No, this isn't an attempt to inflate hopes or create a false sense that prosperity is right around the corner. This piece is designed to show that when all seems lost -- when glory appears to be remote and as elusive as it's ever been -- pleasant surprises can emerge.
Army basketball cannot bank on a successful season under Jimmy Allen in 2017, if only because Army has rarely if ever been able to bank on a successful season, period. Maybe on a few select occasions -- once or twice under Bobby Knight, once under Mike Krzyzewski -- has this program entered a season certain that winning would be tasted more often than losing. Given the transition from Zach Spiker to Allen, the 2016-2017 campaign has been given an added element of mystery, as opposed to clarity. It's more difficult, not less, to project what Army might do now that a new leader is on the job.
Allen might have been Spiker's trusted lieutenant on the bench, but the continuity provided by this internal succession plan won't amount to much if the new head coach isn't as skilled as the previous one. Internal promotions from assistant coach to head coach can sometimes be exactly what a program needs. I do think this was the right move by Army, given the timing and the circumstances. Nevertheless, Allen has to justify that approval with his performance, in a tenure which will certainly be allowed to breathe.
We walk into a future of pronounced unknowns with Army hoops. Let it be said as clearly as possible that one shouldn't expect immediate success from this low-visibility vantage point, shrouded in low-lying fog.
With that having been established, let's move into the hopeful part of the larger picture for Army hoops.
One can expect nothing and yet hope for everything.
Army -- while being appropriately cautious in its expectations -- can be supremely aspirational in its vision for what this program can become. The most exciting reality enfolding Army basketball is one rooted in much of the Patriot League's coaching landscape.
The bottom line: Coaches can win very quickly in this league. A very short stroll through the conference will immediately support that claim.
It's true that Bucknell was upset in the league tournament last month. Nevertheless, Nathan Davis won the regular season championship in his first year as the Bison's head coach. Bucknell has set the standard for much of the past decade in the Patriot League. Nevertheless, Davis was put in position to succeed, and he did... just not all the way to the NCAA tournament.
That's Bucknell, though, often the flag-carrying program in the conference. What about other schools and their coaches?
Bill Carmody of Holy Cross made the NCAA tournament in his first season in Worcester, Massachusetts. The regular season was rocky, but Carmody nevertheless found a way to bring his team together in March, enabling the Crusaders to play their best ball at the right time. Something Carmody did obviously tapped into the resources and talents of the players on his roster.
Two years before Carmody, Mike Brennan of American made the NCAA tournament in his first year on the job. The team the Eagles defeated in that year's Patriot League Tournament championship game was Boston, which had been in the America East Conference the year before. Joe Jones had coached Boston U. before the Terriers' first Patriot League season. Nevertheless, Jones won the regular season title in his first year as a Patriot League head coach.
The total number of Patriot League head coaches who either won the regular season or conference tournament title in their first year on the job in the last three seasons: four. That's nearly half the league.
Jimmy Allen faces an uphill battle, if only because every Army basketball head coach has always faced an uphill battle in the NCAA tournament era.
You shouldn't expect him to win right away. Moreover, you don't have to. It's a free country.
Yet, if you want a little hope in your morning coffee -- some sunshine when you greet the prospect of the coming season -- there's reason to think that this coaching transition doesn't automatically have to be a sluggish one. Other Patriot League coaches have won quickly, some of them (Carmody in particular) in very unexpected ways.
That's something to cheer Army hoops fans over the spring and summer.