Penn to hire Steve Donahue as next head coach

Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News reported this afternoon that Steve Donahue will become the next head basketball coach at Penn, replacing Jerome Allen, who Donahue coached at Penn as an assistant, a position he held from 1990-2000.

The Springfield, Pa. native was an assistant coach at Monsignor Bonner High School near Philadelphia under current Lafayette head coach (and fellow former Penn assistant) Fran O’Hanlon from 1987 to 1988 before serving as an assistant at Philadelphia University from 1988 to 1990. Donahue’s Ivy and Philly ties stretch way back.

But of course, Donahue is best known throughout the Ivy League for head coaching Cornell from 2000 to 2010, making the NCAA tournament in his final three seasons in Ithaca, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2010. Donahue finished 146-138 (.514) at Cornell, which did not finish with a winning record in Ivy play until Donahue’s fifth season.

Donahue moved on to Boston College in 2010 but struggled mightily with recruiting in Chestnut Hill, going just 54-76 (.415) in four seasons as head coach there before getting fired in 2014.

Donahue’s teams are known for motion offense, which worked with great success toward the end of hs run at Cornell and even at BC, where Donahue’s defenses repeatedly failed him.

The move was perhaps the easiest for Penn Athletic Director Grace Calhoun to make because current Penn assistant coach Nat Graham also served under Donahue at Boston College and Cornell in that same capacity.

Calhoun used Fogler Consulting to assist with the head coaching search.

The news comes just nine days after it was reported that former Penn coach Jerome Allen would be fired after five and a half seasons at the helm, and just six days after Penn’s 2014-15 season finale.

9 thoughts on “Penn to hire Steve Donahue as next head coach”

  1. so disappointed. GC had a chance to make a splash with someone young and energetic, but to the path of least resistance. He might work only in the sense of bringing Penn to mediocrity but not relevance. Disgusted.

    • This is how one settles. Complete lack of creativity, failure to even test the market. It took him 7 years to turn Cornell around, and that was under fluky circumstances. I’m anticipating 4 years of mediocrity followed by a new coach. Maybe there will be a new President by then, one who realizes that athletics is the doorstep of the university.

  2. I understand why Donahue was a desired candidate, and certainly hope he brings the Quakers back to the top of the league. However, the whole process has been disappointing.

    First, there was the leak of Coach Allen’s firing last Saturday to a Boston-based ESPN writer. Then, there were comments by Vince Curran during the Penn-Princeton broadcast that JA’s firing was due to “internet trolls” and his push for Donahue as the best candidate for the job. Then, there came a series of articles from that appeared to promote Donahue as the only real candidate for the job.

    Quite possibly this unofficial Donahue lobby wanted to quiet the small, but passionate fan base while shaming the AD into a quick hiring process to get its guy hired before a more far reaching search could be done.

    Or, perhaps President Gutmann and AD Calhoun wanting a known entity – a solid person and respected coach who had success in the Ivy League, both as an assistant and a head coach – someone who would not break the bank and would mend relations with people hurt by the loss of Jerome Allen.

    Donahue may be the best person to lead this team, but I would have appreciated a more lengthy process. It does not seem that he was on any other school’s radar. Even if he was, there were certainly other qualified candidates (even those with connections to the school and city) to pursue.

    Since Donahue left after his great 2009-2010 Cornell team, it is impossible to know if he could have built on those positives years, like Fran Dunphy, Pete Carril or Tommy Amaker, or if that three-year success was really just catching lightning in a bottle. While his early Cornell years and his unsuccessful three years at BC make it seem like the positive results were due to one group of recruits, this job will ultimately determine Donahue’s head coaching abilities.

    Donahue would seem to be a definite upgrade over Allen as a coach. He should be able to get these athletes to play in a more disciplined way and move towards the middle of the league standings in the next year or two. However, this is not the same Ivy League that Donahue left in 2010. The teams and coaches are much stronger, individually and collectively. There is the realistic worry that he is an Ivy League coach for a league that does not exist anymore. As such, the middle of the pack may be the ceiling for this team.

    Additionally, on March 11th, Jonathan Tannenwald at Soft Pretzel Logic, wrote “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.” This hire was solid, safe and comfortable. Sadly, I do not feel that it will be enough to lessen the Locust Walk apathy. For the sake of the fans, the students the alumni and the AD, I hope that I am proven wrong on both of these accounts.

