Giger: DeChellis loves being perfect fit at Navy

JOHNSTOWN — Ed DeChellis is a good man, the kind of man who can help develop the leaders of tomorrow, which is exactly what he’s doing at the Naval Academy.

Where he feels right at home.

“I love it,” DeChellis said. “I love the kids. I love the mission for the school. I love helping these kids try to become leaders because that’s what they’re going to be.”

DeChellis wasn’t the best fit at Penn State, where he coached from 2004-11. He won an NIT title and reached one NCAA Tournament in his final season, but the feeling was always that he should have been able to do much, much more.

Penn State had to move on, which it did and now has a sparkplug of a coach in Patrick Chambers who looks to be a great fit for the Nittany Lions.

One thing that was never in question during DeChellis’ tenure at PSU was his character. For all the criticism he took as a head coach, no one ever questioned the fact that he is simply a good human being.

He treats people well and with respect and is well-liked by everyone.

But in the dog-eat-dog world of big-time college basketball, that’s just not good enough when you don’t recruit well enough.

For everyone who hoped DeChellis would land on his feet at a good job, his current situation might not appear to fit the bill. He’s in his third season at Navy, and the first two were very trying as the team went 3-26 and 8-23.

The Midshipmen were picked to finish last in the Patriot League, and losing 60-57 to a St. Francis team that was picked to finish next-to-last in the Northeast Conference would suggest this will be another tough season.

But here’s the thing: DeChellis and Navy seem made for one another. A perfect match, to which he agrees.

“I think Navy fits me perfectly,” DeChellis said. “I just feel very, very comfortable there.”

Service academies want to win in sports, but it’s far from the primary objective.

Navy’s players, for instance, hopped on a bus Monday night and were scheduled to arrive back at Annapolis around 1:30 a.m. By 5:30 a.m, before almost everyone who’s reading this in the newspaper even woke up, the players had to get up for their daily drills and duties as Midshipmen.

That’s great dedication. To their country.

Basketball is important, just not the most important thing like it is at most Division I programs.

Given that, there can’t be much pressure on DeChellis at Navy. He can be a great leader of the young men in his program and do a terrific job even if he barely reaches double digits in victories.

Competitively, though, that will never be good enough for DeChellis.

“I want to win, so I’m not happy about [the losing],” he said.

His associate head coach, PSU product and former assistant Dan Earl, echoed that sentiment.

“There’s certainly a big picture, but make no mistake about it, we want to win games,” Earl said. “Our goal is to keep improving the program and get back to the NCAA Tournament.”

That appears to be a long, long way off. In the meantime, as long as DeChellis’ teams show steady improvement and the players stay out of trouble, he would appear to have great job security, at a place he loves, doing what he loves and helping shape the lives of future Navy officers.

“He’s a great fit,” Earl said. “We always recruited good kids at Penn State. That’s part of who he is and the way he runs a program. And we do the same thing at the Naval Academy, mostly because that’s what Ed would do, and then also because the Naval Academy wants it that way as well.

“I think he’s a tremendous role model for the guys.”

St. Francis coach Rob Krimmel said he has “a ton of respect for Coach DeChellis,” who sent him recruiting letters when he was in high school at State College and DeChellis was an assistant at Penn State in the mid-1990s. Krimmel’s brother, Ken, also played with Earl at PSU, so there are a lot of connections that helped facilitate the schools being able to work out playing Monday’s Veterans Day Game at the Cambria County War Memorial.

“When we go out on the road and recruit, he would always take a moment to talk and say hello,” Krimmel said.

DeChellis is just a nice guy. Maybe too nice, if that’s possible, to have ever been a great coach and recruiter with the Nittany Lions.

Still, his basketball resume at PSU or anywhere else won’t define his character.

In life, DeChellis is a winner, regardless of how many games he actually wins. Here’s hoping he enjoys a long, successful career at Navy.

Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger.