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After 0-7 start, Penn fires Miller, installs Allen as interim coach

When it is obvious something you wanted is not working and probably never will, you have two choices: You continue to hope it will work or make a change.

When it is obvious something you wanted is not working and probably never will, you have two choices: You continue to hope it will work or make a change.

Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky, who hired Glen Miller in 2006, decided to make a change. Miller is out as Penn's head basketball coach, and Penn legend Jerome Allen is in as interim head coach.

"You make some good decisions, you make some bad decisions," Bilsky said yesterday.

Some thought Bilsky would not make the change because he made the original call.

"I think that was unfair," Bilsky said. "I think I knew the decision was bad sooner than most people, but that's not going to stop me from correcting it . . . I just wanted to make sure I gave him every chance to be successful."

Bilsky thought even last summer it might not work for the long haul, but he wanted to give Miller some more time.

Bilsky described Penn basketball as a "community-building activity" and said "that students can come to the Palestra and watch their team and be proud of it, that alumni can feel good about it, that it generates enthusiasm among the department for the other sports.

"It's just a good feeling that here you have an Ivy League school, which really stands for academics, that somehow cannot only be successful in our league, but be competitive in the city and on a national standpoint and do some really unique things, and produces fine student-athletes and that people can embrace that. That was unraveling, and this is what really led me to the conclusion."

Some of that is what led to Allen, who joined the Penn basketball staff in August after a long pro career, mostly in Europe.

"I think this is an opportunity for us to recapture the Penn identity or begin to recapture that by hiring Jerome," Bilsky said. "He represents to me the essence of what a student-athlete at Penn is, both in terms of how he got to Penn [from Episcopal Academy], what he did when he got here, how he feels about the school, and how he has kept in touch with us subsequently."

This was Miller's fourth season. In his first, the Quakers went 22-9 and won the Ivy title.

Then, the losing began, 0-7 this season, 23-36, 14-14 Ivy League the previous two seasons. That was part of the reason for change. And there was a serious perception problem.

Miller never connected with fans, students or some alumni. Some of that was his fault. Some of it was out of his control, as some Penn people never were going to give him a chance, because he did not come with a Penn and/or Philadelphia pedigree.

Miller also was unlucky the last two seasons, as the team was devastated by injuries. But this was bigger than injuries. It just wasn't working, and everybody knew it.

"This isn't really about wins and losses," Bilsky said. "I think of Penn basketball as more than just a sport that plays games to win and lose."

And, Bilsky said, "there are a lot of different constituents that look at us for more than just playing [games] . . .

"It's also being a representative of the university to all these constituents and being one of the most prominent people at Penn. I think that's incumbent on the person who has that job to have those skills and have that ability and generate good will and enthusiasm."

Bilsky never specifically said Miller did not have those skills, but he didn't have to. If Miller did, he would still be the coach.

Miller did not respond to a message left by the Daily News.

He had great success before he came to Penn to succeed Fran Dunphy, who took the job at Temple. He worked under Jim Calhoun at Connecticut before turning around Division III Connecticut College, where his last team (1998-99) went 28-1. In seven seasons at Brown, Miller's teams were more than respectable in the Ivy League.

Miller's work at Brown attracted Bilsky. After winning big with seniors Ibby Jaaber, Mark Zoller and Steve Danley in that first season, it all went downhill.

Bilsky understands that the wider world will see this move and wonder how an Ivy League school is letting a coach go in midseason.

"I was concerned [about that]," Bilsky said. "I think there was a consensus of the higher-ups here at the university that I had to do what I had to do . . . The question was raised: Is this the right thing for an Ivy League institution to do?"

Bilsky also was concerned that it would not get better and might get worse. The final decision, Bilsky said, was made late last week. It was done now, Bilsky said, because the team's next game is not until Dec. 28 at Davidson, which gives Allen time with his players.

Had Allen not been on the staff, assistant John Gallagher almost certainly would have been named head coach. Gallagher played for Bud Gardler at Cardinal O'Hara and Phil Martelli at Saint Joseph's, coached under Speedy Morris and Billy Hahn at La Salle, Fran O'Hanlon at Lafayette, Dan Leibovitz at Hartford and for one season and seven games under Miller at Penn. He certainly was more than qualified to be the head coach.

Gallagher and assistant Mike Martin worked very hard to assemble Penn's excellent recruiting class coming next season.

But Allen's Penn ties trumped Gallagher's coaching experience and recruiting work. Penn fans, students and alumni had become disillusioned. Penn needed to win the public relations game. Allen's hire did that.

"This was not just a kind of basketball X-and-O resume decision," Bilsky said. "I can't tell you the calls that have come in already: 'I'm back in the Palestra; I'm coming to games; I'm going to write you a check.' It's all about, 'I'm back in the family.' "

What Allen does not have is experience coaching in college. He did not have much of a connection to the college game since his last season at Penn in 1995. The new coach ran his first practice yesterday morning at Weightman Hall. *