Tuesday, March 17, 2015

News and Notes: Tuesday Edition

Below, news and notes for Tuesday...

  • Listen to Bill Courtney's reaction on ESPN Ithaca on the Donahue news.
  • Athlon Sports writes on Bo Ryan in the NCAA Tournament, "Wisconsin went to the Final Four last season, but before that Ryan-coached teams were eliminated by lower-seeded teams in three of their previous four Tournament appearances including by Ole Miss in 2013, Butler in 2011 and Cornell in 2010."
  • Here is a quote from the DelCo Times on the Donahue hire:
“The Ursinus hotwire has been burning up all day,” said Springfield boys coach Kevin McCormick, who was a college teammate with Donahue. “It’s a great hire. He brings a wealth of experience to Penn. Look at the job he did at Cornell. If Penn gives him the opportunity, he’ll do the same thing there.”
  • ESPN writes on the Donahue hire:
Steve Donahue was named coach of the Penn Quakers on Monday.
Donahue, who was an assistant coach at Penn for 10 seasons before leaving for Cornell in 2000, met with the Quakers on Monday night, sources confirmed to ESPN.com.
went 54-76 in four seasons at Boston College.
The school will introduce Donahue on Tuesday afternoon in a news conference, it said in a statement released Monday night.
"I am thrilled to be coming back to Penn as its head men's basketball coach," Donahue said in the statement. "Having been a part of Philadelphia and Penn basketball for the greater part of my life, I have a great passion for this city and this program.
"I spent 10 extraordinary years as an assistant here at Penn working with one of the great head coaches in all of college basketball, Fran Dunphy. That, combined with my experiences as head coach at Cornell and Boston College, have led me to this distinct opportunity to return the program that I grew up watching to national prominence. I plan to provide the energy and the enthusiasm that will put Penn basketball back atop the Ivy League."
Donahue spent four seasons at Boston College before being let go last spring. He was the coach at Cornell for 10 seasons, going to three NCAA tournaments and one Sweet 16 in his final three years with the Big Red.
He replaces Jerome Allen, who stepped down after more than five seasons in charge of the Quakers. Allen took over midway through the 2009-10 season, after Glen Miller was fired seven games into the campaign. Allen went 33-28 in his first two full seasons at the helm but struggled to a 26-61 record over the past three seasons.
Penn was 9-19 this season, finishing 4-10 in the Ivy League.
"After performing a robust and year-long assessment of the men's basketball program, we entered the search process with a strong sense of the background, skills and character traits we felt were necessary for Penn's next head coach," Penn athletic director M. Grace Calhoun said in the statement . "An impressive group of candidates were thoroughly vetted, and Steve Donahue clearly rose to the top.
"Coach Donahue is a nationally recognized coach and proven recruiter with unquestioned integrity," Calhoun added. "His deep knowledge of and appreciation for Penn basketball, the Ivy model of student-athlete development, and the Big Five were unparalleled in the search. We are confident in Coach Donahue's ability to return Penn men's basketball to prominence. We welcome Steve, his wife Pamela, and his family back to Philadelphia."
Steve Donahue is the next Penn basketball head coach.
Sources confirmed Monday that Donahue will replace Jerome Allen, who spent five and a half seasons at the helm and had a 65-104 record as coach. A press conference is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at the Palestra.
"An impressive group of candidates were thoroughly vetted, and Steve Donahue clearly rose to the top," Athletic Director Grace Calhoun said in a press release. "Coach Donahue is a nationally recognized coach and proven recruiter with unquestioned integrity. His deep knowledge of and appreciation for Penn basketball, the Ivy model of student-athlete development and the Big Five were unparalleled in the search.
"We are confident in coach Donahue's ability to return Penn men’s basketball to prominence."
"It's a great hire by Penn," 1995 College graduate Matt Maloney — who played for the Red and Blue while Donahue was an assistant — said in a text message. "Coach Donahue is going to do a fantastic job. He had an enormous positive influence on my career."
The hiring does not come out of the blue because of Donahue's connections to the Red and Blue. He spent 10 seasons as a Quakers assistant under former coach Fran Dunphy, helping Penn win six Ivy League titles in eight seasons in the 1990s, three of which came with Allen as the Quakers' star player. Additionally, Nat Graham — one of Allen's top assistants in 2014-15 — was Donahue's assistant at Cornell and Boston College.
