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May 23, 2011

Column: DeChellis' clear path

The often puzzling tenure of Penn State men's basketball head coach Ed DeChellis took what will be perceived as one final puzzling turn Monday afternoon when he announced his resignation in favor of the men's basketball head coaching position at the United States Naval Academy.

Following the Nittany Lions' first NCAA Tournament appearance in his eight seasons at the helm, plus its subsequent recruiting momentum, DeChellis walks away from the power and prestige of a Big Ten head coaching position, not to mention what's been reported as nearly a quarter of his yearly salary.

Speculation and off-the-record reporting will attribute DeChellis' decision to a lack of job security on an already warm seat, or a perceived lack of support from the Penn State administration and athletic department, or the prospect of an upcoming season with what many consider to be a bare cupboard.

At his voluntary Monday afternoon press conference to explain his decision to the small contingent of beat writers who have covered his program, he claimed none were accurate. Only DeChellis and his family can know whether those factors existed or played a part in his decision.

What he did say - and would be hard to dispute from anyone who knows the 52-year old coach - was that the principles that have come to define the Penn State men's basketball program under his guidance did play a factor.

"Morals, values, ethics, hard work, and determination," he said.

Few would argue that those characteristics didn't mark nearly every aspect of the Penn State program for the past eight seasons.

In an age of college basketball defined by scandal, rule-breaking and bending, and tainted AAU-dominated recruiting pools, by all accounts, DeChellis' program avoided the fray almost completely.

To be fair, save for this past season's NCAA Tournament berth and NIT championship three seasons ago, DeChellis' program also rarely entered the fray of being truly competitive in a conference loaded with programs willing to participate in the big-time, big-money world of college basketball.

DeChellis described them as the, "bells and whistles," in his press conference. The big arenas, the great facilities, the Big Ten prestige.

Surely, none of those will apply at his next gig.

"It's about something different. It's about me doing what I want to do, and that is working with young guys and recruiting young guys that want to represent our nation," he said.

"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. I feel in some small way that is my civic duty. Believe me, it's a very small part of it, but I feel that it's something I can give back to. The Academy is very, very special."

Many won't understand or care to empathize with DeChellis' stance. Yet, coming from a man who has repeatedly demonstrated his dedication to the ideals of morals, values, ethics, hard work, and determination, the move makes perfect sense.

No longer will he have to concern himself with an administration and athletic department that was apathetic, at best, to the needs of the program.

No longer will he have to subject himself or his family to a year-by-year skewering of fans and media and the hardships that come with unstable job security.

No longer will he have to attempt to keep up with the elite powers of the Big Ten in recruiting while trying to maintain his sense of values.

Remember, DeChellis is moving to a league that only recently starting permitting member schools to give out athletic scholarships.

Instead, he'll focus on recruiting and nurturing teams full of hard-working, dedicated, and selfless young men who all have a calling beyond the hardwood. To even be considered for the Naval Academy, you have to be all of those things, and usually more.

When DeChellis described a scene in which he and his wife Kim, and their daughter Lauren (who is enrolled at Penn State), watched the midshipmen march in the yard, he spoke of the great sense of pride he felt.

"It was something that was very, very powerful," he said. "I can't explain it to you unless you've been there and done it."

With that moment in mind, DeChellis revealed what he believes to be his own, "calling," of sorts.

"Without being too philosophical, it was more like a calling... like this is something I needed to do and this was where I needed to be," he said. "As hard as it was to separate from Penn State... to people who are privileged to work at the Academy, they know what I'm speaking to.

"I think the opportunity to work with young men who are aspiring leaders of the military and Navy is very special and I really welcome that opportunity."

He'll get that opportunity and make the transition almost immediately.

In what may have best revealed the torment that accompanied his decision to leave his alma mater and the program he so clearly loved, DeChellis broke down in response to an inquiry into how difficult the decision had been on him.

"It was very, very difficult," he said. "I can tell you that.

"At mass yesterday, Father talked about a path, and sometimes a path is presented to you and you have to be able to walk down it."

For a man of DeChellis' long-established character, integrity and life's dedication, the correct choice and path could not be more obvious.






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