A Long Road Ahead for Penn

There's no sugar coating the state of the Penn program here, but The AQ supports the Quakers through thick and thin.
There’s no sugar coating the dire state of the Penn program here, but The AQ supports the Quakers through thick and thin.

“You don’t want to lose to a team that doesn’t play well, that isn’t well coached, that doesn’t play with class…..Penn plays hard, is well coached, and they play with class.”  -Princeton’s Basketball Coach, 2014.

Unfortunately, the above quote was referring to Penn’s 2014 Ivy Champion women’s basketball team. In the span of four short years, Mike McLaughlin has remarkably turned the women’s basketball program from worst (2-26) to first– in almost the same time frame that Jerome Allen has managed to coach the men’s team into the Ivy cellar.

In my opinion, none of the attributes quoted above can be used to describe the Quaker men. Even watching the NCAA Tournament, it looks like other teams are playing 21st Century hoops while Penn is now mired somewhere in the Mesozoic Era. The turnovers, the fouls, the loss of poise, and the lack of hustle and awareness have made them impossible to watch. Just as disturbing is the complete lack of growth, discipline, and maturity, particularly among the second and third year players. Here is a brief laundry list of recent events.

  • The team finishes its second consecutive losing season at 8-20, winning only two road games all year. (If not for Cornell, perhaps the nation’s poorest team, they’d probably only have 6 wins.) The Quakers are essentially non-competitive in the Ivy League just at a time when the League is actually reaching a new high in both depth and talent. They are also one of the worst teams in the nation in turnovers and fouls committed. 
  • Tony Hicks gets ejected and suspended for throwing a punch while playing at Columbia– the second time he has lost his cool and flagrantly gotten physical this season. (The other time he pushed a Wagner player into the scorer’s table.)
  • DNH and Henry Brooks are mysteriously benched against the Lions in New York for violating team rules. A separate transgression happened last year as well forcing Jerome to bench the majority of the team just before facing Delaware.
  • Ryan Singer, a 6’11” recruit, de-commits from an already terrible incoming recruiting class.
  • Assistant Coach and head of recruiting Scott Pera abruptly resigns and leaves for Rice University.
  • Freshman guard Tony Bagtas gets arrested for burglary. He allegedly was caught stealing cash and property from unlocked dorm rooms, two felony charges and four charges altogether. (His alleged steals in the dorm thereby exceeding his steals on the court.) Mr. Bagtas’ future with the team, and at school, is now cloudy at best.

I ask you: Are these the attributes of a happy, unified, well-coached, disciplined team? Is this an athletic brotherhood that represents its University with class, pride and dignity?

Objectively, it is safe to say that Penn Basketball is now in complete freefall. It is also safe to say that the newly installed Athletic Director, Grace Calhoun, realizes this as well. (Ironically, the hopes of Quaker Nation once again rest upon someone from Brown.) Despite the adolescent sniping in sections of the Penn media regarding her recent hire, it is clear that this woman is not afraid to clean house. She fired Loyola’s Men’s Basketball Coach one month after taking the job in Chicago.

The difficulty arises in the fact that she will not assume office until July 1 and barring a few of the players starting a prostitution ring, carjacking gang, or drug cartel, she has assured everyone that no changes will take place until then. Of course, July is probably too late to find a new coach to take control, so another year of pain and frustration is most likely in store for the Quaker faithful.

Although this has been the worst year I have ever experienced as a Penn hoops fan, next year looks to be even worse. Still, I am not, nor have I ever been, about the “blame game.” Unlike so many alumni who spitefully point to former AD Bilsky’s pecuniary shortsightedness and Jerome Allen’s lack of coaching ability and pedigree, I don’t care how the program got to its present nadir. All I care about is what can be done now to make it better.

There are naturally no easy answers for this. Just being competitive is becoming increasingly difficult with each passing year as the Harvard hoops monolith continues to separate itself from the rest of the League. So, as with any of life’s crises, I leave you with this thought: it’s not about the failure, it is only about the rescue. Failures are only failures if you allow them to continue. However, like Coach McLaughlin (or Smith or Miller or, dare I say, Amaker) has amply demonstrated, rescue of a moribund program is indeed attainable with the right resources and personnel in place. It will take time. It will take patience (a commodity already in critically short supply by the Penn fan base), but there is no longer any choice. It must happen. I, of course, believe it will.

