I wouldn't say that the news of Ed DeChellis leaving Penn State for Navy today "shocked the basketball world" because, let's be honest, most casual college basketball fans don't even know who he is. But to many basketball insiders this move is shocking. A coach leaving a Big Ten team that he just took to the NCAA Tournament for a Patriot League team... and not even a good Patriot League team. Navy struggles with recruiting for the same reasons that Army and Air Force do. Navy hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998 and they haven't earned better than a 15 seed since 1987. If we take out those magical years when they had David Robinson on campus, the program hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game since 1959.
But honestly, I understand the DeChellis move for a few reasons:
First of all, Penn State may have made the NCAA Tournament this past season, but that was clearly a once-in-a-career moment for DeChellis at Penn State. He will never have another player like Talor Battle. Battle wasn't well known outside of the Big Ten, he was rarely on Sportscenter, and he's unlikely to get drafted by an NBA team next month. But not only was he one of the five most explosive scorers in the country this past season, but he was an unbelievable leadership presence on that team. Ed DeChellis may have been the Head Coach, but Battle was the Unofficial Associate Head Coach.
If any of you got a chance to watch the Big Ten Network's The Journey this past year (and if you can you must - it's the best college basketball show on television), the best part of the Big Ten Tournament episode was watching behind the scenes of Penn State's run through that tournament to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. I could see Battle's presence in the huddle and on the bench while watching the games, but the way everybody responded to him in the locker room before and after games was unbelievable. Those players gave every ounce of their bodies to get Talor Battle to an NCAA Tournament.
Not only will Battle be gone next year, but they also lose Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones and David Jackson - four of their five starters in all. And their top prospect for the future was probably Taran Buie, and he was booted off the team. Not only did I pick Penn State to finish last in the Big Ten next season, but I don't think there's a coach that can save them from that fate at this point. And even if DeChellis somehow survived and was still the head coach a year from now, he'd be on a really hot seat, and likely would not have survived the next season. By leaving now DeChellis gets to leave on his own terms, and gets to move to a beautiful school in a nice neighborhood for a salary that actually isn't much of a downgrade ($450k per year, vs $650k per year at Penn State). If and when he was fired from Penn State, he honestly would have struggled to do as well as the Navy job for his next gig. So he took it while he could.
So now Ed DeChellis gets a chance to rebuild Navy. Bucknell is going to dominate the Patriot League next year anyway, so DeChellis will have time and it will be interesting to see how he does. Everything I've seen about DeChellis says to me that he's a good human being. Everybody who knows him likes him, and he's never been at all accused of coaching dirty, so I wish him well. But it would be dishonest to say that I've ever viewed him as a great coach. I'll be pleasantly surprised if he can take Navy to the NCAA Tournament at some point.
As for Penn State, it honestly makes a ton of sense to get a new head coach right now (although for recruiting reasons, they'd obviously have preferred to have started this process six weeks ago), simply because of their roster situation. The only player they've got left who has done anything in a Big Ten game so far is Tim Frazier, the one returning starter, who has two years of eligibility remaining. And assuming nothing changes with the new coaching staff, the team has a big time transfer in Juwan Staten showing up for the 2012-13 season with three years of eligibility remaining.
Frazier can be the star of the team this coming season, but they're going to be terrible overall no matter what. Now is the time for a new coach to show up and build a new team around Juwan Staten. Just look at what Mike Rice has done in barely over a year at Rutgers. Get recruiting classes like that and Penn State can be relevant again the Big Ten by the 2013-14 season. Right now there are no serious indications of who Penn State is looking at for a new coach. But with the right coach they've got the infrastructure in place to build a basketball program. It's not that hard for a "football school" to get its gigantic fan base to become loyal to a winning basketball program. Penn State just needs to the right coach to rebuild the program the right way. Needless to say, I'll be back to talk about Penn State again as soon as they hire a new coach.