Although the process of hiring a head coach in college athletics often receives considerable attention, the work that goes on behind the scenes is rarely glamorous.
Nonetheless, that work has become quite familiar to the administrators at Weightman Hall, and it is under way again as Penn looks for a new men's basketball coach to replace Fran Dunphy, who departed for Temple early last week.
Though now on the other side of the equation, a quartet of coaches who have taken over the helm of high-profile teams at Penn in recent years say they still remember the arduous process of interviewing -- and are all too familiar with the challenges that come along with the actual jobs themselves.
Like them, the new men's basketball coach will have to negotiate recruiting without the aid of scholarships. To do that, they believe that the new hire would certainly benefit from local ties and a background rooted in Big 5 tradition.
Former women's basketball coach Kelly Greenberg still has clear memories about her hiring process at Penn, even though it took place six and a half years ago. She remembers how the character of the job, from a prospective coach's point of view, was shaped so drastically by the Big 5 and the city of Philadelphia.
"I remember saying to [then-assistant athletic director] Carolyn [Femovich], if Penn wasn't in the Big 5, I wouldn't be interested in this job," Greenberg said.
After winning Penn's only two titles in women's basketball, Greenberg stepped down to take over at Boston University and was replaced by another Philadelphia native, Pat Knapp.
Knapp agreed with Greenberg's assesment, saying that entering into the Big 5 "measures you" as a coach. "It definitely is something to look for, and on the men's side there's a hell of a tradition to uphold there."
Along those lines, Greenberg said that local ties can be a plus for a Penn coach.
"From a basketball perspective, I think it only makes sense to hire from the Philadelphia area because I think they truly value what it means to be a part of Philadelphia basketball," she said.
That is certainly something that Dunphy, considered to be the Big 5's strongest advocate, understood.
Dunphy also recruited many Philadelphia-area players while at Penn. Baseball coach John Cole, who came to Penn from Rowan University in nearby Glassboro, N.J., said that he is trying to accomplish something similar.
"You don't have to go more than two hours and you can see a lot of good baseball in the Philadelphia area," Cole said. "I think it's a tremendous advantage to go within two hours and put a net around it."
But more than the local ties or the readiness to buy into the Big 5 tradition, Knapp noted that the real quality of a candidate lies in his ability to recruit -- especially in an Ivy League environment where athletic scholarships are not available.
"I think [local ties are] important, but ultimately I don't think it's an overriding factor," he said. "Whether it's Chicago or the West Coast or Texas, you need to try to find another recruiting area."
Once out on the recruiting trail, coaches have to sell athletes on the Penn program, and the sales pitch is complicated by Penn's lack of athletic scholarships.
Greenberg, Knapp, Cole and Penn wrestling coach Zeke Jones all acknowledged the difficulty of recruiting without scholarships, but they all said that Penn's strong academic reputation helps to overcome this disadvantage.
"There are kids out there that have high goals in two columns, athletically and academically, and if they do, they won't let anything get in the way of that," said Jones, who came to Penn from West Virginia in September.
Appropriately for an institution with a renowned business school, Cole said that "it's difficult because you're battling a high-priced university, but some people see that investment as well worth the costs."
For Knapp, who came from Georgetown, not having athletic scholarships can be overcome with perseverance.
"You have to do a lot of hard work at the financial aid end, that's all," he said. "Good recruiters will get that kind of work done."
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