Ed DeChellis’s decision to leave Penn State to become the head coach at Navy has been termed bizarre, confusing, and stunning. I think it’s bizarre, confusing, and stunning that a college basketball coach triggers these reactions by behaving just as you and I do in the so-called real world.
Give credit to Dana O’Neil, who reported yesterday that DeChellis was told before last season he would be fired if PSU didn’t make the 2011 NCAA tournament. As it happens the Nittany Lions did indeed make the tournament for the first time since 2001. Talor Battle and company secured a No. 10 seed and lost in the round of 64 to Temple. That was enough for DeChellis to keep his job, but, according to O’Neil’s sources, it wasn’t sufficient for the coach to be given a vote of confidence, much less a contract extension.
In the real world, where employment is kind of important, a person in the situation I’ve just described is going to update the top of their resume (”Became first coach in 17 years to lose a tournament game to the guy I lost to”) and start working their contacts. But DeChellis isn’t in the real world. Until yesterday he was a major-conference head coach. He’s supposed to barricade his office door and hold on for dear life.
And for what? To avoid the salary cut he’s now taking? If you’re Ed DeChellis in the spring of 2011, there’s a prohibitive likelihood that a salary cut is on the way, no matter what. By taking the job at Navy the coach has negotiated this cut on a timetable of his own making. Besides, any normal human would be thrilled to be pulling down a reported $450K in a quaint, historic, and highly livable Chesapeake town located in close proximity to substantial cities and airports. No, the Middies aren’t going to the Final Four anytime soon, but expectations at the 5700-seat Alumni Hall are set accordingly. Not to mention the unique nature of the Naval Academy’s student population means the regular recruiting grind is, mostly, a thing of the past for DeChellis. (He now has little or no reason to attend all those AAU events. Woe is Ed!)
By leaving before he was fired, DeChellis gave himself a much broader range of options for his next move. While he was unable to get the basketball program at a football-centric school over the hump, it appears that he is nevertheless both savvy and willing to face up to reality. The latter quality in particular can be scarce at the top of the coaching profession. Indeed I can think of a couple coaches in the Big Ten who should very seriously consider pulling their own DeChellis.
BONUS coaching-search admonition! What should Penn State look for in their next coach? Must they insist on “a man with some oomph, someone who will literally jump on cafeteria tables and pound on the dorm room doors to make students care“? Could be. Then again if PSU athletic director Tim Curley were given a magic lamp that would produce the door-poundingest available coach on the planet, he’d likely find Bobby Gonzalez delivered to his office in a puff of smoke. Just keep in mind that stylistic monism is the enemy of any good search. If leaping ability in the cafeteria is the sovereign criterion, Brad Stevens need not apply. The myth that states it is absolutely mandatory for a good college basketball coach to channel Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi at the expense of John Wooden and Dean Smith started with Bob Knight, and has run amok ever since. But when it comes to actually hiring an available candidate, stylistic pluralism almost always wins out at the end of the day. It should.