- The Washington Times - Monday, July 4, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — The bus chugged along main arteries and back roads, crisscrossing western Pennsylvania deep into the winter.

The destinations changed from one chilly day to another. DuBois. New Kensington. Erie. Fayette County.

The scene in the front of the vehicle never did.

Eldon Price, basketball coach, bus driver and whatever else Penn State-Beaver asked of him, sat behind the wheel. In the seat in back of him, Ed DeChellis peppered his junior college coach with an unquenchable curiosity for an hour or two hours at a clip, sometimes more.

“He would ask me 10,000 questions,” Price recalled. “‘Why’d we do this?’ and ‘Why’d you do that?’ and ‘Coach, I’m not sure why we called that timeout.’ He just had an interest in the game.”

DeChellis‘ days as a player were numbered, but his time in basketball was just beginning. His path in coaching eventually took him to East Tennessee State, Penn State and now Navy, where he was named Billy Lange’s successor in late May.

Attracting a coach from a Big Ten school fresh off its first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade was a coup for Navy. The Midshipmen are 10 years removed from their last trip out of the Patriot League quarterfinals.

“He’s really grounded,” said former Penn State coach Bruce Parkhill, for whom DeChellis worked as an assistant. “He’s very intelligent. He’s got a great personality. He’s a very good recruiter, but he’s very grounded. He’s got a good background. He’s very confident. The guy’s got the whole package. I think it’s a great hire for Navy.”

Indeed, the surprising part of the hire wasn’t Navy’s interest in him but rather DeChellis‘ decision to leave Penn State after an eight-year run. After all, power conference coaches leaving for jobs at less high-profile schools of their own volition is rare.

In the past six offseasons, it happened only two other times. Iowa’s Steve Alford bolted for New Mexico in 2007. Iowa State’s Greg McDermott left for Creighton in 2010 after four losing seasons at the Big 12 school.

Yet for DeChellis, the germination of his latest career move began years ago during frequent discussions with his longtime friend, the late Skip Prosser.

Sometimes current Tulsa coach (and former Navy guard) Doug Wojcik joined them, as did former Navy coach Don DeVoe and ex-Navy assistant Emmett Davis. Invariably, the discussion would turn back to Annapolis.

When the crowd dispersed, Prosser (who eventually took over at Wake Forest) would describe how he once pursued the Navy job and, to his chagrin, didn’t get it. Then, ever the renaissance man, he’d tell DeChellis, “That’s one of the special places to coach.”

“When the opportunity presented itself, that popped into my mind,” DeChellis said. “Skip always said it was a great place, [so] let me go and have lunch and meet and talk and see where this thing goes. When I came here, it was ‘Whoa, now I know. Now I know what he was talking about.’ “

But there was still a choice to make: Would he leave Penn State, his alma mater, or stay after a three-year stretch that featured an NIT title and a rare NCAA appearance for the Nittany Lions?

“He asked ‘Coach, am I crazy to leave here?’ ” said Price, who also served as DeChellis‘ director of basketball operations for four years at Penn State. “I said ‘Knowing you, Ed, and knowing what Navy’s all about, I don’t think so.’ It just tugged at him. It was his path at that particular time.”

Nor did it shock Parkhill, with whom DeChellis still speaks with regularly.

“I sense he felt like maybe they didn’t appreciate what he did there,” Parkhill said. “Navy really wanted him. You add the fact it is such a special place, not just to live but also the academy. It didn’t really surprise me.”

Of course, things are a bit different for DeChellis. He sees water and boats instead trees and mountains when he looks outside his office. Deciding how best to use prep schools is a larger part of his job.

And then there’s the nuances of a military environment, which take some time to learn.

“I said ‘Hey, I want to go take the guys and get them something to eat,’ ” DeChellis recalled telling assistant Aaron Goodman, a holdover from Lange’s staff. “He said ‘Hey Coach, they can’t leave.’ It was just to go get something to eat. It was a Friday night, and he says ‘No. Saturday night you can, but Friday night you can’t take them off the yard.’ “

To figure out the academy environment, DeChellis already has talked to several coaches tied to the program at one time or another. He plans to emphasize three basic tenets - defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball - once he gets on the court with his new team.

And he’ll enjoy the latest turn in his career path, as is usually the case for people who are certain of who they are and what they represent.

“I understand people looking at it from the outside saying ‘Well, the level of competition is not the same, the level of compensation is not the same, the conference is maybe not the same,’ ” DeChellis said. “But for me, this has been tremendous. … I know I made the right move. I’ve never had remorse. Not one second. Not one.”

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