Last week, Penn Athletics announced the elevation of assistant squash coach Gilly Lane to head men’s coach. It was just the most recent in a string of internal promotions and Penn Athletics alums rehired by the athletic department.
While performance on the field is one thing, the treatment of those invested in Penn Athletics is of equal importance. And time and again, Penn athletic directors — Grace Calhoun and her predecessor, Steve Bilsky — have shown willingness to reward their own.
Lane’s promotion is everything we should expect out of Penn. He played for the Red and Blue, succeeded professionally outside the University, then found his way back to campus as an assistant.
And his story is by no means unique.
Take swimming coach Mike Schnur, for example. The reigning Ivy Legaue coach of the year has been a fixture in University City for over 30 years, first as a student-athlete, then an assistant coach and now at the helm of his alma mater’s program.
Or the decision to make now-football coach Ray Priore the head coach-in-waiting under Al Bagnoli, rewarding the longtime defensive coordinator of over two decades on the sidelines at Franklin Field.
It speaks volumes that Calhoun — and Bilsky before her — have worked to reinforce a culture that keeps around those who bleed Red and Blue.
More than what it tells Penn Athletics staff, these moves are important for athletes as well. Not only do they build stability within programs — such as when baseball coach John Yurkow was elevated from assistant after the firing of John Cole in 2013 — but it belies a commitment to the people that make up Penn Athletics.
Perhaps most important is the way this has manifested itself even at the administrative level. As Calhoun has worked to reinvigorate student interest in sports, she made the decision last summer to make former wrestling coach Roger Reina the senior associate athletic director for external affairs.
Reina attested to the intrinsic value of bringing in staff with a Penn Athletics background in January.
“I came from when we didn’t charge for wrestling and we had a couple parents and the janitors might watch the match to where we had thousands of people coming in regularly,” he noted. “So absolutely, I know we can build fanbases, we’ve done it in the past and we’re in the process of doing it again.
“But we know it’s a different landscape to market effectively in.”
It makes a difference when you bring in a men’s basketball coach like Steve Donahue — who spent 10 years as an assistant here — or women’s basketball coach like Mike McLaughlin — who grew up, played and coached in Philadelphia prior to coming to Penn.
“Being a part of the Philadelphia area, I know what the Big 5 is... It means a lot because of where I’m from,” McLaughlin noted after taking home the city's Coach of the Year award in March. He understands the value of the Big 5 and what it means to Penn basketball fans — because he grew up with it.
These coaches have an understanding of what Penn Athletics stands for, and they’re able to live up to its ideals because of it.
Grace Calhoun is building Penn Athletics the right way.
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