STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – An unexpected coaching search is underway at Penn State after Ed DeChellis left his alma mater to take the same position at Navy.
The blinds in the corner office that used to belong to DeChellis were drawn Tuesday morning at the Jordan Center. Around the corner and down a long corridor, athletic director Tim Curley began working the phones a day after DeChellis announced his surprise resignation.
Asked what he was looking for in the next coach, Curley didn't name names, but stressed the priority of finding the right fit for the program. Penn State prides itself as a power conference team whose athletes also excel off the court.
"Our program is built on certain values and tradition, a certain way of operating," he said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon with The Associated Press. "Ultimately, it's my responsibility to make sure we identify a coach who identifies with our system and the Penn State way."
Though not necessarily someone with Penn State ties, like DeChellis.
"We're conducting a national search, so we're open to the best candidate that we can find," Curley said. He said there was no timeline, though he hoped to move quickly to find a replacement.
A native of western Pennsylvania, the 52-year-old DeChellis returned to Penn State in 2003 after a successful seven-year stint at East Tennessee State. Penn State won the 2009 NIT under DeChellis, then surged into the Big Ten tournament final this past spring to secure a trip to the NCAAs and a date with Temple.
The 66-64 loss to the Owls turned out to be DeChellis' last game. He compiled a record of 114-138, with a 41-95 mark in regular-season Big Ten play.
Curley said DeChellis left the program in an "excellent state," with a great foundation. "If you look at the body of work ... you saw improvements in all the areas."
Following the departure of career leading scorer Talor Battle and three other senior starters, the next coach will inherit a young and relatively inexperienced roster, other than point guard Tim Frazier.
Fans with pie-in-the-sky hopes have mentioned high-profile names from mid-majors like Butler's Brad Stevens or VCU's Shaka Smart on wish lists. But both hot commodities recently signed long-term extensions to stay put.
Midwest or Pennsylvania ties could be a selling point, especially if Penn State has any hope of getting more competitive on the recruiting trail.
Temple's Fran Dunphy, who left Penn in 2006 to replace Hall of Famer John Chaney with the Owls, is certainly a known commodity. But he signed an extension with Temple a year ago to keep him in Philadelphia through 2018. Dunphy, a Philadelphia native, took in the Phillies' game vs. the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, and did not look like a person who was interested in a career move.
Former Bucknell coach Pat Flannery is available. The architect of the defensive-minded Patriot League squads that had back-to-back first-round NCAA victories in 2005 and 2006 is a fundraiser now for Bucknell after stepping down in 2008.
Known for his fiery intensity, Flannery had experienced health problems in his last couple years on the bench. Flannery since then has said he is completely healthy again.
He declined comment when contacted Tuesday by the AP, except saying the Penn State opening "would be a great opportunity for anyone." Flannery could be intriguing given the odd timing of DeChellis' departure, a point when most schools have their coaching staffs in place.
ESPN analyst Dick Vitale on his Twitter feed promoted former Indiana and Texas Tech coach Bob Knight, certainly a name that would raise any school's profile. But Knight, now 70, has his history of volatility that doesn't fit Penn State's image.
There are other possibilities with Pennsylvania ties that currently have coaching jobs, such as Milwaukee's Rob Jeter, Drexel's Bruiser Flint, Marshall's Tom Herrion and Duquesne's Ron Everhart.
Jeter was born in Pittsburgh, Flint has built the Dragons into a consistent CAA contender in the shadows of the more high-profile Philadelphia programs, Herrion was an assistant at Pitt, and Everhart has taken the Dukes, who have long played second fiddle to the Panthers in Pittsburgh, to postseason play the past three seasons.
Former Penn State forward Jamelle Cornley, who led the NIT championship team, praised DeChellis for preaching integrity. An NCAA Academic Progress Report released Tuesday showed Penn State scoring 995 out of 1,000, tied for the best mark in the Big Ten with Michigan State.
He called DeChellis an "honorable man" for which he will always have deep appreciation. On the court, Cornley said the next coach must establish an identity for the program, or a younger coach with "swagger."
"It's establishing an identity. And that is something that a Penn State program has yet to see for sometime," Cornley, who now plays in Argentina, wrote in an email. "I feel the next coach has to approach his players and community with an attitude that demonstrates 'grit' and that identity factor. A willingness to lay it all out with a no-holds-bar mentality."
Salary could be another stumbling block. An open records report from Penn State last year showed DeChellis' compensation package totaled $709,000. That was the lowest among the coaches of the seven Big Ten teams that made the NCAAs this season, according to a recent USA Today analysis.
Curley said Penn State would pay a "competitive salary" to ensure the school attracts the right candidate.