DeChellis' departure a damning indictment of Happy Valley hoops

Jared Trexler
College Basketball Contributing Editor

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - University president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley must not care because I refuse to believe the two astute Penn State minds just don't get it.

The Twitter world caught fire Monday afternoon as word spread, first broken by the Harrisburg Patriot-News' David Jones, that Penn State men's basketball coach Ed DeChellis was taking a reported $250,000-a-year pay cut to leave a high-major university, his alma mater and one-time "dream job" no less, to coach at Navy, which plays in the 25th-ranked RPI conference and finished 11-20 last season.

He said all of the right things at a hastily-called press conference Monday night, talking about how Navy was "calling" him, how he could prepare men for their careers in life outside basketball, and so on. I strongly believe DeChellis fell in love with all of those possibilities, shaping lives and molding character at the Naval Academy, because by all accounts he ran Penn State basketball the same way, receiving the accolades of his coaching brethren for having a positive effect on a basketball program that has little going for it.

But at his core, Ed DeChellis is a basketball coach; a breathing, eating, sleeping hoops junkie who wanted nothing more than to put his stamp on his alma mater, taking the program to new heights of success. He coached with love (if not always success), but was never quite loved back by an administration that uses the sport as a winter season cash cow, a program that not only plays second fiddle to a football powerhouse, but also ugly step-sister in its own sports season to the wrestling team and perhaps a fast-growing ice hockey program about to unpack in a sparkling new arena.

Ed DeChellis is taking a reported $250,000-a-year pay cut.
His assistant coaches, by all reported accounts, are the lowest paid in the Big Ten. His team, while in the throes of a race to the NCAA Tournament last season, had to practice on slanted rims in the intramural building, not only kicked out of the Bryce Jordan Center in favor of a Bon Jovi rehearsal, but pushed out of comparatively quality courts in the IM building in favor of a group of chemistry majors dribbling off their feet.

That is not indicative of a program with administrative backing, not to mention the jockeying schedules put together by both the men's and women's outfits in an arena not even owned by the athletic department. Once Bon Jovi took over, DeChellis had to know he was living on a prayer.

Or at least an unattainable position to reach stability. For each step forward the program took during his eight-year tenure, it took two steps back the following season. He never built off success, perhaps in part because he was in over his head to begin with (a discussion for another day that draws into question Curley's hiring judgment), but also because he was never met halfway by an administration willing to bump up assistant salaries, more aggressively cater to its Division I basketball players and promote an atmosphere of excitement and commitment. Everything seemed sterile, while interest feigned and resources were supplied half-heartedly.

At the end of the day, without a strong commitment to the program he was trying to build, DeChellis decided being wanted was far more important than living out his dream, especially one that didn't come close to the stark reality of Penn State men's basketball's place on the athletic budget line. He chose a substantial pay decrease, a career move made past the heart of recruiting season, and a shift from a conference with its own network to one with little television presence.

Now, Penn State basketball must move on with another opportunity to show its large alumni base that it cares about the product it puts out and the man in charge of developing it. Yet, to be clear and not paint DeChellis as a basketball genius during his time in Happy Valley, the administration already passed one opportunity to show it cared by firing him several years ago with successive losing seasons.

I won't hold my breath that a big hire or even a promising young one is on the way, at least with Spanier and Curley making the decisions. They know everything that led to this eyebrow-raising departure of its head coach at the end of May, but they don't care.

And until they do, Penn State's student body, alumni and fans across the country really won't either.

Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." Click HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.

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