As ESPN”s Jeff Goodman first reported, Jerome Allen has been fired from his post as Penn’s head coach, an inevitable, Shakespearean ending to a marriage that saw much more sickness than health over Allen”s tenure. The writing had been on the wall for seasons, and after he coaches on Saturday against Cornell and Tuesday against Princeton, Allen will relieve his post. The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that M. Grace Calhoun informed the coach that he had been relieved of his duties on Monday, following his squad”s third-straight weekend in which the Quakers were swept.
Allen’s time as Penn’s head coach was a tragedy indeed. For starters, on a personal level, anyone who knows Allen personally speaks to his high character, that he is a wonderful person who people trust. And Jerome Allen, the man – who came from a rough part of the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, who has a family and kids – just lost his job after continually coming up short for years, which is never an easy thing to endure for anyone.
But now that the story of Jerome Allen, the coach, has come to its end, he deserves just as much sympathy as he does criticism.
One could make the argument that this arrangement was doomed from the start. Allen came into the post without even a year of collegiate coaching experience. Former athletic director Steve Bilsky made the choice based more on Allen’s legacy as one of the best players to don a Penn uniform than his coaching acumen, and in hindsight, he simply didn’t have what it took to coach at a Division I level.
Allen did his best to fit into the role well. He said all the right things. He saw the problems with his squad, and to his credit, he was always honest about them. He certainly knew basketball better than anyone else in the room. But, despite how well dressed he often was, Allen never did much more than look the part when it came to the product on the court.
His teams were consistently erratic. The defensive principles that Allen made a favorite part of his coach-speak were never enough to make up for stagnant offense, poor shot-selection, turnovers, and the inability to put together a cohesive 40-minute effort.
Allen struggled to get the best out of his players, due in large part to a difficulty in cultivating team culture. The list of incidents goes on and on during his tenure. From players suspended for violating the team’s substance abuse policy, to others suspended for arriving at practice later, or for throwing a punch, to the seemingly farcical tale of a freshman point guard who was caught stealing laptops from Penn dorms, the list goes on and on.
And because of this troubling team identity, Allen could never get the best out of his players. In a different universe, Julian Harrell and Henry Brooks would have been senior leaders on this year’s squad, who, along with juniors Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry, would have this Penn squad poised to be casino where Yale stands this weekend, on the precipice of reaching the NCAA tournament.
Instead, Hicks and Nelson-Henry are stuck in neutral, while Harrell and Brooks are no longer a part of the team, removed from the squad after Allen sat down the team following last season and attempted – one could say his last attempt – at developing the type of culture that he wanted to see from his players.
Following the dismissal of Harrell and Brooks after last season, a source close to the team insisted that, at a certain point, Allen can only do so much, and the impetus is on the players to become the best people that they can be.
That sentiment has always lingered in my memory. On the surface, the piece to take away from that comment is that the players that Allen had brought on to his squad needed to pull things together. But the underlying idea is that Allen was in over his head.
Both parties suffered as a part of this arrangement. Allen’s legacy is now tarnished, as his poor tenure as Penn’s head coach offsets his phenomenal time donning the Red and Blue as a player. And the Quakers basketball program is in much more dire straights now than it was when Allen took the post, if only because Allen didn’t provide the lift it needed as Harvard rose to national prominence. He may not have been any worse than Glen Miller, but the squad floundered under Allen’s watch.
It was easy to criticize Allen over the years, and from a basketball standpoint, Penn supporters should be glad that Allen is on his way out. The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that Penn will look for a coach with Division I experience as it tries to rebuild its once prominent program, a move that is essentially the administration admitting that Allen was not the right choice for the job half a decade ago.
But now that he is once again Allen, the man, and not Allen, the coach, and his story has been told in its entirety, it’s hard not to feel as though the deck was stacked against him from the start.