Numbers don’t lie.
That’s seems to be the philosophy that Penn Athletic Director Grace Calhoun employed on Monday when she informed Jerome Allen that he will not be retained as Penn basketball head coach.
And when you take a look at the numbers, it isn’t hard to see why.
A 38.3 winning percentage. Over 100 losses in five and a half seasons. A 3-23 record against the Big 5. All of those are undeniable facts. Penn basketball struggled to win under Allen and this season’s 8-18 record with two games to go didn’t help Allen’s case in the slightest.
"For me as a person, I don’t know if there was ever a more inspirational or motivational coach than Jerome Allen," former player and Class of 2012 graduate Rob Belcore said. "I am extremely saddened to hear that he's been fired, but if you look at the record on paper ... I can’t say it’s not justified.”
You can continue to rattle off the numbers – looking at Penn’s Ivy record or Palestra performance or even lackluster attendance numbers – but any decision like this goes far beyond the numbers.
There are few people as ingrained in Penn basketball history as Allen and that won’t change any time soon. Allen, nicknamed ‘Pooh’ by those closest to him, was one of the best players to ever take the floor for the Red and Blue. He won two Ivy League Player of the Year awards while leading the team to three Ivy League titles.
But in 2009, Allen’s legacy within Penn basketball was forever changed when then-Athletic Director Steve Bilsky handed him the interim head coach position to replace fired head coach Glen Miller. While Penn would limp to the finish after Miller’s firing, Allen was handed the full-time job.
At the time, Allen’s credentials beyond being one of Penn’s most decorated on-court leaders was puzzling. After all, Allen’s coaching experience boiled down to an internship with the San Antonio Spurs and player-coaching in Italy near the end of his playing career.
And that is simply the one pitfall that doomed Allen: He was handed the job too early. He had been an assistant at Penn for just seven games, barely re-acclimated with the program and he was forced to turn things around. If anything, that is on Bilsky.
But the beginning of Allen’s time at Penn indicated better things were on the horizon. An 8-6 Ivy finish in his first year. A 20-13 finish where Penn was just one win from playing for an elusive NCAA Tournament bid. Everything seemed to be heading in the right direction despite the graduation of All-Ivy seniors Zach Rosen and Belcore.
Yet the trend went in the opposite direction. While Penn picked up its second straight win against Cornell Saturday, the Quakers still have just 26 wins in the last three seasons, a record low for the program. Why did that happen? Well, let’s just say things went awry in recruiting.
Allen has recruited some extremely talented players over the years since being handed Rosen and Belcore. However, too many of those players proved that they could not work within Penn’s system and be molded into effective collegiate players.
That is very much on Allen and his staff, but it is also understandable for the inexperienced head coach. It doesn’t help that his entire staff left following Penn’s 20-13 season in 2012, forcing him to completely remake his staff that helps him recruit.
But the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons were undeniably a wreck. There’s no getting around that when speaking about Allen’s coaching tenure. Whether it was multiple players leaving the program, five players suspended for drugs or the shear level of losing, it was a two-year stretch that everyone in the program wishes to forget.
And on paper, this season was no better. The program record Ivy losing streak and bevy of nonconference losses make the 2014-15 season look just as bad.
Looking beyond the curtain, this simply wasn’t the case.
It isn’t just this two-game win streak at the end of the season. For the first time in three years, Penn basketball is a clearly better team than it was at the beginning of the year and it is all because the Quakers cleared out any players that didn’t fit within the program and brought in a class of freshmen that helped turn around the team.
There is the old saying that you are what your record says you are but this doesn’t apply in all cases and certainly does not here.
“Look at all the talent he brought in,” graduated Penn basketball guard Miles Jackson-Cartwright said. “Antonio [Woods] is gonna be one of the best players in the league. Mike Auger is going to be one of the best players in the league. Sam Jones arguably might be the best shooter in the league already.”
But it isn’t just the freshmen that are starting, slowly but surely, to turn the program around. Talking with Allen earlier in the week (when he had already been informed of his fate), the coach was adamant about the contributions of his senior captains in setting things up for the future.
"When Penn wins again, and we will win again, it will be because [the seniors] helped lay the foundations for the culture," Allen said.
While Allen will never say it about himself, it applies to Allen as well; When Penn basketball wins again, it will be because Allen laid the foundation. He learned from his earlier mistakes and changed the team culture. He provided Penn with two straight recruiting classes with real and coachable talent. Allen also brought a passion to the Penn program that cannot be matched or measured.
In the end, Allen was a victim of his overall record. You simply can’t fault Calhoun for wanting a new coach after seeing the records and the overall resume.
But if Calhoun wants Penn basketball to truly turn around, then she has a challenge on her hands: Find someone to continue the work of the last year while bringing the same passion that Allen brought day-in, day-out. It won’t be easy, particularly with the microscope under which the next coach, and Calhoun herself, will be placed over the next few years.
Regardless of who the next coach is, it will not be easy to have the impact that Allen had on Penn’s program. While his tenure may be over, his impact will continue, both with his success as a player and his tumultuous time as coach.
You don’t need numbers to say that.
Steven Tydings is a Wharton junior. He is a Senior Staff Writer and former Senior Sports Editor for the Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgComments powered by Disqus
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