R e cently, articles about Penn men’s basketball have been filled with highly critical and sometimes quite unkind comments criticizing Jerome Allen’s coaching - many even calling for him to be fired. I disagree.
I don’t judge only by the number of wins, but also by what kind of men the coach has produced. The latter is number one. And what the big donors want - an item featured in one article - is not particularly relevant to me as a fan. The support of the loyal fan base is more important . Money will follow success.
I have been a fan of Penn basketball since 1965 when I started law school, and I have been an attendee at almost every home game over the past 20 years or more. Moreover, I earned letters in the game both in high school and college. And I apparently see the coach and playing on the court differently than most of those commenting.
First, see how Allen mentors and leads his players not just during games, but also in meetings and social gatherings. Jerome is first-class as a person and as a leader of men. And he knows the game.
His primary goal - like the goal of the legendary coach he played for, Fran Dunphy - is to produce, as much as one can, first-rate young men. And before winning is on the scale, dedication to the game is necessary. On the court, his teams have rarely shown a lack of effort. I do note a few games where the spirit has not been as high as I would have liked. That happens with the best of teams. It is often why very good teams are upset.
But for the entirety of his tenure, his teams do not give up. His players respect him and listen - unlike the coach he succeeded. But one must deal with talent and injuries. Some teams can overcome a loss of an important player, but Allen had much more than the loss of one player; he lost several, some for the season and some for significant periods of time. I would hope all agree his injury list is more than one would expect and has had a real effect. Several games lost by 10 points or less would have gone the other way had a few of those injured players been on the floor.
If you want to look at his coaching, look at how well Fran Dougherty - a competent, smart and game player - has grown. And for the problem of how many players make unforced errors, I cannot believe this is because Allen has ignored the problem. I submit that these are the results of something inside the heads of the players. Allen can only do so much with those whose internal demons cause such mistakes. One could, of course, sit those players, but the ones that are left after the injuries are going to do significantly worse.
Comparisons to the Glen Miller era are risible. Allen’s record is hardly any different. Miller’s record his first year should be completely discounted when his team won an Ivy championship. It was a team he inherited, which had won two straight and four out of five Ivy League championships. Without that year, their records are not materially different; yet in contrast, Allen inherited a team that was zero and seven . He did have a talented Zack Rosen who grew into a star his senior year, during which Allen’s team in his second full year went 20-13 and 11-3 in the Ivy. Thus, when he had the horses and Rosen, he demonstrated his ability to coach exceedingly well.
No, I’ll take an honorable competent coach who makes men and keeps their respect through the lean times a lot sooner than I’ll care whether Tommy Amaker is my head coach. According to The New York Times , as Harvard’s coach he has “adopted aggressive recruiting tactics that skirt or, in some cases, may even violate National Collegiate Athletic Association rules.” Indeed, it was reported:
“In ... 2010, the NCAA ruled that Amaker had committed a recruiting violation, resulting in NCAA-mandated recruiting restrictions, [Harvard’s] first NCAA penalty of the men’s basketball program.”
Give Allen another two to three years to overcome the poor reputation he inherited and the injuries that his team - and many coaches too - have had to endure. I am betting that you will be happy not just with the quality of the commitment and the quality of the young men he coaches, but also with the quality of his record. Until then, hold your fire, be patient and be fair.
Donald Joseph is a 1968 Law School graduate from Elkins Park, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.