“I am thrilled to be coming back to Penn as its head men's basketball coach,” Donahue said in a press release. “Having been a part of Philadelphia and Penn basketball for the greater part of my life, I have a great passion for this city and this program. I spent 10 extraordinary years as an assistant here at Penn working with one of the great head coaches in all of college basketball, Fran Dunphy.
"That, combined with my experiences as head coach at Cornell and Boston College, have led me to this distinct opportunity to return the program that I grew up watching to national prominence. I plan to provide the energy and the enthusiasm that will put Penn basketball back atop the Ivy League.”
Donahue left Penn to become the head coach at Cornell in 2000, where he also spent 10 seasons. In his final three seasons at Cornell, Donahue won three straight Ivy titles. It was the first time in Ivy history that a school other than Penn or Princeton won three consecutive Ancient Eight championships, a mark since replicated by Harvard over the course of the past five seasons.
"Steve Donahue was my assistant basketball coach in high school and my longtime friend, and there is no better basketball person than he is," current Lafayette coach and former Penn assistant Fran O'Hanlon said. "He's as good as anybody and it's a tremendous hire for Penn.
"I'm happy for my friend and for Penn because they have somebody who is familiar with the Ivy League, he's familiar with Penn and he's done an awesome job as a coach."
In 2010, Donahue led Cornell to the Sweet 16, the farthest any Ivy team has made it in the NCAA Tournament since Penn's 1979 Final Four squad. Still, he had an opportunity to return to the Quakers before his Big Red squads established themselves as an Ancient Eight powerhouse from 2007 onward.
Following Dunphy's hiring at Temple in 2006, Donahue was considered one of the leading candidates to replace his former mentor. However, then-Athletic Director Steve Bilsky opted to hire then-Brown head coach Glen Miller as Dunphy's successor, passing over Donahue for a different individual with Ivy League head coaching experience.
Nine years later, following Allen's dismissal at the end of this season, Calhoun quickly moved to bring Donahue back into the fold at Penn. After informing Allen on March 2 that he would not return in 2015-16, Calhoun hired Donahue as Allen's replacement less than a week after the former coach's final game with the Quakers, a 73-52 loss to Princeton.
"I certainly knew through other people, other friends that when coach Allen left, Steve would be one of the guys that Penn wanted to talk to," O'Hanlon said. "It's like family, we're all family. Jerome, coach Donahue, me, Dunphy.
"One of our family members happened to lose that job and someone else in our family got that job. It's the business we've chosen."
Allen's ouster did shake up that very same Penn basketball family, particularly those who played under him the last few seasons. Miles Jackson-Cartwright, a guard for the Red and Blue from 2010-14, was one of those who was shocked by Allen leaving, but even he thought positively of Donahue's hiring.
"He knows what it takes to win in this league," Jackson-Cartwright said of Donahue. "From that standpoint, past experience-wise, it seems like a great fit."
Jackson-Cartwright was around for the tail end of the last coaching transition for Penn — joining the Quakers shortly after the move from Miller to Allen during the middle of the 2009-10 season — and he thinks this changeover will go much more smoothly.
"It was a much different situation," Jackson-Cartwright said. "But now, I think it'll be great for the team because, firstly, they announced the new coach fairly early so you can start transitioning the guys with the new coach right away... I think it will be a much easier transition just because they'll have a lot more time to meet with each other before they play a game."
While Penn will see immediate changes to its program, it isn't the only Ivy program with interest in the coaching change. After Donahue's long tenure and significant impact in Ithaca, the news has piqued the curiosity of those currently at Cornell. In an interview today, ESPN Ithaca asked Donahue's successor — coach Bill Courtney — if he thought it was a good move by Penn.
"Absolutely," Courtney responded to the question. "I don't know that if you're Penn if you [can] go out and find a better guy than Steve Donahue. Obviously this league has become extremely, extremely difficult and there are quality coaches at every institution and lots of very good players who play in this league now.
"So when you out and get a guy like Steve who you know is a very good coach, that speaks well about your program."
The success at Cornell propelled Donahue to a job at Boston College in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2010. After a successful first season in which the Eagles went 21-13, the squad fell on hard times, finishing with a losing record in three straight seasons. He was fired after the 2013-14 season and spent last year as a broadcaster for ESPN.
"Coach Donahue brings great knowledge of the game in Xs and Os, as well as a great temperament and patience, something that is needed for developing young players," Maloney said. "He's a proven winner. Given the time he spent with the program earlier in his career, he definitely understands the history and tradition of Penn basketball and the Palestra.
