- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's a tough time to be a Penn State fan. Talor Battle, the best player in program history, has graduated. Ed DeChellis, the so-so coach who couldn't get a contract guarantee from the school, bolted for Navy. Juwan Staten, the best hope of some talent landing on the Happy Valley shores in coming seasons, will now take his talents elsewhere.
Of course, all this could be a chance for rebirth. With the right hire, Penn State has the chance to revitalize its program from scratch and in doing so send a message to the rest of the hoops world: Basketball is no longer a second-class sport here. We want to win.
Alas, as the coaching search stretches on into the weekend, it's looking more and more like this chance is going to pass by the Nittany Lions. Maybe I'm still reeling from last night's Bulls-Heat finish (OK, I admit it, I'm a mess), but this is borderline depressing.
Instead of splashy, exciting candidates, Penn State reportedly set its sights on the likes of ... East Carolina's Jeff Lebo. Lebo is a decent coach and by all accounts a nice guy, but his record -- 96-93 (with a 36-61 record in the SEC) at Auburn from 2004-2010, a combined 36 wins in two seasons at ECU -- doesn't exactly scream "rebirth." Even worse? Lebo is uninterested in the job. On Thursday, he issued a statement reaffirming his commitment to the Pirates and said he had not been contacted by any institutions about any coaching vacancies.
So, who's next? On Thursday, FightOnState.com reported that former Utah coach Jim Boylen is "in the mix." Boylen is no more inspirational a candidate than Lebo, and that's probably putting it politely. Boylen finished his four years at Utah with a 69-60 overall record and a 32-32 tally in the Mountain West. As proud Utah fans watched in-state rival BYU and national player of the year Jimmer Fredette soar to unprecedented heights, the Utes made one NCAA tournament appearance and didn't go to even the NIT in the past two seasons.
What about other candidates? Drexel's Bruiser Flint and Duquesne's Ron Everhart have both been mentioned by various media outlets (including this one) as possible replacements, and both would be better hires than Lebo or Boylen. But the tenor of this coaching search has been set. No one seems all that interested in the Penn State job; no rising mid-major coaches are scrambling to text their agents to get them an interview immediately. There are few exciting options, but -- as CBS' Gary Parrish wrote yesterday -- maybe it's time for Penn State to start thinking outside the box:
[...] Penn State is a job for a salesman. Which is why athletic director Tim Curley -- and former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, who is assisting in the search -- would be wise to try to hire somebody with a recruiting background and/or unusual connections that might prove helpful. Perhaps that's Drexel's Bruiser Flint and his strong ties in the Philadelphia area. Or maybe it's an assistant with a reputation as a grinder. Honestly, I don't know the right answer for Penn State because my guess is that the next coach will likely lose more than he wins just like DeChellis lost more than he won. All I know is the wrong answer for Penn State and the wrong answer is anybody lacking a larger-than-life personality and/or track record of recruiting above his head.
Yes, you want a proven guy, and yes, Penn State should focus on hiring someone who will keep the program above board with the NCAA at all times. (Most programs should do this. Only some actually make it a priority.)
But it's a big coaching world out there. There are hundreds of hungry up-and-coming assistants who might see the Penn State job less as a career-staller and more of a thrilling opportunity to recruit and coach in one of the most lucrative, prestigious and successful hoops conferences in the country. Unless Penn State can nab Flint (or maybe even Everhart), it might consider diving deep into the ranks of obscure up-and-comers who'll jump into the job with enthusiasm and charisma.
Of course, it's important to make sure this guy can actually coach, too. But if you're Penn State and you're staring down the likes of Jeff Lebo and Jim Boylen and your team is bereft of talent and most fans don't seem to care ... well, isn't it time to shake things up?