Senior Writer

Nittany Lions face limited options in coaching search


Penn State is not going to hire a successful and established coach.

I think everybody understands that.

Ed DeChellis found what others had before: it's tough to build a hoops winner at Penn State. (AP)  
Ed DeChellis found what others had before: it's tough to build a hoops winner at Penn State. (AP)  
There's not a single realistic candidate who will move the meter in State College upon being hired, because coaching the Nittany Lions in men's basketball is more likely to kill your career than launch it to bigger and better things. Consequently, Penn State will be forced to either hire a low-major coach unable to reject a pay bump, a mid-major coach or high-major assistant lacking an obvious bright future, a high-major coach seeking a new address in the interest of self-preservation or a former high-major coach best described as a recycling project. Yep, that pretty much covers it. Which is why it wasn't surprising when -- less than 48 hours after Ed DeChellis left Penn State for Navy this week -- the school reportedly turned its attention to East Carolina's Jeff Lebo.

Lebo used to coach at Auburn.

He lost a lot and got fired after six years.

Now he's at ECU.

He's the type of guy who would take the job if offered. But it really shouldn't be offered because though Lebo is a gentleman and fine basketball mind who was raised in Pennsylvania, Penn State would've been better off -- or at least no worse off -- just giving DeChellis a contract extension if this is really the route it's interested in taking. I mean, what's the point? Why would anybody think it's a good idea to hire somebody who spent six years losing in the SEC because he struggled recruiting high-major talent to a football school with little basketball tradition to be the next coach at a place that's been losing in the Big Ten because it's had a coach who found it difficult to recruit high-major talent to a football school with little basketball tradition?

It's hard to win at Penn State. Period. But it's impossible to win there without somebody dynamic and aggressive enough to bring high-major talent into Bryce Jordan Arena, and Lebo simply isn't that guy. He's somebody with an impeccable reputation because he's not going to get a program on the wrong side of the NCAA, and he's a respected tactician. Those are great qualities but ones that are best-suited for a Sun Belt coach or a man who works at a high-major school with a natural recruiting base that'll provide a certain type of player regardless. Penn State, as you know, isn't in the Sun Belt and it has no natural recruiting base because Philadelphia is 195 miles away, and kids in Philadelphia would rather play in the Big East than the Big Ten anyway.

More from Penn State

So Penn State is a tough sell.

Which is why Penn State is a job for a salesman.

Which is why athletic director Tim Curley -- and former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, who is assisting in the search -- would be wise to try to hire somebody with a recruiting background and/or unusual connections that might prove helpful. Perhaps that's Drexel's Bruiser Flint and his strong ties in the Philadelphia area. Or maybe it's an assistant with a reputation as a grinder. Honestly, I don't know the right answer for Penn State because my guess is that the next coach will likely lose more than he wins just like DeChellis lost more than he won. All I know is the wrong answer for Penn State and the wrong answer is anybody lacking a larger-than-life personality and/or track record of recruiting above his head.

That means Lebo and anybody like Lebo is the wrong answer. Again, he's a gentleman and a fine basketball mind and East Carolina is lucky to have him, but we've already seen what happens when Lebo is put in charge of a rebuilding project at a power-conference football school with little basketball tradition and no natural recruiting base. That went about as well as the DeChellis era that just ended at Penn State (give or take a win or loss), and there's no real reason to think the results would be much different here. So Curley and Fogler need to start thinking a little more outside the box and be willing to gamble on somebody with the qualities the job requires, because playing it safe will only guarantee they end up doing this all over again in five or six years, and that's an uninspiring approach to take to a coaching search that's already difficult enough.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

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