A lot can change in eight years.
Eight years ago, after a disastrous final two seasons under head coach Jerry Dunn, Tim Curley had an opportunity to make arguably the first significant hire of his tenure (Dunn was an assistant and took over for his boss, former head coach Bruce Parkhill). Curley could have hired a coach who had taken perennial national power UCLA to four Sweet Sixteens. He could have hired a Philadelphia mainstay who had been very successful in the Ivy League. Yet Curley hired neither Steve Lavin nor Fran Dunphy. Instead, he hired another former Parkhill assistant - Penn State alumnus and moderately successful low-major coach Ed DeChellis.
Since 2003, Curley has made quality hires in baseball, men's soccer, women's soccer, women's lacrosse, women's basketball, men's lacrosse, wrestling, and the new men's and women's ice hockey programs. Some of these, particularly the wrestling and men's hockey selections, were arguably high profile. No sports, however, are more significant on college campuses than football and men's basketball. Joe Paterno's job security is self-explanatory. But despite an NIT Championship in the 2008-09 season and an NCAA Tournament berth in 2010, Ed DeChellis' 117-139 overall record (41-95 in conference play) hung around Curley's neck like a 100-pound weight.
When DeChellis walked into Curley's office with a request for "more certainty" (which seems to have meant an extension and/or a raise for himself and his staff), the athletic director wasn't willing to give it. He wanted more consistency from DeChellis' squads. With the expectation that 2011-12 would be a mediocre year at best and knowing his days might be limited, DeChellis left money on the table for more job security at the Naval Academy. Finally, Tim Curley had his shot at redemption in a revenue producing sport.
Several months ago during the coaching searches at Michigan and Pitt, I made a series of comments laying out what I believe to be the proper process for hiring a head coach in one of the major sports:
The best way to do it is to put out feelers through back channels before you have to make the move, and have some numbers to negotiate with. You need to have a list of candidates to speak with, and it probably has to be close to 10.
Most schools don't have the capability to do that. We do. We have the money, the tradition, and the brand to back it up. We just need to make sure we have an internal plan and stay focused on that.
Also, let's not let the media dictate who we hire. Curley and Spanier have to make the best decision, not the quickest or most convenient. Don't get pressured. Go at your own pace and make sure that you're thinking clearly.
The Michigan and Pitt situations are beyond ridiculous. I can't believe I'm saying this, but MIAMI managed to conduct a search in the proper way and got a guy they wanted. They had several candidates vying for the job, took their time, interviewed the potential coaches, ignored the media screams about Jon Gruden, and made a sensible hire.
It's all about keeping your composure and not panicking at the first sign of trouble. Getting turned down by your first choice shouldn't be life altering. It should just cause you to move down the list. Major corporations (and even small Mom and Pops) deal with this all the time, why should it be any different in this context?
Passing on Steve Lavin and Fran Dunphy was an obvious mistake. Both have been categorical successes at St. John's and Temple, respectively. Curley knew he couldn't afford another mediocre hire, so he turned to Eddie Fogler, a consultant known for placing coaches in high major jobs.
Curley's search basically followed the parameters outlined above. There's never a good time to hire a coach, but late-May, after most jobs have been filled, might be the worst time of all. Despite that issue, Curley didn't panic. He hired Fogler and the two made a list of candidates. There were minimal leaks and a frontrunner was never declared. Instead, several names emerged as candidates - Jeff Lebo, Jim Boylen, Pat Chambers, Rob Jeter, Ron Everhart. They ignored the brief Larry Brown distraction, interviewed multiple candidates, and settled on a coach that everyone felt comfortable with.
Congratulations to Pat Chambers, a Pennsylvanian who moved quickly from extremely successful assistant at a major program to very successful head coach at a mid-major to the head coach of a Power Six program coming off plenty of positive press over the past few years. But perhaps congratulations of the highest order should be saved for Tim Curley. The Ed DeChellis hire was questionable at best and the results that stemmed from it were exactly what we should have expected. This time, Curley went through the full process and hired the best possible option - a young, energetic coach, a relentless recruiter from the Philadelphia area, and most importantly, the man with the best resume for the job. Even if Chambers doesn't work out, there should be no regrets about this decision. Curley could've hired a retread like Lebo or a placeholder like Brown; instead, he took a swing and put in place a coach that has the potential to take this team to the next level.