In his second practice as interim head coach of the Penn men's basketball team yesterday, Jerome Allen stopped drills incessantly at Weightman Gym to address mistakes made by the winless Quakers.
"If we can't outrun [other teams], and we can't beat them with strength, how are we going to beat them?" Allen asked as his players huffed and puffed between sprints. "This isn't punishment. We're running for a reason."
The reason, Allen said, is that he wants the Quakers in peak physical condition as he replaces Glen Miller, who was fired Monday after going 45-52 in three-plus seasons.
"I'm excited, nervous, anxious, enthused - all these things, all at once," said the 36-year-old Allen, a former two-time Ivy League player of the year with the Quakers. "And more so, I'm just appreciative of this opportunity, because I buy into that this doesn't happen often."
As a four-year starter at guard for Penn, Allen led the Quakers to three straight Ivy League titles from 1993 to 1995. In his first college head coaching job, he inherits a team that is 0-7.
In August, Miller hired Allen as an assistant, marking his return to basketball in the United States following more than four seasons playing and coaching in Italy.
After seven losses, Allen is running the show now.
"Now, there's no more barriers in the way, there's no more excuses," said sophomore point guard Zack Rosen, a cocaptain along with senior guard Darren Smith. "There's no one to point at. Now it's us, and what we do with it, with a new opportunity."
Allen, Rosen, and Smith expressed regret that change has come at Miller's expense. But Rosen called Allen "the right guy" to revive Penn's season and program.
"Jerome Allen is everything that every Penn basketball player wants to be, live up to [and] uphold," Rosen said. "He really built this tradition when he was here, and when we look over at him and he's saying something, there's a respect factor and an accountability factor."
Allen, who retired from professional basketball in February, participated in practice yesterday. A signature moment occurred when the coach had a pass picked off.
Play stopped as the players looked at the former Penn star to see how their coach would react.
Allen patted his chest, explaining that mistakes will happen and that he does not mind turnovers, missed shots or fouls, as long as his players hold themselves accountable and are working hard to improve.
The Quakers will need to improve for their next two games, at Davidson on Dec. 28 and at Duke on Dec. 31. Their next Big Five game will be Jan. 13 against Temple at the Palestra.
Allen will lead Penn against his former Quakers coach and mentor, Temple's Fran Dunphy.
"I didn't have an opportunity to make many phone calls last night outside of the kids' parents, but one phone call you'd better believe was to Fran Dunphy," Allen said.
Did his former coach offer any advice?