Let the rescue begin.

Stay Red & Blue my friends,

The AQ

1 thought on “A Long Road Ahead for Penn”

  1. Thanks, I think, AQ for the concise and accurate assessment of the Quakers.

    With regards to Mr. Hicks, I do believe he also lost his temper during the latter part of the Dartmouth game in Hanover and got hit with a Technical that certainly contributed to the disappointing loss.

    While there was certainly speculation regarding last year’s benching at Delaware, I don’t know if there were any ideas why DNH and Brooks were held back for the Columbia game.

    I don’t know if you, or others, would consider the large number of injuries a factor related to the coaching staff and its training/conditioning methods. If so, then chalk another negative onto an already troubled staff. Whether one does or doesn’t see that as a problem related to the coach, the lack of transparency to the school and team media regarding these injuries and disciplinary actions is certainly another troubling symptom of an out-of-control program.

    Dr. Calhoun’s hiring certainly has some concerns. There is the fact that the Parker consulting firm may have poached her from the job where they helped secure for her at Loyola (Chicago) three years ago. Also, there is the fact that she placed her husband, a PGA golfer, into a coaching position at the same school while she was AD.

    While those concerns are troubling, I am most concerned with the fact that Loyola men’s basketball remained poorly attended during the three years Dr. Calhoun was AD. If she had a stronger track record of greatly improving student and non-student attendance and enthusiasm at her city university during her tenure, I would be more optimistic.

    Her response to a question at her introductory press conference about improving attendance dealt with having coaches support coaches and athletes support other athletes. At no time did she talk about what she would do to go out into the student and alumni communities and “sell” the program. More importantly, she did not talk about cultivating winning teams, which is the most likely way to improve attendance and excitement.

    I was also disappointed when in a moment of candor, Dr. Calhoun talked about the need to fund raise since the administration does not like it when asked for additional monies. At a time when the league is at an all-time high in terms of overall depth and success, and has a nationally powerful team/coach at Harvard, more resources need to be spent. Now is not time to continue the nickle & dime approach that may have led to the hiring of the present inexperienced coach, and may have led to the hiring of a relatively inexperienced AD.

    With all that stated, we need to move forward. She did a very good job moving Loyola from the Horizon League to the stronger MVD. I also agree with the AQ that Dr. Calhoun has shown the ability to be very tough with regards to firing coaches. In addition to the previous Loyola coach, she fired coaches in the majority of the sports. Unfortunately, she fired several coaches who were successful, as well as the one’s who did not perform. Hopefully, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Bagnoli do not have to look over their shoulders.

    Additionally, the new AD has shown that she can get rid of players. I believe that she removed 7 players from the women’s volleyball team at Loyola. While, I believe, the alleged reason was budget issues, it is not hard to think that effort and/or behaviors may have contributed to those players being let go.

    It is certainly troubling that Dr. Calhoun will not be taking over until 7/1/14. Even if she is unofficially involved with the AD Department at this time, it would seem to be too difficult to remain in that type of behind-the-scenes capacity if the present AD, Mr. Bilsky, did the right thing and removed Coach Allen from his position and a new search initiated. As a result, I agree with the AQ that we will have a lame-duck year for the coach and his staff.

    If that is the case, this fan can only hope that the coach spend his time securing solid recruits and finding an excellent assistant – one who can recruit and bring immediate discipline to this team. I hope that Dr. Calhoun has a direct involvement in applying the morality and discipline from her present Jesuit university to the coaching staff and players. Additionally, I hope that Dr. Calhoun and Coach Allen both learn to be more open, honest and approachable with the students, alumni and fans.

    While the record may not improve next season, given the significant issues that exist, an improvement in the above noted issues (related by AQ and myself) would at least give this proud alum some hope for 2016 and beyond.

    (Apologies for the length)


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