The search for Penn men’s golf is over — again.
Just under five months after Bob Heintz resigned from his head coaching role to take an assistant job at Duke, and just over two months since 2010 College graduate and interim head coach Michael Blodgett finished his first season at Penn, the Red and Blue have found their newest coach. In a press release on Monday, Penn Athletics announced that Jason Calhoun, who most recently served as the La Salle women’s golf head coach in 2016-17, would be taking the Penn men’s job.
“I was over-the-top excited; it was something that I wanted, the program that I wanted to lead into the future, and it’s a great situation ... the program is probably in the best situation it’s been in in a a long time, and I feel very fortunate to be walking into a good situation that can only get better,” Calhoun told The DP on Thursday. “The only drawback to getting the job at this point is that we have a couple months before we get started.”
The move to hire Calhoun brings an end to a coaching search of nearly two months, as the Penn players learned that Blodgett would not be returning at the conclusion of the 2017 regular season.
Despite the University’s decision not to bring Blodgett back, the program did make some strides in his lone season running the helm. Though the squad had ups and downs with a roster featuring only two seniors, a breakout second-place performance at the Yale Invitational in April was the team’s best finish at the event since 2010, and Penn’s fifth-place finish at the Ivy League Championships was a two-spot improvement from its result a season prior.
“We had grown really close to him, and he’s such a great mentor and even a friend. I think we all felt like he had done so much for us both on a golf level and on a personal level, so when he told us that he wasn’t going to get asked back, we were all a little sad,” rising junior Josh Goldenberg said. “They were looking for someone who has a tremendous amount of experience ... so even though they did really enjoy having him in Penn’s athletic family, I just don’t think he qualified for what they were looking for, as much as they liked him as a person and as a coach — it didn’t really have anything to do with how we finished.”
If finding experience was the goal, Penn couldn’t have done much better with its latest hire.
In addition to having been a two-time All-NEC selection during his playing career at Saint Francis and owning Class A PGA Golf Professional status since 2004, Calhoun brings more than a decade of coaching experience at a total of five colleges to University City. His lone stint as a men’s head coach also happened to come in the Ivy League, as he led the Dartmouth men’s program from 2001 to 2005, including a career-best third-place finish at the Ivy League Championships in 2002.
His most recent task may have been his most difficult one, as Calhoun was tasked with compiling the first-ever La Salle women’s team and leading that squad in its inaugural season. Hired in January 2016, Calhoun recruited a team of almost exclusively freshmen for its debut season in 2016-17, where the inexperienced Explorers took a last-place finish at the 2017 MAAC Championships.
“I was very happy at La Salle, built a program from scratch, and I had five really good players coming in. We were gonna go from being not-so-good to being really good in a matter of a year, so I was really excited about that team and the direction things were going,” Calhoun said. “I feel like I’m leaving the program in good shape, and somebody’s going to be able to walk right in there and have a good first year and keep building on that.
But even in the process of creating something out of nothing with the Explorers, the temptation of joining the Penn program proved too great for Calhoun. Though he admitted he first considered the Penn job as a possibility back when , it wasn’t until the University announced that it wouldn’t be retaining Blodgett that Calhoun made serious moves on applying for the role.
“I was coaching at La Salle and certainly was not going to leave them in the lurch midseason, so no [I didn’t make an effort at the job in January],” he said. “But as it relates to golf coaching jobs, if all the Big 5 coaching jobs were open right now, Penn would be the one I want. So certainly when it came open, I was intrigued and interested ... Obviously I was on the edge of my seat wanting to see what they did as far as an interim coach, but all of those things were out of my control; when they did hire an interim and revealed they were going to do a national search, I figured I would have a chance.”
When all was said and done, Penn deemed Calhoun the best of its available candidates, forcing him to make the brutally tough decision of leaving the squad whose creation he had helped facilitate.
“It certainly wasn’t something that I was looking for; it came open and I was lucky enough to be the successful candidate,” he said. “Once the offer came in, I started reaching out to the players and letting them know, and every one of them certainly understood the difference in role, the fact that the Penn job was something I wanted and was a great move for me. I was very upfront with them, letting them know that it wasn’t like I was dying to get out of La Salle or anything like that; it was just a great opportunity and something I couldn’t pass up.”
Adding an interesting wrinkle to the situation, Calhoun is the husband of Penn Athletic Director M. Grace Calhoun, who is entering her fourth year at the University. Despite the pair’s connection, though, Jason Calhoun insisted that his wife’s presence was merely an added bonus to the role he so thoroughly sought after, and that she ceded all control in the hiring process to Assistant Athletic Director and Penn men’s golf sport director Jake Silverman.
“If my wife was the Athletic Director at Villanova or Temple, I still would’ve wanted the Penn job. Do I think it’s nice to be able to work in the same athletic department as my wife? Sure. But again, the Penn job is something that I wanted,” Jason Calhoun said. “I coached at an Ivy League school before and I know what that’s about, it’s a very prestigious role and it’s an honor to be an Ivy League coach for sure. ... I wanted the job, I know the program, I know what the Ivy League schools are about, and it’s something that I wanted.”
The Penn players themselves were notified of Calhoun’s hiring on Sunday evening via a conference call with Silverman and Calhoun. And despite their established bonds with Blodgett, the instant reaction was overwhelmingly positive from the Red and Blue athletes, with a special appreciation for the coaching stability that Calhoun should present after a six-month rollercoaster stretch for the program.
“We were all really excited to hear about him, because we’re looking to get momentum and get ready for the season, and this kind of allows us to do that. ... I think he’s going to bring not necessarily a better mindset, but a different one, and really kind of re-energize our program,” Goldenberg said. “For the whole morale of the team, I think having a permanent coach will help us in the long run and kind of bind us closer together. A lot of what we were saying on the phone was about tradition, and how he wants us to kind of start that — the tradition so that 10, 20 years from now, people will say, ‘Wow, that team kind of started it, look at all they accomplished.’”
And with only the aforementioned two seniors graduating — not to mention the team’s top four scorers from the Ivy League Championships all returning next season — there seems to be no doubt Calhoun is inheriting a program on the rise. Combining a plethora of returning talent and the newfound coaching stability that had been absent months ago, optimism is through the roof as expectations will be high for the program to become an Ivy League contender in 2018 and beyond.
“The biggest thing is letting the players know that they can do it and they can play. Being able to play is one thing, but having that confidence is another thing,” Calhoun said. “We have great talent on this team, but it’s been kind of a rollercoaster, so I think they probably underachieved these past two years.
“But my goal is to get them to relax and play the best golf they can; we have a very talented team and, I think the Ivies in general are up for grabs,” he concluded. “We’ve got some good players coming in, we’ve got some good players coming back, and my goal is to provide them with the best opportunity to take that next step and get us back into title contention.”
This story is ongoing and will be updated as we receive further information and comment. Last updated at 11:39 P.M. on Thursday, June 29.
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