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PSU coaching search: Lions have another chance to get it right

Some candidates make sense, while others seem far-fetched

May 29, 2011
By Neil Rudel (nrudel@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

In 1967, Penn State had a chance to hire Bob Knight, who was the head coach at Army.

It hired Johnny Bach instead.

In 1979, Penn State had a chance to hire Jim Valvano, who was at Iona.

It hired Dick Harter instead.

In 1983, Penn State had a chance to hire Rick Pitino, who was at Boston University.

It hired Bruce Parkhill instead.

Fact Box

Potential Penn State coaching candidates

THE FRONTRUNNERS

These are the realistic candidates with head coaching experience getting speculated about the most in the coaching search so far:

SUBHD: Pat Chambers

Who: Head coach at Boston University

Coaching experience: Two years at Boston (42-28)

Age: 39

2010 salary: Unavailable; believed to be in $300,000 range

Case for him: A Pennsylvania native and good young coach who led his team to the NCAA Tournament this past season after serving as an assistant at Villanova from 2004-09.

Case against him: He's only been a head coach for two years and may not be ready for this kind of rebuilding job in a major conference just yet.

The bottom line: Chambers, who was signed to a contract extension through 2016 at BU, has good recruiting ties from his days at Villanova but would still be a bit of a reach.

SUBHD: Ron Everhart

Who: Head coach at Duquesne

Coaching experience: Seven years at McNeese State (92-104); five years at Northeastern (82-68); five years at Duquesne (83-74)

Age: 49

2010 salary: $350,000

Case for him: Known as very good recruiter who has lots of ties throughout northeast, he has turned around what had been a struggling Duquesne program, winning 17, 21, 16 and 19 games the past four years.

Case against him: Northeastern landed on probation for recruiting violations at the end of his tenure there.

The bottom line: Everything in his background, from his recruiting skills to in-game coaching abilities, makes him look like a good fit. But that recruiting violation at Northeastern may scare off PSU.

SUBHD: Pat Flannery

Who: Former head coach at Bucknell

Coaching experience: 14 years at Bucknell (234-178); four years at Division III Lebanon Valley (95-43)

Age: 53

2010 salary: Retired from Bucknell following 2008 season

Case for him: Enjoyed great success and was well respected at Bucknell, leading program to first-round NCAA Tournament wins over Kansas in 2005 and Arkansas in 2006.

Case against him: He's been out of the game for a few years as health concerns led him to retiring.

The bottom line: While his Bucknell teams competed well against the big boys for a few years -- thanks to one great core group of players -- he's never had to recruit the level of talent or depth needed to consistently succeed in the Big Ten.

SUBHD: Bruiser Flint

Who: Head coach at Drexel

Coaching experience: Five years at Massachusetts (86-72); 10 years at Drexel (170-133)

Age: 46

2010 salary: Unavailable; believed to be in $300,000 range

Case for him: Strong Philly ties as a player at St. Joseph's in the 1980s and now as coach at Drexel.

Case against him: While he's had pockets of success, he hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since his first two seasons at UMass and hasn't even been to the NIT the past four years at Drexel.

The bottom line: There's something just not quite right about Flint's career as he is considered by many to be a solid coach, yet he's never really achieved anything of note.

SUBHD: Tom Herrion

Who: Head coach at Marshall

Coaching experience: Four years Charleston (80-38); one year at Marshall (22-12)

Age: 43

2010 salary: $394,000

Case for him: He had a good record for four years at Charleston before serving as an assistant at Pitt from 2007-10.

Case against him: His tenure at Charleston wasn't highly regarded, and he was forced out after the 2006 season.

The bottom line: The way things ended at Charleston don't bode well for him.

SUBHD: Rob Jeter

Who: Head coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Coaching experience: Five years at Wisconsin-Milwaukee (101-89)

Age: 42

2010 salary: $350,000

Case for him: Jeter was born in Pittsburgh, although he grew up in Chicago, and has enjoyed a solid career as an assistant and head coach at various schools in Wisconsin.

Case against him: His recruiting ties in the Midwest may not help him lure talent to Penn State.

The bottom line: Jeter is a Bo Ryan protege, having played for him at Wisconsin-Platteville and serving as his assistant at both Milwaukee and Wisconsin, so he has learned from an excellent head coach.

