When Aaron McKie finished his 13-year NBA playing career, he needed and found a challenge in playing another game. Golf had previously been an unknown to him, but that is no longer the case.
“I love it,” McKie said on a recent spring day when we had a chance to catch up. “If I am not watching college basketball, I am watching golf. I am drawn to it because it is such a difficult sport to learn, so difficult to master.”
The words “so difficult to master” kept ringing in my head. At 46 years old, McKie believes he can master anything he sets his mind to accomplish. As much as he loves attacking that small white ball with an iron, he is in position to master a different task, and, yes, it takes precedence over his golf game. On April 2, 2019, Temple University officially named Aaron McKie, their next head basketball coach. He knew the day was coming because a year ago the University announced Fran Dunphy would coach one final season and McKie would succeed him. For some, such a year might be awkward. For McKie, the year was about more learning and more preparation for running his program.
“You never really know how to prepare for that moment. I have never been a head coach,” McKie said. “I have been an assistant coach. You can hide being an assistant coach. As the head coach, you are in the driver’s seat. As the assistant coach, you are in the passenger seat, and you can be the smartest person in the building, but now you become the decision maker.
“There were some things I watched this past year with Dunph, his preparation, his demeanor through adverse times; through the good, through the bad, through the different. The X’s and O’s play a part in all that. However, it is the behind the scenes part that caught me a little off guard to this point.”
What does not take McKie off guard is being in the city of Philadelphia. He is also comfortable going into a recruit’s home and explaining how he was once the one sitting across from a college coach, looking for an opportunity from the very institution he currently represents.
Aaron McKie is Temple made, but before that he was Simon Gratz made. An accomplished high school player under the great Bill Ellerbee, McKie was groomed early to play the right way. He had others, along with Ellerbee, who contributed to his basketball well-being before landing a basketball scholarship under the guidance of Hall of Fame coach John Chaney at Temple in the early 1990s.
“I like to talk about myself, not from a basketball standpoint, but my life story,” McKie explained when commenting on his recruiting methods. “I needed help and Temple University, and John Chaney took a chance on me. I am ok with taking a chance on a kid and giving him an opportunity.
The proof is in McKie’s numerous accomplishments. McKie was a key contributor to his high school team extending a remarkable winning streak against Philadelphia public league schools that began his junior year with six victories, reached into his senior year with another 13 wins, and ended eight years later with 107 consecutive W’s.
His junior year of college, the Temple Owls advanced to the elite eight. In the 2000-01 NBA season, he was named Sixth Man of the Year. Also, three years later he shot .434 from three-point range finishing with the fifth highest percentage in the league.
“My background helps,” McKie said. “I think you can tickle the recruits ear a bit because I played in the NBA and that is where those kids want to be at some point in their career. However, I want competitors; I want high-character kids because I think that is important in this day and age. These kids are a lot more polished with how this recruiting process goes than my era of basketball when a school came in and offered you, and you said, ‘I am going there!’
“These guys weigh it out and play it out to the end. But I want kids that want to compete and kids that want to concentrate on life after basketball because that is equally important. Not everyone is going to reach the NBA. I certainly want to help them reach their goals of playing basketball at the highest level. The basketball part will take care of itself because these kids are in the gym every day working on their games. But once the ball stops, I want these kids to have options outside of the game of basketball.”
McKie is mastering being a mentor in life while coaching student-athletes in a game he has always loved, as well as occupying the driver’s seat.