BOSTON — “Some things are going to have to change.”
So said Penn basketball coach Jerome Allen after his team lost, 80-50, to Harvard Saturday night. He said this solemnly, a man who was not going to quit fighting for his program but was more audibly tired of losing than I have ever heard him.
So said his players after the nationally televised defeat, not in words but in their actions. Apart from the occasional clapping and encouragement from senior captain Miles Jackson-Cartwright, Allen’s players showed little signs of engagement throughout the blowout. Just a lot of hands on hips and jumpers pulled over heads in frustration.
So said countless Penn basketball supporters on various social media forums after Harvard’s 30-point win went in the books. Specifically, they want Jerome Allen gone as the John R. Rockwell Head Coach of Penn basketball. After watching Penn suffer deficits exceeding 30 points in three of its last six games, two of them Big 5 matchups at the Palestra, they too want the embarrassment to stop, and they’re all pointing at Allen.
And so is Allen.
“It’s all on me,” he said. “I take full responsibility for it.”
That makes sense. There are few more visible employees at the University of Pennsylvania than Allen, the face of the school’s marquee varsity sports program, one rich with a winning tradition that he helped contribute to substantially as one of the all-time great players in school history. But since that program is failing, it all comes back to him.
I asked Allen if he learned anything about his team this weekend.
“I learned that we don’t have what it takes to compete for an Ivy League title.”
Allen added that that could change, but positive long-term change hasn’t graced this program in a long, long time. Since last year’s roster lacked seniors, the core of this team has been together for the better part of two years now. It was experienced enough to merit a No. 2 projection in the Ivy Preseason Media Poll. It intended to be a club that punished you in transition with its athleticism. Now it only punishes itself, turning the ball over more than any other league foe and failing to even crack 60 points in either game of its first Ivy weekend.
Allen admitted that losing is contagious but refused to blame Penn’s slide on that. But it’s clear that Penn basketball is defined now by a culture of losing. In the last two seasons, Penn is 7-10 in Ivy play, 0-8 in Big 5 play and 13-35 overall. Nineteen of those 35 losses have been by double-digits. There’s been no change in the lack of discipline that this team plays with on a game-by-game basis. In fact, this team is even less consistent at both ends of the floor than it was a year ago, with its defense more suspect and its constant fouling even more prevalent.
“I just think this weekend, in general, we didn’t compete,” Allen said. “It wasn’t a good weekend for us from a competitive standpoint.”
This hasn’t been a good four years for the Allen regime from a competitive standpoint either, as the Quakers have gone just 43-66 since he took over as permanent head coach in March 2010. That’s why his seat is so justifiably hot.
It’s imperative that Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky’s successor is in place early enough to evaluate the Penn basketball program and decide whether Allen remains the right person to be head coach beyond March 2014. It’s not too late for Penn to salvage its season with an improbable winning streak to finish Ivy play, but the damage has already been done.
Four straight graduating classes will have failed to watch the Quakers win an Ivy title and students and alumni alike will continue to be more disappointed than engaged by this program.Penn basketball is a pale, listless shadow of what it used to be, and that cannot stand any longer.
So the choice is clear: Penn basketball can transform itself in the dwindling time it has left this season or it can stay lifeless and numb. Either way, a change must come.