Coach Ed DeChellis, who led Penn State to the NCAA tournament this year, resigned Monday to take the vacant job at Navy.
The 15-year coaching veteran said he found "a calling" in announcing the surprise move two months after orchestrating his alma mater's first NCAA bid in a decade. The Nittany Lions lost to Temple, 66-64, in the second round.
"It's been a very, very dificult weekend for me and my family. If I break down, there's good reason for that," DeChellis said during a 20-minute news conference at the Jordan Center. "Penn State is a special place for me and my family, but I found another special place in the U.S. Naval Academy."
He goes from a power conference school to a program that plays in the brainy Patriot League. DeChellis took the job on Sunday.
"It was very, very difficult. At Mass yesterday, father talked about a path. Sometimes a path is presented to you that you have to be able to walk down," he said before stopping to compose himself before nearly tearing up.
The Patriot-News of Harrisburg first reported the story late Monday afternoon.
In a statement, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said the school would launch a national search for a replacement.
"Ed and his staff built a strong foundation for the program," Curley said in a statement praising DeChellis' work on and off the court.
DeChellis' eight-year run at Penn State includes the 2009 NIT championship. He was rewarded with a three-extension later that year that would have kept him in Happy Valley until 2014.
The school doesn't typically release salaries, though an open records request in 2009 showed DeChellis made more than $642,000.
After an 11-20 season in 2009-10, the Nittany Lions (19-15) secured an NCAA appearance this past season after surging into the Big Ten tournament finals before losing to Ohio State, 71-60. Career leading scorer Talor Battle led the way.
"Ed's maturity, integrity, character and accomplishments at Penn State have made him one of the most respected role models in the coaching ranks," Navy athletic director Chet Gladcuck said in a statement. A cancer survivor, DeChellis was a tireless advocate for the Coaches vs. Cancer charitable organization.
The Navy job opened up after Billy Lange resigned earlier this month following a second straight losing season. Lange took an assistant coaching job at Villanova.
It's a setback for a Penn State program seemingly already in perennial rebuilding mode. This will especially be a challenging season, as Battle and three other senior starters depart. Plus, Battle's half-brother, talented guard Taran Buie, left the program following a rocky freshman year filled with off-court issues.
DeChellis finished with a 114-138 record at Penn State, but was 41-95 in the regular season in the Big Ten. Counting a previous seven-year stint at East Tennessee State, DeChellis has a career coaching record of 219-231.
"This is a great job ... a Big Ten job with Big Ten facilities. We've got all the bells and whistles," DeChellis said. "But to me, it's not about the bells and whistles. It's not about the large arenas anymore."
DeChellis said he hadn't been actively seeking another job, and when asked said the move had nothing to do with his contract.