PHILADELPHIA (AP) - As he looked around at the championship banners hanging from the Palestra rafters and the familiar faces in the stands, Steve Donahue vowed to try to keep his composure.
“In this building,” he said, “it’s not easy.”
Donahue, who was hired as Penn’s basketball coach Monday and introduced at a news conference Tuesday, certainly knows the arena better than most.
Before head coaching stops at Cornell and Boston College, he was an assistant at Penn from 1990-2000, helping the Quakers win six Ivy League titles during a wildly successful decade.
Then he left to take over at Cornell in 2000, beginning an impressive rebuilding process that led to three straight Ivy League titles and a 2010 Sweet 16 trip for the Big Red.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be back as head coach,” Donahue said. “It is surreal.”
Donahue, a Philadelphia-area native who played at nearby Ursinus College, has his work cut out for him to return the Quakers to prominence.
Penn hasn’t won the Ivy League since 2007 and stumbled through three straight losing seasons, which led to Jerome Allen resigning under pressure last week after a 9-19 campaign.
Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun said she thoroughly vetted 25 sitting or former head coaches and four assistants, before making the decision to hire Donahue after a 5 1/2-hour interview.
“I got to know a man of unquestioned integrity and character,” she said. “We were aware that coach Donahue had multiple suitors and Penn would have to move swiftly.”
Donahue spent the last year serving as a college basketball analyst on ESPN and Fox after getting fired by Boston College in 2014. He failed to take the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in four seasons, but he believes he’s a better coach now than he was then.
To get the Quakers back to the top of the Ivy League, he’ll need to compete with a powerhouse Harvard program that was an also-ran during his days as a Penn assistant.
Since Cornell’s run of three straight Ivy championships from 2008-10, Harvard has claimed a piece of the last five league titles and will make its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance later this week. The Crimson’s dominance has come in conjunction with the growth of other teams such as Yale, Dartmouth and Columbia. The Ivy League is now more competitive than it was from 1989-2007, when either Penn or Princeton won every conference title.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Donahue said. “We need to get back on top where we belong.”
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.