N o matter what Penn basketball accomplishes — or doesn’t accomplish — this year, every single narrative surrounding the program will tie into the degree of proverbial heat underneath the chair of a certain coach in his fifth full season.
“The Quakers started 0-5. The last guy to do that got the ax.”
“Penn won eight games last year with four elite players. It’ll be scary to see how bad things get this season with so much inexperience.”
We’ve heard all sorts of statements along those lines. And the season isn’t even a month old.
Needless to say, even with the dominant storyline and dissenting commentators, it is too early to tell whether the Jerome Allen coaching era at Penn will make it past the Quakers’ date with Princeton at the Palestra on March 10.
Yet no matter how many games the Red and Blue manage to win over the course of the next three months, new Athletic Director Grace Calhoun will have to make a firm, public decision regarding Allen’s future once the season concludes.
That seems obvious. But why is that the case?
It was evident from the moment former Athletic Director Steve Bilsky announced his retirement that Allen would remain at the helm moving forward, a consequence of the former’s desire to keep his last move as AD from being the dismissal of his second hand-picked coach regardless of last season’s win total.
So when Calhoun took over for Bilsky in July, the onus of evaluating and ultimately executing a decision regarding the most high-profile position within Penn Athletics fell on her shoulders.
Since her hiring, Calhoun has demonstrated a clear understanding of where the program currently is positioned. The first female athletic director in Big 5 history has acknowledged that Penn basketball has declined since Fran Dunphy’s departure from the Palestra and that significant steps must be taken to rectify the situation this season.
Calhoun has even elucidated that no individual understands the program’s recent failings more than Allen. Time and again, the man who won three Ivy championships as a player has explained that “at the end of the day, turning Penn basketball around” is on him.
A vast majority of the intrigue surrounding Calhoun’s decision doesn’t even stem from what happens on the court this year. For some, a .500 record may cut it. Others will demand an Ivy title or a new coach with no room for negotiation in between.
But the true question that Calhoun must answer moving forward is to whom will she attempt to appeal when evaluating Allen’s status.
Between those that comment on Daily Pennsylvanian articles, discouraged former players and graduates who remember the days “when Penn basketball meant something,” a sizable portion of alumni have expressed their desire for change. When some of those individuals are contributing financially to the program, you’re bound to hear plenty of opinions.
If Calhoun responds to the pressure of a fanbase that sees no room for reconciliation for Allen, it wouldn’t be a novel occurrence.
But if Calhoun is smart, she may realize that the cure for the apathy of current students may not be to try to appeal to alumni. It’s possible that she may double down on the glimmer of hope Allen brings for the future.
While the Quakers’ first seven games haven’t been pretty, the squad has seen several freshmen turn in standout performances. Though Penn’s reliance on rookies won’t stop anytime soon, a talented freshmen class — with an even more loaded one on the way next year — could be the first step towards a return to normalcy.
Whichever of these factors Calhoun looks at when evaluating Allen after the season, her decision will speak volumes about the rest of her tenure with Penn Athletics.Comments powered by Disqus
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