    • I’ll rebut the last portion of my previous post with a link to an April 2010 Cornell Daily Sun article discussing how Steve Donahue energized the Cornell and Ithaca Communities. After the last several years of disappointing team results and behavior, as well as a lack of communication from the staff, it will be great to have a coach with a history of connecting with the school and local communities as they put out a more mature and disciplined team.

      = Around 9 p.m. on March 31st, after interviewing for the Boston College head coaching position, Steve Donahue sent a text message to a group of Cornell student reporters. It read, “You guys are awesome.”

      The four words didn’t take much effort or likely much thought, but that act of reaching out to a few mere aspiring journalists which was second nature to Donahue, is symbolic of what sets him apart in a business where anyone else would have already had one foot out the door. There is no other Steve Donahue in college basketball.

      = But coaches all around the country make a living off of miraculous 180-degree turn-around efforts. What makes Donahue unique is his ability to energize an entire community with his caring and authenticity.

      Steve Donahue is not one to hold back tears, and the man who wears his heart on his sleeve made no exceptions during his last run at Cornell. In a post game press conference following a win over Drexel last November, Coach D broke down while talking about the emergence of senior captain Jon Jaques. When a win over Wisconsin secured the Big Red a spot in the school’s first ever Sweet 16, Donahue again got emotional. And after his final game at the helm, Donahue answered questions red-eyed, having said just goodbye to the 8 seniors that have helped to transform Cornell Basketball. But the passion and emotion that Donahue has shown emanates far beyond the team’s official members.

      He’s fostered close relationships with members of local Special Olympic groups. He’s connected with students, faculty and staff. Most of all, Donahue has garnered and cherished support from Ithaca as a whole. In a town in which strained student-resident relationships often hold court, Donahue has created an environment each of the last few winters at Bartels Hall with equal support: townie and Newman Nation.

      There’s no replacement for winning. Fans generally don’t flock to losing teams. But Coach D’s teams go far beyond the victories. They play hard. They play smart. They have fun. They play a brand of basketball and carry themselves on and off the hardwood in a manner that the entire community can be proud of.

      He’s put a premium on recruiting “good guys” and you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer, more polite, more modest team in the country, no doubt a tribute to the players, but equally so, a tribute to the guy who brought them all together.

      • He has many positives to be sure, but a prosaic choice. No one is impugning his character. He has proven to be a top notch guy and he will be a coach we can be proud of. However, there appears to be a distinct “Hoops Mafia” that wanted a known commodity. What if they took a chance on say Hufnagel and he couldn’t coach? A third miss would be even more of a disaster. Toole, to me, would have been an exciting choice, but there were probably questions about his intensity and they didn’t want someone to go all “Joe Scott” on a young team. I can see that Donahue is a mature, nurturing guy and that is what this young team requires. He is also proven to be a good tactical coach. However he will need talent to compete with Harvard and luring this talent will be his challenge. Think of it: if he had high talent players, he has shown he knows how to develop them. He therefore needs to surround himself with the best recruiting personnel he can get. That being said, I don’t think anyone in The League is up to out-Amakering Amaker. He has to the keys to the Kingdom as long as he wants it now that Penn has shown that they don’t have the balls to match The Crimson.

  3. Had to be a done deal before Allen “resigned.” Makes no sense otherwise. Calhoun is proving herself decisive and very much in charge. Whether he is the right man for the job might depend on the job she expects to be done.

    • I doubt it was decisive so much as her hand was forced. She wasn’t given the money to buy out Allen’s contract and hire someone new, so she had to rely on booster money. The boosters said it’s Donahue or nothing.

      • I’m amazed at how much money Ivy League sports boosters are throwing around these days. Stemberg and Ballmer paying $1 million+ a year to keep Amaker from leaving for Miami or BC. Penn boosters picking up (how many?) years of Allen’s contract. I mean, I love when my team wins but I can’t see personally paying for a coach’s salary, no matter how rich or poor I might be. It just seems unseemly in our conference.

        If the first shot had been fired at Penn or Cornell, that is, if the Quakers or Big Red had been the first to hire a seven-figure-a-year coach with booster money, you can bet that HYP would have started lobbying the other Ivies to rein in those uncouth Philadelphians or upstate country hicks who are putting too much money into sports. That’s how HYP got the League to adopt the AI when Penn was winning “too much” in the Seventies. It’s quite a turnabout to see Harvard leading the conference toward higher salaries now (and lower academics, to boot).


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