Who could/should be Penn’s next head coach?

My big board for Penn’s vacant head coaching position, a mixture of what I think Penn Athletic Director Grace Calhoun’s current ranking is and what the ranking should be:

10. Louis Orr (Siena head coach 2000-01, Seton Hall head coach 2001-06, Bowling Green head coach 2007-14)

Lifetime record: 201-201 (.500)

Wanna succeed against Tommy Amaker? Hire Tommy Amaker’s successor. Louis Orr, one half of the “Bouie & Louie Show” at Syracuse in the late ‘70s, took over for Amaker at Seton Hall in 2001 when the latter left for Michigan. Orr was actually the more successful coach for the Pirates, making one NIT appearance and two NCAA appearances in five years. In 2006, he was inexplicably fired after taking the Pirates to the NCAA tournament, and they’ve never made it back since. Then again, neither has Orr, who finished 101-121 in seven years at Bowling Green. The 58-year-old Cincinnati native has no Ivy or City 6 experience, but he’s got loads of experience and would provide instant credibility on the recruiting trail, especially in New Jersey, a frequent target area for Penn recruiting. Still, he’s an outsider on nobody’s radar.

9. Craig Robinson (Princeton player 1979-83, Northwestern assistant 2000-06, Brown head coach 2006-08, Oregon State head coach 2008-14)

Lifetime record: 93-104 (.469)

Best known as Barack Obama’s brother-in-law, Robinson is more well-known in Ivy circles as a Pete Carril disciple who led Brown to a second-place league finish and CBI appearance in 2008. Then he won the CBI the following season in his first year at Oregon State, but that was as good as it got. Robinson achieved just one winning record in six seasons in Corvallis before getting fired in 2014. He knows Ivy League basketball and all the recruiting nuances that come with it. But we’ve only got one two-year stint at Brown to judge him on there, and his run as Head Beaver was pretty dam bad. (I GOT JOKES)

8. Seth Greenberg (Long Beach State head coach, 1990-96, South Florida head coach 1996-2003, Virginia Tech head coach 2003-12)

Lifetime record:  378-283 (.572)

On this list because he was briefly mentioned in Mike Jensen’s story on Allen’s firing. And for no other reason.

7. Barry Rohrssen (Pitt assistant 2001-06, Manhattan head coach 2006-11, Kentucky assistant 2014-)

Lifetime record:  58-95 (.379)

If you can’t get Ben Howland, get the next best thing. Rohrssen was a crucial assistant during Pitt’s rise to national prominence under Howland, setting up a recruiting pipeline from New York to the Steel City that yielded Levance Fields, Carl Krauser and several other standouts. Then he helmed the Jaspers, where he struggled to string wins together. Now he’s a key assistant on the 31-0 Kentucky Wildcats. If you want a guy who can recruit in urban areas, here he is. But his one head coaching gig never took off and he’s a total Ivy outsider.

6. Shawn Trice (Penn player 1991-95, Penn assistant 2005-06, Temple assistant 2006-)

Lifetime record: N/A

Like Jerome Allen when he was hired, but with 10 seasons of assistant coaching experience in the Big 5. A two-time All-Ivy player, Trice got going as an assistant under Fran Dunphy in the latter’s final season at Penn and then followed Dunphy to Temple, where he’s remained ever since. Trice knows Penn like the back of his hand, and he’s been an assistant under Dunphy for 10 years, much like Steve Donahue was. The advantage with Trice is it’d be a fresh start for both sides, and more significantly, Trice has been credited with plenty of player development (which was sorely lacking under Allen) during his time at Temple, particularly Lavoy Allen and Michael Eric.

5. Ashley Howard (Drexel player 1999-2002, La Salle assistant 2004-08, Drexel assistant 2008-12, Xavier assistant 2012-13, Villanova assistant 2013-)

Lifetime record: N/A

How can you discount a man with extensive assistant coaching experience at three City 6 schools? Howard’s not a Penn guy, but he’s absolutely a Philly guy, a Monsignor Bonner grad who has served under Jay Wright, Bruiser Flint and John Giannini. If anything, that should equip him to recruit reasonably well against all three. Unlike Allen, whose sole coaching experience lasted less than a year in Italy, Howard’s got more than a decade of coaching experience that would translate well to Penn. Recruiting could be an issue, but knowing what to expect shouldn’t be.

4. Matt Langel (Penn player 1996-2000, Penn assistant 2004-06, Temple assistant 2006-11, Colgate head coach 2011-)

Lifetime record: 48-78 (.381)

A Penn guy who coached under Dunphy for seven years at Penn and Temple, Langel took a historically challenging head honcho post in 2011 at Colgate, which enjoyed just six winning seasons in the 34 years prior to Langel’s arrival. The Raiders went 12-6 in the Patriot League this season, though, a sign of hard-won progress at least for this year. I have serious doubts that Langel could recruit at a high level relative to the Harvards, Yale and Princetons of the league, though. But as he told me in 2013, he’s coached at the Palestra with his wife just minutes from going into labor, so if you can handle that, you can handle a lot.