"[The hiring] definitely puts the program in the hands of someone who will continue the proud tradition of Penn basketball and I have no doubt that coach Donahue is the person to do so."
Despite his struggles at BC, Donahue remained a popular option to fill Allen's spot on the Palestra sidelines among former players and the program's board members. In speaking with The Daily Pennsylvanian last week, Tim Krug — Allen's former teammate and a player with the Quakers while Donahue was with Penn in the 1990s — emphasized a significant amount of alumni support for Donahue.
"I think a lot of the former players and people close to the program ... I think it's common to have Steve Donahue's name close to the top of those people's lists," Krug said at the time. "I don't see how you can have a list that doesn't have Steve Donahue's name in big bold letters at the top. He coached here under two outstanding coaches ... and went on to do phenomenal things at Cornell. He won three Ivy titles at a school that had never competed for Ivy titles.
"To me, it's a no-brainer who the next coach should be."
Well, that was easy.
Steve Donahue was the obvious candidate to replace Jerome Allen as Penn basketball head coach. And who did Penn Athletics select to fill the void left after Allen’s dismissal? Donahue.
Sometimes, it’s that simple.
In the end, Athletic Director Grace Calhoun went with the obvious hire, and, really, who can blame her? Donahue checks off everything you would normally be looking for in a new coach for the Quakers.
Overall coaching experience? No doubt, as the 52-year-old has spent 30 years in the business.
Penn and/or Ivy experience? 10 years as an assistant under Fran Dunphy and 10 years as the head coach of Cornell.
Ivy success? Three Ivy titles at Cornell.
His run at Cornell from 2008-10 was the best run ever by a school other than Penn or Princeton in the Ancient Eight ... that is, until Harvard’s reign began five years ago. That’s the issue: The current Ivy League is much different from the one Donahue left in 2010.
Since Donahue departed Cornell in 2010 for the job at Boston College, Tommy Amaker has built a dynasty at Harvard, painting the Ivy League Crimson with five straight Ivy League titles. Amaker has turned Harvard into what Penn and Princeton were for the last 50 years, an Ivy force that is renowned outside of the Ancient Eight. And while Donahue was at Boston College, he lost all four matchups with Harvard, struggling to compete with the Crimson in his own backyard.
It’s not just the Crimson either: The Ivy League as a whole is much better. Schools like Brown, Columbia and Dartmouth have emerged from the cellar of the Ancient Eight and put together squads worthy of postseason bids in recent years. Every squad outside of Donahue’s old Big Red squad has taken a turn in the league’s top four since he left and helped raise the profile of the mid-major conference.
And while Penn was still reeling after the Glen Miller firing when Donahue left Cornell five years ago, the program has seen further issues. The Quakers just endured their worst three-year stretch in program history, going a combined 26-61 while finishing tied for last place in the Ancient Eight this season.
Sufficiently scared? Don’t be.
At the end of the day, Donahue has won in the Ivy League. He has been through the process of building a program from the ground up and, while many cite luck in recruiting for his success at Cornell, there is no doubting his results.
“It’s not like he won a championship 20 years ago, his [last Ivy title] was within the last five years,” said 1978 College grad and former basketball player Stan Greene, who is also a member of the program’s board. “He took a bad program, made them Ivy League champions, became a top-25 team and advanced to the Sweet 16, so he’s proven and respected by the Penn community and the basketball community in general.”
Everyone around the program put in their two cents about the hiring, calling for up-and-coming assistants like Yanni Hufnagel or former Penn players like Andy Toole. Successful mid-major coaches like Jim Engles also received attention.
But Donahue was the obvious choice through and through. He is the man to turn around Penn basketball.
“If you hired the best search firm in the world and they did a really good job, I think that would be the first name they’d come up with,” said Fran O’Hanlon, a former Penn assistant alongside Donahue and current Lafayette head coach.
Donahue’s lack of success at Boston College appears to be the only drawback, but the job in Chestnut Hill, Mass. was simply too tough. The school’s priority is football, the Eagles can’t compete with ACC powers like Duke, Virginia and North Carolina and the resources available for the basketball program are limited.
Now Donahue is back where he belongs: at Penn and in the Ivy League. He isn’t a stunning, ambitious hire, but that isn’t what the Quakers need. The Red and Blue needed a proven coach who can take a strong freshman core and build.