SUBHD: Doug Wojcik

Who: Head coach at Tulsa

Coaching experience: Six years at Tulsa (123-78)

Age: 47

2010 salary: Unavailable

Case for him: He won at least 20 games four consecutive years before winning 19 this past season, plus he has a good pedigree as an assistant at Notre Dame, North Carolina and Michigan State.

Case against him: He has yet to lead a program to the NCAA Tournament and doesn't have recruiting ties in the northeast.

The bottom line: His experience working at big-name programs as an assistant and having already won a lot of games at a mid-major make him a strong candidate.

********************

BIG NAMES, BUT NOT LIKELY

These coaches may be good fits at PSU, but it's doubtful they will leave their current jobs:

SUBHD: Fran Dunphy

Who: Head coach at Temple and longtime college coach in Philadelphia

Coaching experience: Five years at Temple (110-57); 17 years at Penn (31-163)

Age: 62

2010 salary: $700,000

Case for him: A winner, boasting a 420-210 record and 13 NCAA Tournament berths, he would bring strong Philly recruiting ties.

Case against him: He's only 2-13 in the NCAA Tournament, although nine of those losses occurred while at Penn when he was always a low seed.

The bottom line: He would be a great and affordable choice, but there's little chance he would leave a school that ranks in the top 10 in college basketball history in victories for a PSU program with virtually no tradition.

SUBHD: Jeff Lebo

Who: Head coach at East Carolina; star player at Carlisle High School and McDonald's All-American in mid-1980s; four-year starting point guard for North Carolina from 1986-89

Coaching experience: Four years at Tennessee Tech (75-43); two years at Chattanooga (40-20); six years at Auburn (96-93); one year at East Carolina (18-16)

Age: 44

2010 salary: $500,000 (base plus bonuses)

Case for him: Strong regional ties and name recognition.

Case against him: Was not successful at Auburn, getting fired after six years with no NCAA Tournament appearances and only one NIT berth.

The bottom line: He doesn't seem interested in PSU -- "My family and I are very happy at East Carolina," he said Thursday -- and his poor record at Auburn makes him unappealing anyway.

SUBHD: Phil Martelli

Who: Head coach at St. Joseph's

Coaching experience: 15 years at St. Joseph's (289-187)

Age: 56

2010 salary: $400,000

Case for him: Like Dunphy in many ways in that he's affordable and would bring Philly recruiting ties plus a history of success.

Case against him: St. Joe's has struggled the past two seasons, going 17-15 and 11-20, so he already may have peaked as a coach.

The bottom line: He took St. Joe's to the Elite 8 in 2004, so there's no doubt he can recruit and coach. But again like Dunphy, there's not much incentive for him to leave a good Philly job to come to a place where he may struggle.

SUBHD: Chris Mooney

Who: Head coach at Richmond

Coaching experience: One year at Air Force (18-12); six years at Richmond (112-87)

Age: 38

2010 salary: $700,000

Case for him: A Philadelphia native, he has led Richmond to the past two NCAA Tournaments and a Sweet 16 appearance this year.

Case against him: He signed a 10-year extension at Richmond in March.

The bottom line: He would be one of the best all-around choices, but his contract extension and fact that he can probably do better than Penn State if he's patient make him seem unlikely.

********************

FORGET ABOUT THEM

Fans may be talking about these names, but it's a waste of time:

SUBHD: Larry Brown

Who: Hall of Fame coach who won national title with Kansas in 1988 and NBA title with Detroit in 2004.

Coaching experience: Has gone 2,002-1,098 in NBA and 177-61 at UCLA and Kansas; coached Charlotte Bobcats in 2010 before stepping down in December.

Age: 70

Case for him: He's been a successful coach at nearly every stop for nearly 40 years.

Case against him: He hasn't coached in college since 1988 and rarely stays at any job very long.

The bottom line: Penn State AD Tim Curley spoke with Brown on Thursday and told him the school isn't interested in the coach, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

SUBHD: Bob Knight

Who: Hall of Famer who has 902 career victories, most of any college coach ever, and has won three national titles.

Coaching experience: Six years at Army (102-50); 29 years at Indiana (661-240); seven years at Texas Tech (138-82)

Age: 70

Case for him: He's a huge name who would excite fans and sell tickets.

Case against him: He's a controversial figure with a checkered past for doing and saying outrageous things and being impossible to control for a college administration.

The bottom line: Knight once said that if rape is inevitable for a woman that she should "relax and enjoy it." For a school that prides itself on "success with honor," hiring that kind of insensitive, egotistical blowhard -- regardless of his basketball record -- would be a big mistake for PSU.

