Tuesday, December 15, 2009
A tough decision at Penn
By Dana O'Neil
The news that Penn had dismissed coach Glen Miller before the calendar even flipped to January has left me somehow stunned and not surprised at the same time. Sounds impossible, I know.
I'm stunned simply because it's rare a college program dismisses a coach -- any coach -- before the season is out. It reaffirms the dirty little secret that college athletics like to pretend doesn't exists -- that winning matters most. Yet Miller is the second coach to be forced out before the conference season begins, joining Fordham's Dereck Whittenburg.
That an Ivy League school would make such an unusual move only doubles the wow factor.
But that's how badly things had turned at Penn, which leads to the not surprising part. The Quakers went from conference kings to non-factor after Fran Dunphy crossed the city to Temple, a body blow to a school and an athletics program that prides itself on a rich history of winning.
But Miller's problems went deeper than his 0-7 start. Some of it wasn't his fault. He was a risky hire for Steve Bilsky, an outsider in the parochial city of Philadelphia and the even more parochial world of Penn athletics. With plenty of choices that had either Philly or Quaker ties -- Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon, Cornell's Steve Donahue, to name a few -- Bilsky went with a guy from Brown. His rationale wasn't flawed. Miller had made Brown into a contender and with the resources and history at Penn, logic followed that he could do the same in West Philly.
Fans and alums never embraced Miller and he never did much to bridge that gap. Maybe he never could because he simply "wasn't one of them,'' but when Governor Ed Rendell, a regular at the Palestra, is a no-show, you have problems.
The lack of connection and interest doomed Miller as much as the Quakers' poor play, a fact made all the more evident by his decision to tab Jerome Allen as interim coach. Assistant coach John Gallagher has more coaching experience than Allen. He worked at St. Joe's, La Salle and Hartford compared to Allen, who just joined the Penn staff this season. But Allen has all the Penn pedigree that Miller did not. He is a Penn graduate, a former team captain who not only took the Quakers to the NCAA Tournament, he actually helped them win a game there.
Who knows if Allen can salvage this season. He'll have the benefit of a two-week game hiatus to rally his troops. The Quakers don't play again until Dec. 28.
But he certainly will rally the fan base and stir the sagging interest in the program and for now, that will qualify as a win for Penn basketball.