Ed DeChellis, just months removed from his first NCAA tournament berth as head coach of his alma mater left the Penn State Nittany Lions to become head coach at the Naval Academy. The story, which was broken by David Jones of the Patriot-News: Ed DeChellis to take head coach job at Navy, was shocking to the Penn State fanbase this afternoon and welcomed by much of it which is unfortunate.
Ultimately, blaming DeChellis for Penn State’s basketball woes is like buying a minivan and complaining it doesn’t handle corners well and and has an uninspired 0-60 time. It is reasonable to conclude that the reasons DeChellis was hired in the first place were (in no specific order):
He was part of the Penn State family and thus found the job more appealing than others did
He would not command a high salary
He would maintain the off-court academic values of university
Those are Intercollegiate Athletics’ values. Those values have worked pretty well (though there is certainly some discontent) for the football program under Joe Paterno and in non-revenue sports. However, in the very competitive world of men’s college basketball, it has fallen flat. The basketball team plays in an arena that cares more about selling concert tickets. They got bumped from their practice court for Bon Jovi rehearsals! The make-shift practice court had a crooked hoop. Yet, DeChellis has been scapegoated so viciously for the state of Penn State men’s basketball. The bottom line is the university did not care about the program or DeChellis. If they cared about the latter, they wouldn’t have strung DeChellis along for so many years.
I believe that athletic director Tim Curley figured DeChellis was a coach the could hire on the cheap because he would just be so happy to be coaching at his alma mater. Curley and co. could just let the guaranteed revenue come in and if the team started winning great. If they were a non-factor, well at least they weren’t spending a lot of money. That seems to have changed as DeChellis teams improved which is the opposite of what one would expect, right? Curley comes off as so disingenuous about the whole matter and now he’s stuck trying to find a coach in late May after chasing away somebody who thought it was going to be a dream job and just had his most successful season. Guess what, nobody else is going to feel that way and seeing how DeChellis was treated will surely raises concerns for prospective replacements. Curley is stuck with a limited applicant pool — a scenario he deserves, but Penn State fans don’t.
The irony of all of this, is that following DeChellis greatest achievement as head coach, an NCAA tournament berth, he realized it was never going to get better. His contract was not extended, so the writing was on the wall. He maxed out his potential at Penn State this past season and intercollegiate athletics did not seem to mind letting him know he felt that way. The perception was that DeChellis would be fired if Penn State regressed this upcoming season, a likely scenario given the number of seniors who departed. DeChellis had to get out while he could do it on his own terms, more or less. DeChellis is taking a pay cut for a 5 year contract, but DeChellis rightly felt he needed to cut his losses and make a move. Navy is probably a very good fit for him, one where the expectations will be grounded in the reality of the situation, rather than what they should be and are not. He won’t have indignity of Bon Jovi taking his practice space either. DeChellis also gets to live in a lovely town near the Chesapeake Bay and two major cities where the sun actually shines more than 40% of the time. I am happy for him.
For Penn State, DeChellis was not the problem, but he wasn’t the solution either. I do not believe that a coach of similar stature can come in and make Intercollegiate Athletics care about basketball. Until an alumnus/alumni is willing to specifically commit to the program, I believe that the status quo will remain at Penn State. I could be wrong and I have a bit of a track record of being wrong about Nittany Lions hoops, but I think they will be hard pressed to get somebody with “Penn State values” who is a value.
PRESS CONFERENCE VIDEO FROM BLUE WHITE ILLUSTRATED