Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Ed DeChellis suddenly finds himself as one of the more established coaches in the Patriot League

Zach Spiker's departure from West Point added a plot twist to the Patriot League's basketball landscape. One of the products of that plot twist is that it redrew the lines in the conference in terms of coaching seniority. Believe it or not, but only two coaches in the league have forged longer tenures than the one owned by Navy's Ed DeChellis.

In a major conference, this could never happen.

A coach works five seasons at a program, doesn't make the NCAA tournament, and rises to third on the list of "longest active head coaching tenures in his conference."

That's what Navy has with Ed DeChellis, the man who has steadily improved the program in his five seasons on the job, but is still waiting for that big March breakthrough.

It's been a treat to see Navy basketball evolve under the former Penn State coach, who needed eight seasons to finally go to the NCAA tourney with the Nittany Lions, and who needed seven seasons to finally make the Big Dance with East Tennessee State.

Ed DeChellis has known and lived the meaning of patience. If history does repeat itself relative to Penn State and ETSU, Navy will have an NCAA Dance card within the next three seasons.

This portrait of patience is much more evident outside the major conferences. 

In college basketball -- with 351 head coaching jobs instead of the 128 offered in football -- programs in smaller conferences can't afford to get swept up in an arms race. They can't hire and fire coaches at the drop of a hat. If they wind up replacing coaches a lot, it's usually because the program is extremely successful, to the point that coaches are constantly moving up the coaching ladder. Boston University -- not just recently, but historically (Rick Pitino coached there, remember?) -- is a good example of such a program in Navy's conference. Bucknell certainly is as well. To that extent, coaching turnover in the Patriot League isn't a huge surprise.

Yet, it still has to be acknowledged that for all the upward movements which annually occur on the coaching ladder, the Patriot League is still a conference in which most programs need stability. Some programs might be the obvious stepping-stone jobs in the industry, but not all or even most of them can occupy that same category.

So many programs in the lower tiers of college basketball -- not the Bucknells of the world, but the ones which aren't always in the thick of the hunt for NCAA tournament berths -- need to be able to hire coaches who won't break the bank and aren't immediate flight risks. (If they become flight risks because they win big, that's great, but they can't be risks for other reasons or under other circumstances.) Coaches lasting seven, eight, nine or more years without NCAA tournament appearances is not that uncommon in certain corners of Division I college hoops. Just this past March, James Jones of Yale -- the brother of Joe Jones, who coaches Boston U. -- made his first NCAA tournament in his 17th season in New Haven. 

That could not have happened in any reasonably large(r) conference. It had to be a little-guy story in a little-guy league. Coaches can and do last in the mid-major ranks, even without regular high-end achievements. It's an accepted part of a diverse industry, one in which the rules for the big boys aren't shared at the lower and middle-tier levels of competition.

With all this as prelude, then, one can only repeat what was said in the introduction: Only two active Patriot League coaches now have longer tenures than Ed DeChellis.

When Zach Spiker (on the job since 2009) left West Point to go to Drexel, the league's third-longest coaching tenure ended. Fran O'Hanlon -- at Lafayette since 1995 -- and Lehigh's Brett Reed (2007) are the deans of the Patriot League. DeChellis -- alongside Jones (Boston) and Matt Langel -- started his job in 2011. Jones, though, didn't start coaching in the Patriot League until 2013, so DeChellis and Lengel are truly the coaches tied for third within the conference itself.

DeChellis' story illustrates how even in a part of college basketball which is supposed to be governed by stability more than turnover, rapid change still takes place. DeChellis's ability to make NCAA tournaments after many years of striving -- at two separate programs -- points to good times ahead for Navy basketball. 

Navy has been more patient than other Patriot League basketball programs over the past five years. It's worked out pretty well, and better days could still lie ahead.

There's no need to stop now in Annapolis. Slow and steady wins the race for (now) one of the Patriot League's senior coaches.


GoMids.com Top Stories