Well, that was easy.
Steve Donahue was the obvious candidate to replace Jerome Allen as Penn basketball head coach. And who did Penn Athletics select to fill the void left after Allen’s dismissal? Donahue.
Sometimes, it’s that simple.
In the end, Athletic Director Grace Calhoun went with the obvious hire, and, really, who can blame her? Donahue checks off everything you would normally be looking for in a new coach for the Quakers.
Overall coaching experience? No doubt, as the 52-year-old has spent 30 years in the business.
Penn and/or Ivy experience? 10 years as an assistant under Fran Dunphy and 10 years as the head coach of Cornell.
Ivy success? Three Ivy titles at Cornell.
His run at Cornell from 2008-10 was the best run ever by a school other than Penn or Princeton in the Ancient Eight ... that is, until Harvard’s reign began five years ago. That’s the issue: The current Ivy League is much different from the one Donahue left in 2010.
Since Donahue departed Cornell in 2010 for the job at Boston College, Tommy Amaker has built a dynasty at Harvard, painting the Ivy League Crimson with five straight Ivy League titles. Amaker has turned Harvard into what Penn and Princeton were for the last 50 years, an Ivy force that is renowned outside of the Ancient Eight. And while Donahue was at Boston College, he lost all four matchups with Harvard, struggling to compete with the Crimson in his own backyard.
It’s not just the Crimson either: The Ivy League as a whole is much better. Schools like Brown, Columbia and Dartmouth have emerged from the cellar of the Ancient Eight and put together squads worthy of postseason bids in recent years. Every squad outside of Donahue’s old Big Red squad has taken a turn in the league’s top four since he left and helped raise the profile of the mid-major conference.
And while Penn was still reeling after the Glen Miller firing when Donahue left Cornell five years ago, the program has seen further issues. The Quakers just endured their worst three-year stretch in program history, going a combined 26-61 while finishing tied for last place in the Ancient Eight this season.
Sufficiently scared? Don’t be.
At the end of the day, Donahue has won in the Ivy League. He has been through the process of building a program from the ground up and, while many cite luck in recruiting for his success at Cornell, there is no doubting his results.
“It’s not like he won a championship 20 years ago, his [last Ivy title] was within the last five years,” said 1978 College grad and former basketball player Stan Greene, who is also a member of the program’s board. “He took a bad program, made them Ivy League champions, became a top-25 team and advanced to the Sweet 16, so he’s proven and respected by the Penn community and the basketball community in general.”
Everyone around the program put in their two cents about the hiring, calling for up-and-coming assistants like Yanni Hufnagel or former Penn players like Andy Toole. Successful mid-major coaches like Jim Engles also received attention.
But Donahue was the obvious choice through and through. He is the man to turn around Penn basketball.
“If you hired the best search firm in the world and they did a really good job, I think that would be the first name they’d come up with,” said Fran O’Hanlon, a former Penn assistant alongside Donahue and current Lafayette head coach.
Donahue’s lack of success at Boston College appears to be the only drawback, but the job in Chestnut Hill, Mass. was simply too tough. The school’s priority is football, the Eagles can’t compete with ACC powers like Duke, Virginia and North Carolina and the resources available for the basketball program are limited.
Now Donahue is back where he belongs: at Penn and in the Ivy League. He isn’t a stunning, ambitious hire, but that isn’t what the Quakers need. The Red and Blue needed a proven coach who can take a strong freshman core and build.
“Even though we’re all shocked and sad that [Allen] is gone, it is still a breath of fresh air,” former Penn basketball guard Miles Jackson-Cartwright said.
And Jackson-Cartwright hits it right on the nose: This is a fresh start. A fresh start for Penn and a fresh start for Donahue after his firing at BC.
Getting back to the top of the Ivy League won’t be nearly this easy, but this is the right move by Calhoun.
So let the Donahue era begin.Comments powered by Disqus
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