3. Andy Toole (Penn player 2000-03, Lafayette assistant 2006-07, Robert Morris assistant 2007-10, Robert Morris head coach 2010-)

Lifetime record: 109-65 (.626)

The thing I remember most from interviewing Toole for the Daily Pennsylvanian in April 2013 after his Colonials upset Kentucky in the NIT was his audible discomfort upon recalling RMU’s Nov. 2011 visit to the Palestra  (a 66-60 win for Penn). The reverence he voiced for Penn and the Palestra in that conversation and the tone of his voice as he did so makes me positive he would bolt Moon Township for 33rd Street in a minute if he got the offer. I write this just as RMU won its first NCAA tournament bid under the 34-year-old Toole by winning the NEC tourney, a breakthrough for Toole that will lift him up on many folks’ big boards. But yes, Toole coached under Mike Rice at RMU, and although I doubt Toole throws basketballs at his players’ heads like Rice did, word is that Toole isn’t exactly a players’ coach either, and I do find that a bit concerning, especially after former Penn coach Glen Miller scared both players and alums away before he got the boot in Dec. 2009. Still, the buzz here in southwestern Pennsylvania (where I happen to live) is all about Toole and the run Robert Morris has been on under him since 2010. He’s got momentum, 18 wins in each of his five seasons as a head coach and a Penn connection and energy to burn. That could be enough. In the meantime, here’s an insightful pre-Rice scandal article from 2012 that touches on Toole’s love for Penn – and his temper.

And here’s a photo of Robert Morris’ mascot, which should look familiar to Quaker fans:

The Penn Quaker's illegitimate child, perhaps?
The Penn Quaker’s illegitimate child, perhaps?

2. Steve Donahue (Penn assistant 1990-2000, Cornell head coach 2000-10, Boston College head coach, 2010-14)

Lifetime record: 200-214 (.483)

The clear favorite, Donahue coached under Dunphy through six Ivy championships before winning three of his own as head coach at Cornell. Donahue’s Big Red success didn’t come easily, though. Cornell finished in the bottom half of the league in each of Donahue’s first four seasons in Ithaca, going 15-41 (.268) in league play in that span. Only after 2004 did the Big Red show any real signs of life under Donahue, who never was an outstanding recruiter and never got anything going at Boston College, especially defensively, before getting fired from Chestnut Hill in 2014. But he’s an exceedingly nice man who helped non-basketball freshmen move in at BC and left outstanding impressions on pretty much everyone he’s ever coached. Jerome Allen showed that being a good man doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a good enough coach, but good character does go a long way if the tactics are there too. Donahue’s motion offense has always been effective, and yet not effective to avoid nine losing seasons in 14 years as a head coach. This isn’t even the same Ivy League it was in 2010, so Donahue would have some catching up to do in more ways than one.

1. Yanni Hufnagel (Cornell 2006 grad, Harvard assistant/recruiting coordinator, 2009-13, Vanderbilt assistant 2013-14, California assistant 2014-)

Lifetime record: N/A

Penn’s ready for a New Age, and if it’s recruiting you want, Hufnagel is definitely your man. He was recruiting coordinator for Harvard, bringing in some outstanding recruiting classes in 2011, 2012 and 2013. CBS Sports recognized Hufnagel – a Cornell grad – as “one of the most relentless and energetic recruiters in the game,” in their 2012-13 College Basketball Preview, naming him one of their nine “Dream Team” assistant coaches in college basketball. The question that lingers is, can he be an Xs and Os guy too? Is he not just a recruiter but a coach in every sense of the word, including an organizing, motivating and player-developing?  I’m willing to bet that he is, and I’m also willing to bet he’s one of the only folks on this list who can out-recruit Tommy Amaker after years of having recruited for him. Unfortunately, Calhoun seems to have already decided that she’s only interested in candidates with head coaching experience, as much a stupid overreaction to Allen’s lack of experience prior to taking over as Bilsky’s spring for program hero Allen to make people forget about the outsider nightmare that was Glen Miller.

5 thoughts on “Who could/should be Penn’s next head coach?

  1. Great list and great background work. Hufnagel is the best choice IF he remains available for long. Rumors persist that Kyle Smith may be ready to move on and that Hufnagel has Empire State and Gotham City aspirations. Might be irresistible to the new AD. Of the others Toole is a star in the making and Langel takes a leap of faith. Donahue had a great run, but The AQ could have won at Cornell with Wittman.

  2. true. I could have won then. The League was weak and Cornell hit the perfect storm of recruits at the right time.
    Leaning toward Toole–Penn guy, proven coach, young, successful (remember he beat Kentucky a few years ago), awesome last name to make fun of. I would be less pleased if Donahue gets it. Unimaginative choice. Need new blood and energy, plus Donahue is tainted goods—Cornell. Nice guy though.

  3. Mike,

    Great information.

    Some other names being mentioned are Anthony Grant and Matt Dougherty. Then there are some big name former power conference coaches, such as Bill Carmody or Mike Montgomery.

    A person on the Ivy League Message Board has the following people listed:
    Bobby Hurley (Buffalo), Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), Bryce Drew (Valpo), Billy Donlon (Wichita State), Bob Semling (Wisconsin Stevens Point; D III), Dave Macedo (Johns Hopkins; D III).

    I would think that Toole and Hufnagel will get more (better?) offers. Donahue appears to be getting a lot of support from the Penn basketball alums. Donahue seems like another great person from the recent Penn glory days. He will make them a more disciplined and improved team, but will he be able to get them into the top 1 or 2 teams in the league.

    One thing not mentioned in your piece is the idea of which coaches have the ability to excite the students and larger Penn community. In the end, I agree with Jonathan Tannenwald’s comment about the need to find someone who can win and someone who can excite the students (and greater Penn community).

    http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/pretzel/Jerome-Allen-leaves-with-his-dignity-intact.html .

    – On top of that, getting the decision right doesn’t just mean simply reversing fortunes on the court. It means reversing the tide of Penn student apathy that swept across Locust Walk in the final years of Bilsky’s tenure. The two aren’t necessarily related. Bilsky mistakenly believed that they are; Calhoun, to her credit, does not.

    • I thought Allen did a decent job of connecting with the student body early on in his tenure, but that goodwill faded into further apathy after Rosen graduated. I think if you want to reverse that tide of student apathy, you get someone young and energetic that can excite and connect with students, even before they’ve (ideally) succeeded in completely turning the program back around. Hufnagel fits that bill as well as anyone, and so does Toole.

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