Program supporters weigh in on the state of Penn basketball
With the Quakers struggling, donors speak about the program and coach Jerome Allen
March 5, 2014, 6:07 pm · Updated March 6, 2014, 1:06 am·
Analyn Delos Santos | DP
Penn basketball coach Jerome Allen is facing heightened criticism after amassing a 16-40 record the past two seasons. Most longtime supporters of the Penn men’s basketball program are displeased with the program’s results, and some are actively calling for his firing or resignation on social media. In light of the mounting pressure on Allen and his program, The Daily Pennsylvanian reached out to several prominent donors and members of the Penn Athletics Board of Overseers for their reactions to the state of Penn basketball.
1996 College graduate Jed Walentas considers Jerome Allen a friend. He was a classmate of Allen’s, and although he doesn’t follow Penn basketball as closely as he once did, he still cared about its well-being enough to be one of eight alumni donating $25,000 and above to the program this past year. And he’s not really sure how to evaluate his former classmate as coach of the Quakers.
“My limited sample size has shown a lack of energy and discipline, which is maybe the most concerning aspect to me,” Walentas said. “[Allen] is young as a coach, not in age but in experience. Everyone learns as they go and I can only assume the same is true for him.”
Allen was indeed young in coaching experience upon taking over as interim head coach after his predecessor, Glen Miller, was fired on Dec. 14, 2009 after a 0-7 start to the 2009-10 season. Allen had been originally hired in August 2009 as a volunteer assistant coach before taking the reins of the program just four months later. On March 30, 2010, Allen was named permanent head coach.
“The grass is not always greener and many good things take time,” Walentas said. “At the same time, it is possible that Jerome was a great, great player and a world-class person and that he is not the right fit to be our head coach.”
Still, Walentas said that he doesn’t know enough to make an informed opinion on what to do about Allen.
Class of 1973 Wharton graduate Bob Johnson, one of 15 Penn basketball donors in the $10,000-$24,999 range for 2013-14, has watched many Quakers games on the Penn Sports Network over the last few years and feels more strongly, assessing the current state of the program as one of “significant underachievement.”
“The potential that everyone identified last year has completely disappeared,” Johnson said.
Penn was projected to finish second in the Ivy League Preseason Media Poll after returning all of its players from a season ago but is currently in sixth place in the conference with a 4-7 league record.
“The inability to build on the 2012 results has to fall on coach Allen,” Johnson said, referencing the Quakers’ second-place Ivy finish in 2011-12. “His role as the leader of the program has only grown during that time.”
Johnson sees three options for Penn basketball: retain Allen and give him measurable metrics as to how the program can return to prominence, fire him or watch him voluntarily resign. Johnson expects the latter option to occur, which would be bad news for Class of 1983 graduate Daniel Wallick, a donor in the $5,000-9,999 range for Penn basketball in 2013-14. Wallick, an attendee at every home game as well as several away games, thinks the program is still recovering from what he calls the “disappointing tenure of coach Miller.”
“Without a doubt the program is better under coach Allen than under his predecessor,” Wallick said.
Miller helmed the Quakers from 2006 to December 2009, amassing a 45-52 overall record, including 27-15 in Ivy play. Penn won an Ivy championship in Miller’s first season but his demanding coaching style rankled both players and alumni, resulting in a dejected fan base and several players transferring out of the program.
Allen’s overall record (55-83) and conference record (33-34) are both worse than Miller’s, but Allen is more popular among Penn basketball fans because of his vital role in leading the program to three Ivy championships as a player from 1992-93 through 1994-95 and what most consider his more likable personality.
“I would agree that the past two seasons have been disappointing,” Wallick said. “No one would choose to be below .500. But last year, there were no seniors on the roster and this year, half the team is injured.”
Injuries have plagued the Quakers this season, with Patrick Lucas-Perry, Cam Crocker and Matt Howard all suffering season-ending injuries, Julian Harrell playing just 12 of 25 games in 2013-14 and several other Quakers being relegated to the bench due to injuries as well. The many injuries Penn has sustained the last couple of seasons have left supporters of the program dumbfounded.
“Are we missing injuries in the recruiting process? Are our practice techniques overly physical or do our training programs not properly prepare these young men for Division I basketball?” Johnson asked.
“When coach Allen and [assistant] coach [Ira] Bowman were playing, no one missed a game,” Barrett Freedlander , a Class of 1962 graduate and longtime supporter of the program, said. “They themselves started every game during their Penn careers.”
Freedlander, a donor in the $10,000-$24,999 range for Penn basketball a season ago and contributor this year as well, said he is disappointed that individual players have not improved over the course of their careers and that the team also does not seem to improve over the course of seasons.
“Players recruited with excellent credentials do not seem to be able to translate their high school star status to the college level. I also do not understand why certain freshmen have a decent game or weekend and then disappear,” Freedlander said. “Next year, with the loss of [senior captain Fran] Dougherty, improvement is unlikely.”
Alan Aufzien , a member of the Penn Athletics Board of Overseers, said he did not believe that the program has improved under Allen. Aufzien added that although he was not qualified to judge, the program’s problem could be a combination of recruiting and coaching. Three other members of the Board of Overseers declined comment on the Penn basketball program.
“A good coach does not have to have been a good player,” Aufzien said.
Most supporters of the program just want a coach that can restore an expectation of winning for the program. Whether that coach is Allen is open to interpretation, but supporters of his program are getting increasingly restless for a change in fortune and direction.
“Obviously the team is struggling,” Freedlander said. “Whether it is because of any one coach or two or all three, I don’t know.”