“Even though we’re all shocked and sad that [Allen] is gone, it is still a breath of fresh air,” former Penn basketball guard Miles Jackson-Cartwright said.
And Jackson-Cartwright hits it right on the nose: This is a fresh start. A fresh start for Penn and a fresh start for Donahue after his firing at BC.
Getting back to the top of the Ivy League won’t be nearly this easy, but this is the right move by Calhoun.
So let the Donahue era begin.
Penn announced the hiring of Steve Donahue as its new head men’s basketball coach Monday evening. Donahue, who will be officially introduced at a press conference this afternoon, was a Penn assistant from 1990-2000 before spending a decade as Cornell’s head coach and four years at Boston College. The hire, which was first reported by Dick Jerardi of the Philly Daily News, concludes a search that lasted just two weeks from when Jerome Allen was told he would not return next year.
The Quakers have won 26 conference titles, but none since 2007, when their three-year reign was snapped by Donahue’s Big Red. This season, Penn finished last in the conference (tied with Brown at 4-10), lost seven straight games for the first time, and capped three straight losing Ivy campaigns. Quakers fans are now counting on Donahue to return the program to glory.
The Ivy League is also counting on a Penn turnaround to continue its rise.
For most of the modern era, the Ivy League was a true low-major conference — one of the 10-12 worst overall conferences in Division I. Penn and Princeton were dominant within the league, producing some teams that ranked among the best mid-majors. But at the bottom, and even in the middle, the Ancient Eight was usually weak.
Things have been different this decade. Cornell broke up the Princeton-Penn hegemony with three straight league titles in 2008-10, while Harvard has claimed a share of at least the last five. Driven largely by improvements in need-based financial aid, the rest of the conference has started catching up, to the point where last-place finishers have won regular-season games over single-digit seeds in the NCAA tournament in two of the last three years (Columbia over Villanova in 2012-13, Brown over Providence this season).
As a result, the Ivy League has placed 14th in Ken Pomeroy’s conference ratings in each of the last two seasons, its highest rank ever:
Can the Ivy League keep rising from here? The following chart shows each team’s national rank from the last two seasons (per KenPom). It functions as a starting point to identify possible improvements:
KenPom Rank: 2014 2015 Avg.
Harvard 32 78 55
Yale 144 74 109
Princeton 101 150 126
Columbia 123 170 147
Dartmouth 236 160 198
Brown 160 256 208
Cornell 341 209 275
Penn 266 289 278

The Ivy League’s upside isn’t going to come from Harvard, which has already been a top mid-major in recent years. As long as Tommy Amaker’s recruiting machine keeps running, the Crimson shouldn’t fall too far. But they can’t expect to be better than a top 50-75 team year after year, and they’ll probably be closer to their 2015 level than their 2014 peak. Similarly, Yale has proven itself to be a solid program, but it will be hard to improve on its 100-ish average ranking.
Princeton should get better. After two years of key graduations, 2015 was something of a rebuild for the Tigers, who were better at the end of the year than the start. Princeton was between 75 and 100 in each of the prior three years, and it should return to that range going forward, perhaps as soon as next season. Columbia might also have some upside given its current momentum, though the Lions haven’t consistently put everything together yet.
Cornell’s disastrous 2014 skews the lower tier, and the Big Red, along with Dartmouth and Brown, will probably drift upward a bit over time, thanks to the effects of stronger recruiting and financial aid policies. But these are difficult places to win, and I don’t think any should be expected to consistently rank above the 150-200 range in the longer run. That’s not to say these teams can’t compete for the league title — there will be up years when everything goes well (as for Cornell recently), but also down years when they don’t.
That leaves Penn. Given their location, a history of success, and a passionate alumni base with an interest in supporting basketball, the Quakers have no business being last in the Ivy League. They were a top-100 team in four of Fran Dunphy’s final five years (and #106 in the fifth). If they escape their current doldrums, they can get back to that level, competing with Harvard, Princeton and Yale at the top of a stronger league.
Several Ivy League programs can improve in the medium-term, but Penn’s potential gains could have by far the biggest impact. If the Quakers had been an average D-I team this year, the Ivy League’s Pythagorean rating would have risen all the way to .520, leapfrogging the Big West for 13th place nationally. If Penn had been #100, the Ancient Eight would have been at .540, even with the Mountain West. Throw in better health for Columbia and a non-rebuilding year for Princeton, and the Ivy League passes the MAC and Missouri Valley for 10th — the range in which #2BidIvy is no longer a longshot.
