Ed DeChellis' stunning decision to leave a Big Ten program to coach a Patriot League squad left most in the college basketball world scratching their heads. After all, Patriot League jobs are usually regarded as stepping-stones to major conference positions.
But for DeChellis, who on Monday announced he was leaving Penn State after eight seasons to take over at Navy, the move made perfect sense. In an often-emotional press conference at the Jordan Center, he said it has more to do with a certain patriotic calling he had.
It's not about going from the Big Ten to the Patriot League, it's about working at the Naval Academy and having the opportunity to work with young men who want to serve our country, the 52-year-old said. I feel in some way that's my civic duty.
I don't know if you've ever been there, but the academy is very special.
A Penn State grad, DeChellis at times struggled to talk about the program he is leaving. He went 117-139 in his PSU career, taking the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Tournament only once -- last season.
This isn't about me leaving Penn State because of something here, he said. It's something that I'm going to.
There is a perception among critics that DeChellis is -- pardon the pun -- abandoning a sinking ship for a safer vessel. DeChellis has three years left on his contract, but must replace four starters from the one-and-done NCAA team, including PSU all-time leading scorer Talor Battle. Next season is shaping up as a serious rebuilding year.
The Harrisburg Patriot-News reported Monday that DeChellis had earlier turned down a more lucrative deal at what it called a Midwestern mid-major program in the hope of landing another high-major job.
Asked specifically about the story, DeChellis said, That was inaccurate. He also discounted the notion that Penn State failed to give him the tools needed to consistently succeed in the Big Ten.
Things are in place for Penn State to be as good as anyone else in the Big Ten, I truly believe that, DeChellis said.
DeChellis and his wife Kim visited the Navy campus in Annapolis, Md., over the weekend and he made up his mind to take the job Sunday. He said telling his returning players was very, very difficult, and that PSU athletic director Tim Curley understood the decision.
In a prepared statement, Curley said, On behalf of Penn State and the State College communities, I would like to offer my sincere appreciation to Ed DeChellis and his staff for their efforts with the men's basketball program the past eight years. Ed and his staff built a strong foundation.
DeChellis said he would like to take assistant coaches Kurt Kanaskie and Danny Earl with him to Navy. Penn State's third assistant position is open.
At Navy, DeChellis is replacing Billy Lange, who resigned May 9.
The timing of his departure from Penn State is less than ideal. Most college coaching changes take place near the end of or just after the season, so many of the best candidates have been gobbled up. Also, though he'll now be at another school, DeChellis was in charge of recruiting through the late signing period. The Nittany Lions announced the signing of junior college transfer guard Matt Glover -- ironically enough -- May 9.
The job didn't open until a couple of weeks ago, DeChellis said when asked about the awkward timing. I wasn't wanting to go anywhere.
In the statement, Curley said, We will quickly begin a national search for new leadership for the Nittany Lion basketball program.