As Ed DeChellis walked the campus of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., he had a powerful feeling of pride he couldn’t describe in words.
He summed it up as a “calling” and said he felt there was something he needed to do.
DeChellis, the head coach of the Penn State men’s basketball team for the past eight years, announced Monday night that he is leaving Penn State to take the same job with Navy.
During a brief press conference where the coach, Penn State Class of 1982, paused several times to compose himself, DeChellis explained his reasoning for leaving Penn State after he had taken the team back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years.
“It’s been a very, very difficult weekend for me and my family,” DeChellis said before fighting back tears. “There’s a good reason for that. Penn State’s a special place for me and my family but I found another special place.”
Navy will be DeChellis’ third stop as a head coach. Prior to Penn State, he spent seven seasons as the head coach at East Tennessee State University, taking the Buccaneers to the NCAA tournament in 2003, his final season there. DeChellis then returned to his alma mater, where he took the Nittany Lions to two National Invitational Tournaments, winning the NIT title in 2009, and the NCAA tournament in 2011, where the Lions lost to Temple in the second round.
However, DeChellis' teams at Penn State never finished higher than a fourth-place tie in the Big Ten standings. Overall, DeChellis owns a 222-232 career record, going 117-139 over his eight seasons at Penn State but compiling just a 41-95 record in conference play.
When news of DeChellis’ departure broke late Monday afternoon, there were many questions about why DeChellis was moving from the Big Ten, one of the nation’s premier basketball conferences, to the smaller Patriot League and Navy, a school with stringent application requirements that would make recruiting difficult.
Despite the Lions’ success in 2010-11, the four graduated senior starters, Andrew Jones, DJ Jackson, Jeff Brooks and Talor Battle, the school’s all-time leading scorer, leave a young and inexperienced core.
While DeChellis had received an extension after the 2009 NIT title, a disappointing 11-20 campaign in 2009-10 and less-than-stellar outlook for 2011-12 helped circulate reports DeChellis felt disrespected by the Penn State athletic department and was actively seeking another job.
On Monday, DeChellis discredited those rumors.
“It’s not really about that, I can’t say that enough,” DeChellis said. “I could have left last year or they could have done something to me last year, the year before, the year before that, it’s just a lot of 'woulda, coulda, shoulda.' ”
DeChellis said he respected Penn State and the opportunity the university extended to him but then reinforced the fact that his decision wasn’t based on a contract.
“It’s not about an extension, it’s about what I wanted to do with my life,” DeChellis said. “It’s about what the Naval Academy offered me and my family at this point in my career.”
Around college basketball and within the Penn State community, DeChellis is regarded with respect and consistently graduated his players during his time in State College. A cancer survivor, DeChellis is active with Coaches vs. Cancer and raising money to fight the disease, and his character made DeChellis an appealing candidate for the Navy job, which opened up relatively late.
“Ed’s maturity, integrity, character and accomplishments at Penn State have made him one of the most respected role models in the coaching ranks,” Naval Academy Director of Athletics Chet Gladchuk said in a press release. “His career is all about building programs with educational priorities in place, including graduating every senior that has ever played for him, and in the end achieving team goals that resonate with competing for championships.”
Penn State Atheltic Director Tim Curley said in a press release that the university will begin a national search for DeChellis’ replacement and offered his appreciation for DeChellis’ efforts over the past eight years in a statement released by the university.
DeChellis is reportedly taking a pay cut from the $709,372 he made in 2010-11 to about $450,000 at Navy. However, DeChellis said he feels it is still a great job and said his remaining assistants, Kurt Kanaskie and Dan Earl, were understanding of his reasons for leaving Penn State behind.
“For me, it’s not about the bells and whistles, it’s not about large arenas anymore, it’s something different,” DeChellis said. “It’s about me doing what I want to do, and that’s working with young guys who want to represent our nation.”