SUBHD: Brad Stevens

Who: Head coach at Butler

Coaching experience: Four years at Butler (117-25)

Age: 34

2010 Salary: Unavailable; believed to be in the $1 million range

Case for him: He's the hottest coach in the country after leading Butler to back-to-back appearances in the national championship game.

Case against him: There isn't one. He's the best young coach in all of college basketball.

The bottom line: There's no way Stevens would leave Butler for PSU. He's under contract through 2022, and if he does decide to leave the school, it would be for a nationally prominent program like Duke or Connecticut.

-- Compiled by Cory Giger

In 1996, after Parkhill resigned in September in hopes of securing one of his assistants the job, Penn State hired Jerry Dunn.

In 2003, Penn State had a chance to hire from a pool consisting of Steve Lavin, Fran Dunphy and Tim Floyd - all expressed an interest or were interviewed - and it hired Ed DeChellis.

Anybody see the pattern here?

In every case in its not-so-rich basketball history, Penn State has gone for the lower-profile candidate and, today, it has the program to show for that indifference.

In every case, the coaches hired had their moments, and each one was respected in basketball circles, either for their strategical acumen or their past success or their personalities.

And in every case, the plug was eventually pulled or the coaches surrendered to the job.

Penn State has always wanted to manage basketball on its terms - even if it's meant swimming against the current and definitely in shark-invested waters of a sport that takes more academic risks than are necessary in football.

It has wanted caretakers and people who would not embarrass the program. Its coaches were to be seen and not heard. The only coach over the last 50 years who would qualify as an aggressive hire was Harter, who had been successful at Penn and Oregon; he did not co-exist well with Joe Paterno and left after four seasons.

The results have been a half-century malaise - of playing in front of movie-theatre type crowds dotting the TV background, of not having a bad tradition but not having a good one, either, of being an afterthought for most of the great players the state has produced.

There's a lot of debate as to who will succeed Paterno. Here's a not-so-news flash: A lot of people could and be extremely successful because of what's already in place, much of it thanks to JoePa.

That's not the case in basketball.

The Lions could run out tomorrow and hire the big name that avoided the last few times around. They could hire Knight; Dick Vitale is already campaigning for him. Heck, that decision could finally get Dicky V. to State College. Knight's hire would likely sell out the Jordan Center in season tickets or close.

But would he do a good job? Or would the job swallow him up, too?

Tim Curley has essentially whiffed on his last two hirings (imagine if that were the case in football, even though most figure Graham Spanier will handle that one) and, to his credit, Curley has already admitted this decision is too big for him because he's hired a consultant, former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, to assist.

That could be good in that Fogler has deep ACC and SEC ties and connections that Penn State does not.

Curley's last few hires have been from outside the PSU family and brought success, especially with Cael Sanderson, although he was facilitated by a deep-pocketed booster club.

Wrestling's rise and the presence of Division I hockey and a new arena, opening in 2012, will be another obstacle for the men's basketball program: There are only so many nights in a week and only so many entertainment dollars.

Hiring a name with a proven track record - a Dunphy if he's still interested, a Phil Martelli, who like Dunphy, has great Philadelphia ties and may have run his course at St. Joseph's, a Bruiser Flint, another Philly product with a Division I pedigree - will be a statement Penn State is serious.

An up-and-comer who has had success at a mid-major, perhaps a Rob Jeter (Wisconsin-Milwaukee), won't be an immediate gate attraction but would make sense, too.

You'd think there are too many mountains to climb for someone without head-coaching experience to succeed because even current head coaches have to wonder if it can be done.

There are no easy answers, no past template of hiring success, and Penn State fans and area basketball fans are hoping the Nittany Lions get it right this time.

For sure whoever gets the job will have to carve his own path.

Consider the years it didn't have a coach and just rolled the balls out. From 1897-1915 and again in 1918, with "No Coach" according to the Penn State basketball yearbook, the Lions went 131-65.

That's a winning percentage of 67.1, the second-best winning percentage of any of the coaches in Penn State history.

The best winning percentage of 84.6 belonged to Hugo Bezdek. He coached for one season, 1919.

And he was the football coach.

Mirror Managing Editor Neil Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com. He covered the men's basketball team for The Daily

Collegian in 1977-78 and every coach since.

 
 
 

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