In choosing a new basketball coach, Penn is reaching back to its glory days, replacing a player who starred in the early 1990s with an assistant coach from the same era.

Penn will introduce Steve Donahue as coach on Tuesday, replacing Jerome Allen. The former Cornell and Boston College coach had been the top target from the beginning, according to one source.

Donahue, 52, also had been mentioned as a possibility for the Holy Cross job. And his name came up in recent days in speculation about the George Mason job. That was before former Villanova assistant Paul Hewitt was let go Thursday as George Mason's coach.

In addition, according to one source close to Donahue, NBC had shown interest in the coach, who had done work for ESPN this season after he was let go by Boston College. Donahue could not be reached for comment.

It would be hard to find a coach with deeper local ties than Donahue, who played at Cardinal O'Hara High and Ursinus College and was an assistant under Fran O'Hanlon at Monsignor Bonner and Herb Magee at what was then Philadelphia Textile. O'Hanlon recommended Donahue for an assistant's job at Penn, where he worked from 1990 to 2000.

In 2000, Donahue took over at Cornell. After some early lean years, the team improved to 16-12 in 2006-07, then won 72 games over the next three years, reaching the NCAA tournament each time and culminating in a Sweet 16 appearance in 2010.

After that, Donahue moved to BC, and after going 21-13 in his first season, the Eagles followed up with 9-22, 16-17, and 8-24 campaigns. He was let go with time remaining on his contract.

Penn decided to dismiss Allen as he was finishing a 9-19 season, including a last-place 4-10 finish in the Ivy League. Four freshmen were starting down the stretch, and what is considered a strong recruiting class is coming in, so Allen didn't leave his old assistant coach with the cupboard bare.

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus