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DeChellis resigns for Navy job, but not exactly for reasons he said
May 23, 2011 - Cory Giger
UNIVERSITY PARK -- Let's be clear about what really happened: Ed DeChellis made a preemptive strike for job security reasons because he knows the immediate future at Penn State is bleak, that the university has never made a full commitment to the men's basketball program and that he could be fired sooner rather than later.
What a bizarre, embarrassing mess.
That DeChellis thinks he'll be better off at Navy than Penn State is a clear indictment on the Nittany Lion program and his lack of faith in the school's administration.
Then again, DeChellis was never the right guy for the job at PSU, so him resigning Monday may turn out to be best thing that could have happened -- if the school finds the right coach to replace him.
With all due respect to DeChellis, who's a good man with great integrity, it's hard to believe much of what he said during a tearful goodbye press conference at the Bryce Jordan Center.
He kept talking about how the Navy job was "a calling," how he fell in love with the campus and so on.
Fine. So maybe all of that is true.
But no one should buy that those are the real reasons he resigned from Penn State.
"This was an agonizing decision, and it had to take a special place," DeChellis said of getting lured away.
But Navy? Sure, the campus and history are special, but he's not going there to be a drill instructor.
Why would any coach in his right mind leave a major-conference program -- even one with little tradition like PSU -- for Navy? Why would a coach quit a job two months after getting to the NCAA Tournament to go to a team that finished 11-20?
The answer is no one would do that. Not unless there's plenty more going on behind the scenes.
Navy does have some tradition, but David Robinson is out of eligibility and the program has had just two winning years in the past decade. It also plays in the Patriot League, which last season ranked 25th out of 31 Division I conferences in RPI.
DeChellis is even taking a hefty pay cut, from $709,000 a season (according to USA Today) down to a reported $450,000 for five years. It's an enormous cut when you consider the high cost of living in Annapolis, Md., where he would need to make $1,074,000 to equal his Happy Valley salary.
"It's not about going from the Big Ten to the Patriot League," said DeChellis, who had just two winning seasons in eight years at PSU and was 41-95 in Big Ten play. "It's about going to the Naval Academy and working with young men who want to serve our country."
DeChellis kept saying those kind of politically correct things and stuff like it's not about "bells and whistles or arenas" for him any longer.
But it was all smoke and mirrors.
The bottom line is this:
Coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, DeChellis realized his stock would never be higher. He also knew that a really bad 2011-12 season -- which seems inevitable given the heavy personnel losses of Talor Battle and others -- would have sent his stock into the toilet and perhaps led to him getting fired.
So despite having three years left on his contract, DeChellis bolted.
"It's about what I wanted to do with my life, and I can't say that enough," he said. "It's about what the Naval Academy offered me and my family at this point in our lives."
Namely, the assurance of a five-year contract.
Sadly, DeChellis apparently had a better offer from an undisclosed mid-major a month ago but turned it down, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News. The paper reported the offer was for seven years at $1 million per, but his agent thought he could do better.
If that's true, DeChellis should fire his agent.
The whole scenario is a double-edged sword for Penn State.
Make no mistake about it, having its coach resign to go to Navy makes the Lion basketball program look bad. Any prospective replacement will look at that bizarre turn of events and automatically be leery of the job.
At the same time, Penn State should be thanking DeChellis for taking a tough decision off its hands.
The coach earned himself a lifeline by getting the Lions to the NCAA Tournament this year. He may have been fired had he not been able to get there with Battle, the best player in program history, but Penn State would have looked foolish had it fired him after getting to the big dance.
Wait a year, however, and if the team goes 10-20, the administration would have been perfectly justified in canning DeChellis.
The ironic thing is that now, Penn State fans actually have had the best of both worlds.
An overwhelming majority of supporters have been calling for DeChellis' ouster for years, and they had to be disappointed thinking that the NCAA berth would save the coach's job.
As it turned out, fans got to see the program reach the NCAAs plus have DeChellis leave. That's the ultimate best-case scenario for many fans.
Penn State now has a chance to hire a better coach and recruiter -- someone with Philly or New York City ties to provide a pipeline -- making this a vital crossroads for the university to prove it is indeed committed to having a quality basketball program.
That means not giving a coach a contract extension for reaching the NIT and not forcing the team to practice in an intramural gym because a rock concert took over its facilities.
DeChellis couldn't get the program to compete at a high level on a consistent basis, and frankly, maybe no coach can at the football-crazed school.
But at least now someone else is going to get a crack at it. And by leaving on his own, DeChellis may be helping the program as much as he ever did when he was the coach.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DeChellis at PSU
$--NCAA Tournament berth