Atlanta He sniped. He smirked. He cajoled. He antagonized.
John Chaney was perfectly cast Saturday in the role of grumpy grandfather-figure reveling in stories about the good ol' days and serving notice to his Temple players they'll never be good enough to beat a big, bad team like Michigan State today.
"That team is a champion," Chaney said, cutting his eyes disdainfully at David Hawkins. "They're going to rip you up."
Of course, this was all part of Chaney 101: Tear his players down, nitpick their every flaw, challenge them to please him when nothing ever will.
Maybe, just maybe, this formula will finally carry Chaney to a Final Four. For the fifth time, he's come to the brink by reaching today's title game in the South Regional.
Temple (24-12) fell short the last four times, most recently in 1999. To break that streak, the Owls must beat the defending national champions, a Michigan State team that has won nine straight NCAA Tournament games by double figures, the average margin a staggering 17.4 points.
Of course, the top-seeded Spartans (27-4) haven't beaten Temple since the early 1940s, losing twice in the last four years against Chaney's maddening 1-3-1 zone defense.
Except for those wearing green, just about everyone is pulling for Chaney to win again. He is unquestionably the sentimental favorite in the dwindling NCAA field, a rumpled, 69-year-old curmudgeon hoping to reach the pinnacle in the twilight of his career. That Temple is an 11th-seeded team, saddled with a seven-game losing streak early in the season and a nine-player roster because of injuries and expulsions, only adds to the storyline.
"We've gone from America's team (Gonzaga) to America's coach," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo groaned. "I wish I wasn't playing Temple. If I wasn't, I'd be cheering for them 200 percent."
With one day to prepare for Michigan State, Chaney had little time to relish the moment or shower his team with praise. Not that he's ever very generous with that sort of talk.
"He's always going to find something wrong, no matter what," standout guard Quincy Wadley said. "You're caught between a rock and a hard place."