By now you've heard the news so the headline isn't quite the shocker that it would have been a couple days ago, but the story isn't any less fascinating. I dare anyone to find me a college basketball coach who was in one of the premier conferences, coaching at his alma matter, coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance and within the past three seasons was named the conference coach of the year and won an NIT title; and then he left to coach a program that finished 6th in a conference that finished with a conference RPI of 25 (out of 31). I'll save you the trouble, it has never happened.
Until now. Ed DeChellis left Penn State, coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, to take the open Navy job. I spent seven years coaching college basketball at the D3 level with the hope of someday getting to the D1 level. Along the way I went to various summer camps, tried to build relationships with D1 coaches in an effort to land a coveted graduate assistant job and eventually the reality of chasing dreams at the expense of my family was too much to ignore and I committed to the latter. My point I'm trying to get to is coaches are wired to climb the ladder. Coaches by nature are ultra competitive and not succeeding doesn't drive them to quit, it drives them even more to win. Why? So they can continue to climb the ladder.
I was talking with one coach who spent several years as a highly successful NAIA and D2 coach before coaching nearly 10 years at a low-major D1 school. He was telling me the vast differences between the BCS level schools and Atlantic Sun levels schools. This conversation is the first thing that came to mind when I heard about DeChellis leaving a Big Ten school for the Patriot League. Obviously DeChellis is taking a pay cut, but that is only where it starts. Recruiting budget isn't just smaller it is a small fraction of what it was before. And with the recruiting restrictions on recruiting to Navy, your job just dramatically changed. Traveling on chartered planes is a thing of the past, get used to a lot of long bus rides. Team meals just went from catered to pizza. The budget to hire assistants is essentially gone meaning instead of hiring good/proven coaches to help you out, you are relying on young kids willing to work for nothing hoping to climb that ladder (Hey Coach, call me!). DeChellis isn't just going to have to do more with less, he's going to have to do a LOT more with a next to nothing.
So why would DeChellis make this move? I think there are two obvious answers.
The first is that he was getting out before Penn State had a chance to force him out. The consensus is that had Talor Battle not carried the Nittany Lions to the Big Ten Tournament title game and had they missed the NCAA Tournament, DeChellis would have been fired. The fact is he made the NCAA Tournament but that doesn't mean his job was secure. Add to that the fact that Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones and David Jackson were graduating and the outlook for 2011-12 wasn't very good.
But again, I get back to the fact that coaches by nature are uber competitive. Losing their star players happens and it drives them to bring in other good players to build on the success they just had. If coaches left when they graduated a lot of production it would be mass chaos every offseason.
Now we get even more speculative, but the general consensus is that things must be bad in the Penn State athletic department if you aren't the football program. This from ESPN's Dana O'Neil...
For years the basketball team has been a little sister of the poor stepchild to football, a winter afterthought given all the tending and care of a vegetable garden positioned in the middle of a nuclear field. Administrative support waffles between tepid applause and casual indifference.
The money, though, is merely the hard-number proof of the university’s disinterest. There is plenty more anecdotal evidence.
Until DeChellis was hired, the Bryce Jordan Center sported little in the way of artwork or signage to signal it was the home of Penn State basketball, and only last season were the basketball staffs given significant office space.
Worse, this season the team was forced to move out of the Bryce Jordan Center and practice in the nearby intramural building, in a gym outfitted for volleyball and only retrofitted for basketball. This as the Nittany Lions were jockeying for position for an at-large bid. The reason? Bon Jovi needed the space for rehearsal, and the university was hosting a career fair.
And this isn't new. Ron Cook of The Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote this in 2007.
It's safe to say ESPN 1250 isn't thrilled about having the local radio broadcast rights to the Penn State games. If a station wants Penn State football, it has to take on the burden of carrying the basketball. The ESPN people think so little of Penn State basketball that, earlier this season, they cut away from the games late to go to their staff-produced Penguins postgame show. Word is at least five Penn State fans complained, although there was no official confirmation that all five were relatives of DeChellis, a native of Monaca, Beaver County. Penn State's brass rightfully screamed breach of contract, but it was hard to tell if they were more angry or humiliated.
DeChellis not only saw the writing on the wall but he was tired of being treated like a low-major program in a high-major conference. Penn State has to figure some things out and make a decision if they want to support their basketball program. To their credit, at least they've figured out how to do one thing well. But this has to be embarrassing for Nittany Lion fans whether they wanted DeChellis or not.
The move is very interesting, what Penn State does next will be just as fascinating. Dick Vitale thinks it should be Bob Knight, but be sure to check out Black Shoe Diaries to see how things unfold.