Before they smelled the rarefied air of big-time success, Ed Rendell and David Montgomery would come to the Palestra, grab their chairback seats and watch what winning was all about.
This was when Rendell was the newly elected mayor of Philadelphia, not the Pennsylvania governor, and Montgomery was the co-owner of the oft-ridiculed Phillies, not the four-time National League East winners and 2008 World Series champs.
The winning was on the court, where Jerome Allen and the Penn Quakers racked up three consecutive perfect Ivy League seasons and a 73-14 record from 1993 to 1995. Allen would twice be named Ivy League Player of the Year as the Quakers wrested control of the Ancient Eight from their rivals up the interstate in Princeton.
That was then.
This is now.
Now Penn is coming off three disastrous seasons in the four years since Fran Dunphy skipped across town to Temple. The Quakers have won just 29 games (losing 58) and worse, ceded control of the Ivy League to Cornell.
Into that doom and gloom walks Allen, the beloved superstar brought in to save the sinking ship.
If only it were Hollywood.
The fact is, Allen -- named permanent coach in late March -- has a boatload of work to do. The Quakers limped to an 0-7 start last season, a disastrous out-of-the-gate run that cost Glen Miller his job. Allen came in as interim coach and coaxed Penn to a 6-15 finish, the highlight a stunning win against Cornell. Nevertheless, the six total victories were the fewest by a Penn team since 1957.
There is hope this season, however. Last season’s young Quakers equate to experienced players this season, and Penn will welcome its entire starting lineup back.
Junior Zack Rosen led the league in scoring last season (17.7 ppg) and senior Jack Eggleston (13.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg) was a second-team All-Ivy performer. Tyler Bernardini, the one-time Ivy rookie of the year, returns after missing all but two games last year with a broken leg. In 2008-09, he was an All-Ivy performer and averaged 13.7 points and four boards a game.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,’’ Allen said. “It’s a process, but I also know with the right players, the right system, we can get things done here. Hard work pays off, I always tell them that. Right now, they need some winning experiences to believe that, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a long tunnel and I wear glasses.’’
Allen was hired for who he is as much as Miller was fired for who he was not. The Quakers’ on-court woes certainly dimmed Miller’s chance at longevity, but it was an inability to connect with the alums that doomed him to the ignominious December dismissal.
That athletic director Steve Bilsky tabbed Allen, whose previous coaching experience consisted of player-coach for two years with a pro team in Italy, says all you need to know about what needs to be done to revitalize the Quakers.
“He’s a very savvy guy,’’ said Dunphy, who went back to the word ‘savvy’ repeatedly when defining Allen. “He understands the task at hand and understands how great the challenge is, but he’s also very smart politically. He knows what bases to touch. He’s just way ahead in the game that way.’’
To fans and alumni, Allen represents the glorious and immediate past, the heydays when the Quakers ran away with the Ivy League and then gave the big boys a scare in the NCAA tournament.
It is not just the fans and alums that remember. Allen does, too. Every coach is invested in winning. His very livelihood demands it. But as a graduate who experienced all that the Quakers could be, Allen is even more anxious to restore order.
“I’m from Philly. I grew up watching the Big 5 and I went to Penn, so this is everything a little boy could dream of,’’ Allen said. “Some of the same professors I had are still here. People who’ve had season tickets since before I’ve been born are all here. All of that comes into play. But I don’t look at it as added pressure. The standards to me are a sense of normalcy. It’s what people expect. It’s what I expect.’’
As do those two famous gentlemen in the seats.