I don’t know if Steve Donahue is the right person to lead Penn back to its former heights. But if he is, the Ivy League will be better off for it.
Before the 2014-15 season, after two straight years of single-digit wins and with a new athletic director in town, it was clear that Jerome Allen was running out of time at Penn if he didn’t turn things around.
And as the year went on and the Quakers limped along on their way to a 9-19 (4-10 Ivy League) season, one couldn’t help but start to think about who the potential replacements for Allen could be.
There was one name who always came first–Steve Donahue.
It made sense for a lot of reasons. New athletic director M. Grace Calhoun would want to go with someone who had Division I head coaching experience, something Allen had none of when now-retired AD Steve Bilsky promoted him from assistant coach–a position he’d held for all of seven games–after firing Glenn Miller that long into the 2009-10 season.
Donahue had 14 years as a Division I head coach, including a very successful 10-year run at Cornell from 2000-10 that saw him take the Big Red from a 7-win program in his first year to one that made three consecutive NCAA Tournaments from 2008-10, culminating with a run to the Sweet 16 that got him a job at Boston College that offseason.
He wasn’t as successful at Boston College, going just 54-76 (.415) in four years there before his removal, but recruiting at the ACC level is completely different than in the Ivy League–and BC is the toughest job in that whole league. And Donahue knew Penn, having spent 10 years there as an assistant coach under Fran Dunphy from 1990-2000.
That’s far from Donahue’s only tie to the area. A Delaware County native, he coached at Springfield (Delco.), was an assistant to current Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon at Monsignor Bonner HS in the 1980s and served under Herb Magee at Philly U for two years before joining Dunphy’s staff.
To top it all off, Donahue was working as a television analyst, and it was no secret he wanted to get back into coaching.
So maybe it’s no surprise it only took six days from the end of Penn’s season for Donahue to be announced as the 20th head coach in Quaker men’s basketball history, tasked with turning around a program that’s been historically one of the best in the Ivy League but had played its way down into the cellar.
He was the safe choice. But does that make him the right one?
Donahue wasn’t the only name out there that came up constantly whenever the prospect of a Penn coaching opening was discussed. Another Quaker alum and Dunphy disciple, Matt Langel, has increased his win total at Colgate in four straight years, and led a historically below-average Raiders program to a second-place finish in the the Patriot League this season and a program-best 12-6 record in league play.
One other current head coach whose name was mentioned was Robert Morris’ Andy Toole, who took the Colonials to the NCAA Tournament this season and gained national attention two years ago when RMU upset Kentucky in the first round of the NIT. Or Calhoun could have taken a riskier path and gone with a high-major assistant with Ivy League experience, like Cal’s Yanni Hufnagel or even one of Allen’s Penn assistants, Nat Graham.
They’re all younger than Donahue, though the 52-year-old is by no means anywhere near the end of his coaching career. They certainly don’t have the experience he does, but they’ve all been successful in what they’ve done thus far.
Clearly, Calhoun had her top target in mind all along, and got her man. While other coaching jobs across the country are just starting to open up as the season ends, she got a coach who would certainly have been fielding calls from numerous Division I institutions.
Ultimately, though, what Penn needed was a coach who could develop a group of players, because this isn’t a total reboot.
Donahue has some pieces to work with–while Allen couldn’t find success with his team in terms of wins and losses, he did a good job at bringing some talented student-athletes to Penn.
He’ll have a solid pair of seniors to help his transition next year in Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry, but what really makes the job attractive were this year’s freshmen. Guard Antonio Woods, sharpshooting wing Sam Jones and versatile power forward Mike Auger all look like they’re going to be mainstays of the Penn rotation for the next three years, and they’re going to be joined by some very talented newcomers in the fall.
Cherry Hill East point guard Jake Silpe and the Northfield Mount Hermon duo of big man Collin McManus and sharpshooting guard Jackson Donahue (whose older brother Sam played for Steve Donahue–no relation–at Boston College) all look like they’ll be playing right away, giving Donahue a very good young nucleus to build around.
That Calhoun made the least-risky hire, however, means that she and those around her will want to see improvement on a quicker scale than Allen brought it. If Donahue can’t starting winning with this group in a year or two, and can’t bring any talent in behind them, he won’t have six seasons to try and right the ship.
Donahue was the safe hire for Penn, and in all likelihood the smart one. It shouldn’t take very long to find out if he was the right one.

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