud. The results are still going to be the same.”
Results. The Owls want better ones after they went 23-10 last season and were knocked out by Belmont in the First Four. Temple 1,000-point scorer Quinton Rose (16.3 points) made the AAC preseason first team, and is one of the holdovers who believed McKie would make a smooth transition from top assistant to top man on the bench.
“Coach McKie’s younger, so naturally he’s more into it,” Rose said.
McKie has embraced his predecessors; he sought advice from the 87-year-old Chaney and recently invited Dunphy back to give a preseason talk to the team. Dunphy found the right words, reminding the Owls to be good teammates. He also hired Temple career leading scorer Mark Macon as an assistant coach.
“I’ve got a Temple community looking over my shoulder. I’ve got a Philadelphia community that’s looking over my shoulder,” McKie said. “If I can get any advice, especially from coach Dunph, I want them to come in and give it.”
There’s one more confidant McKie wanted to pop by North Philly — there’s an open invitation for Iverson to come and talk about practice.
“I would love to do it, not to repay nobody because you don’t repay your friend,” Iverson said. “But it’s like, he’s always there for me, I’ve got to always be there for him.”