Steve Donahue is the next Penn basketball head coach.
Sources confirmed Monday that Donahue will replace Jerome Allen, who spent five and a half seasons at the helm and had a 65-104 record as coach. A press conference is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at the Palestra.
"An impressive group of candidates were thoroughly vetted, and Steve Donahue clearly rose to the top," Athletic Director Grace Calhoun said in a press release. "Coach Donahue is a nationally recognized coach and proven recruiter with unquestioned integrity. His deep knowledge of and appreciation for Penn basketball, the Ivy model of student-athlete development and the Big Five were unparalleled in the search.
"We are confident in coach Donahue's ability to return Penn men’s basketball to prominence."
"It's a great hire by Penn," 1995 College graduate Matt Maloney — who played for the Red and Blue while Donahue was an assistant — said in a text message. "Coach Donahue is going to do a fantastic job. He had an enormous positive influence on my career."
The hiring does not come out of the blue because of Donahue's connections to the Red and Blue. He spent 10 seasons as a Quakers assistant under former coach Fran Dunphy, helping Penn win six Ivy League titles in eight seasons in the 1990s, three of which came with Allen as the Quakers' star player. Additionally, Nat Graham — one of Allen's top assistants in 2014-15 — was Donahue's assistant at Cornell and Boston College.
“I am thrilled to be coming back to Penn as its head men's basketball coach,” Donahue said in a press release. “Having been a part of Philadelphia and Penn basketball for the greater part of my life, I have a great passion for this city and this program. I spent 10 extraordinary years as an assistant here at Penn working with one of the great head coaches in all of college basketball, Fran Dunphy.
"That, combined with my experiences as head coach at Cornell and Boston College, have led me to this distinct opportunity to return the program that I grew up watching to national prominence. I plan to provide the energy and the enthusiasm that will put Penn basketball back atop the Ivy League.”
Donahue left Penn to become the head coach at Cornell in 2000, where he also spent 10 seasons. In his final three seasons at Cornell, Donahue won three straight Ivy titles. It was the first time in Ivy history that a school other than Penn or Princeton won three consecutive Ancient Eight championships, a mark since replicated by Harvard over the course of the past five seasons.
"Steve Donahue was my assistant basketball coach in high school and my longtime friend, and there is no better basketball person than he is," current Lafayette coach and former Penn assistant Fran O'Hanlon said. "He's as good as anybody and it's a tremendous hire for Penn.
"I'm happy for my friend and for Penn because they have somebody who is familiar with the Ivy League, he's familiar with Penn and he's done an awesome job as a coach."
In 2010, Donahue led Cornell to the Sweet 16, the farthest any Ivy team has made it in the NCAA Tournament since Penn's 1979 Final Four squad. Still, he had an opportunity to return to the Quakers before his Big Red squads established themselves as an Ancient Eight powerhouse from 2007 onward.
Following Dunphy's hiring at Temple in 2006, Donahue was considered one of the leading candidates to replace his former mentor. However, then-Athletic Director Steve Bilsky opted to hire then-Brown head coach Glen Miller as Dunphy's successor, passing over Donahue for a different individual with Ivy League head coaching experience.
Nine years later, following Allen's dismissal at the end of this season, Calhoun quickly moved to bring Donahue back into the fold at Penn. After informing Allen on March 2 that he would not return in 2015-16, Calhoun hired Donahue as Allen's replacement less than a week after the former coach's final game with the Quakers, a 73-52 loss to Princeton.
"I certainly knew through other people, other friends that when coach Allen left, Steve would be one of the guys that Penn wanted to talk to," O'Hanlon said. "It's like family, we're all family. Jerome, coach Donahue, me, Dunphy.
"One of our family members happened to lose that job and someone else in our family got that job. It's the business we've chosen."
Allen's ouster did shake up that very same Penn basketball family, particularly those who played under him the last few seasons. Miles Jackson-Cartwright, a guard for the Red and Blue from 2010-14, was one of those who was shocked by Allen leaving, but even he thought positively of Donahue's hiring.
"He knows what it takes to win in this league," Jackson-Cartwright said of Donahue. "From that standpoint, past experience-wise, it seems like a great fit."
Jackson-Cartwright was around for the tail end of the last coaching transition for Penn — joining the Quakers shortly after the move from Miller to Allen during the middle of the 2009-10 season — and he thinks this changeover will go much more smoothly.
"It was a much different situation," Jackson-Cartwright said. "But now, I think it'll be great for the team because, firstly, they announced the new coach fairly early so you can start transitioning the guys with the new coach right away... I think it will be a much easier transition just because they'll have a lot more time to meet with each other before they play a game."
While Penn will see immediate changes to its program, it isn't the only Ivy program with interest in the coaching change. After Donahue's long tenure and significant impact in Ithaca, the news has piqued the curiosity of those currently at Cornell. In an interview today, ESPN Ithaca asked Donahue's successor — coach Bill Courtney — if he thought it was a good move by Penn.
"Absolutely," Courtney responded to the question. "I don't know that if you're Penn if you [can] go out and find a better guy than Steve Donahue. Obviously this league has become extremely, extremely difficult and there are quality coaches at every institution and lots of very good players who play in this league now.
"So when you out and get a guy like Steve who you know is a very good coach, that speaks well about your program."
The success at Cornell propelled Donahue to a job at Boston College in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2010. After a successful first season in which the Eagles went 21-13, the squad fell on hard times, finishing with a losing record in three straight seasons. He was fired after the 2013-14 season and spent last year as a broadcaster for ESPN.
"Coach Donahue brings great knowledge of the game in Xs and Os, as well as a great temperament and patience, something that is needed for developing young players," Maloney said. "He's a proven winner. Given the time he spent with the program earlier in his career, he definitely understands the history and tradition of Penn basketball and the Palestra.
"[The hiring] definitely puts the program in the hands of someone who will continue the proud tradition of Penn basketball and I have no doubt that coach Donahue is the person to do so."
Despite his struggles at BC, Donahue remained a popular option to fill Allen's spot on the Palestra sidelines among former players and the program's board members. In speaking with The Daily Pennsylvanian last week, Tim Krug — Allen's former teammate and a player with the Quakers while Donahue was with Penn in the 1990s — emphasized a significant amount of alumni support for Donahue.
"I think a lot of the former players and people close to the program ... I think it's common to have Steve Donahue's name close to the top of those people's lists," Krug said at the time. "I don't see how you can have a list that doesn't have Steve Donahue's name in big bold letters at the top. He coached here under two outstanding coaches ... and went on to do phenomenal things at Cornell. He won three Ivy titles at a school that had never competed for Ivy titles.
"To me, it's a no-brainer who the next coach should be."
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