It was a stunning development on a rather humdrum Monday afternoon in Happy Valley.
Late in the workday on Monday, word trickled through State College that Ed DeChellis would be stepping down as head coach of the Penn State men’s basketball program.
In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll take a closer look at the resignation of DeChellis and what it means for the future of Nittany Lion basketball.
DeChellis is Done
After eight seasons at the helm of the Nittany Lion basketball program, DeChellis choked back tears as he announced that he was leaving his alma mater to take the head coaching job at the United States Naval Academy.
There’s certainly a lot to digest here, that’s for sure.
First things first – let’s talk money.
DeChellis will be taking a pay cut. It’s been reported that he made $650,000 at Penn State. He will make $450,000 at Navy. His contract at the Naval Academy is for five seasons. At Penn State, he was not guaranteed a contract after his expired at the conclusion of the 2014 season. However, with just one NCAA tournament appearance (this past season) and zero tourney victories, many believed that DeChellis would be on a very hot seat if things didn’t go his way in 2011-12.
Now, let’s talk stature.
DeChellis will be taking a step down the coaching ladder, going from the Big Ten – widely regarded as one of the best basketball conferences in the country – to the Patriot League. (Bet you can’t name all the teams in the PL). It would be one thing if this was a lateral move, but it’s not. It is – without a doubt – a big step down, especially when one considers that Navy went 11-20 overall last season, 6-8 in league play.
At a news conference on Monday evening, DeChellis said that taking the Navy job was not so much about the money or the conference – it was about a higher calling.
“Penn State is a special place for me and my family, but I found another special place in the United States Naval Academy. (My wife) Kim and I had an opportunity to visit and when we walked through the yard and saw the Midshipmen march, it was a great sense of pride to me, to Kim, to my daughter Lauren, about what the Naval Academy was all about,” DeChellis said. “It was something that was very, very powerful. I can’t explain it unless you’ve been there and done it. It was more like, without being too philosophical, it was like a calling, like this was something that I needed to do and this was where I needed to be.”
As someone who has been an outspoken critic of DeChellis for most of his eight seasons at Penn State, I have plenty of thoughts about his resignation.
First of all, DeChellis is a liar. Worse than that, he is a coward.
To sit in a room filled with reporters and say that he felt a “calling” toward the Naval Academy is laughable. Let’s call it like we see it – DeChellis knew that with his best player (Talor Battle) graduating, it would be impossible to duplicate the success that the Nittany Lions had in 2010-11. The Lions graduated much of their talent and with only point guard Tim Frazier coming back, DeChellis was truly facing an uphill battle. His inability to bring blue chip talent to Happy Valley leaves the cupboard pretty bare. Of course, if DeChellis had faith in his coaching ability, it wouldn’t matter who was on the court. Perhaps he realized that Battle pretty much willed this team to the tournament with his many heroic late-game performances.
So knowing that next year’s squad would be void of talent and having little faith in his own abilities as a coach, DeChellis decided that it was time to bolt. For that, he is a coward.
Look, the Big Ten is a tough conference. If you can’t recruit, you’re going to have a hard time getting to .500. If you struggle with the Xs and Os, you’re going to be under-.500. In his eight seasons at Penn State, DeChellis was 117-139 and 0-1 in the NCAA tournament. Under former coach Jerry Dunn, the Lions not only went to the NCAA tournament a couple of times but they (gasp) won a couple of tourney games. More beatings were on the horizon for DeChellis, who was barely competitive in the Big Ten, going 41-95 in conference play.
Still, DeChellis had the audacity to say this on Monday: “Yes, you always like to leave a program in better shape than when you arrived. I think, quite honestly, that’s what the case is here. So I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and proud of our kids we’ve had in the program. Hopefully, they’ll hire a great coach. I’m sure Tim will bring a great college basketball coach here and things are in place for Penn State to be as good as anywhere else in the country.”
Better shape? Really? I guess so, if you count that NIT banner hanging in the rafters at the Jordan Center.
If you’re a Penn State basketball fan, this is a happy day. DeChellis was not going to be fired, so he took himself out of the equation. Now, athletic director Tim Curley can conduct a nationwide search for a coach committed to bringing in top talent. More importantly, he must be committed to winning and not worried about practice facilities or pregame meals.
A former collegiate coach once told me, “Ed’s not going to win many ballgames running a high school offense.”
Let the search begin.
Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for gantdaily.com. He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!