PRINCESS ANNE -- After 14 consecutive losing seasons and a series of failed coaching regimes, UMES finally tapped a proven program-builder as its next men's basketball coach yesterday.
Just what the school needed?
"This was an important decision for me," said UMES athletic director Keith Davidson, "and I was not going to place this basketball program in the hands of anyone who was not a steady, proven leader."
Allen arrives from a two-year stint at UMBC, where he was Randy Monroe's top assistant, and fresh off the Retrievers' first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
That is Allen's mission here on the Eastern Shore, at a school that has had one winning season in the past 27 years and has not participated in the NCAA Division I tournament.
It's not exactly new territory for Allen, who received a four-year contract to replace interim head coach Meredith Smith.
When Allen took over as coach at Tennessee State in 1991, the team ranked among the bottom 10 teams in Division I. After a 4-24 debut that was the result of a July hire, Allen took the team to the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament championships, including its first NCAA berth.
"I've had tough jobs wherever I've been," Allen said after he was introduced at William P. Hytche Athletic Center. "Every job I left was better than when I found it. I love the challenge of building a program and seeing it grow."
In his first full year running UMES' athletic program, Davidson was looking for the kind of experience that Allen offered. Davidson and his search committee pared down 80 candidates to two interviews, both a week ago.
"We wanted someone with solid success at Division I, someone who had experience building a program and someone who had experience at HBCUs [historical black colleges and universities]," Davidson said.
Allen, 59, won three OVC titles - and made three straight NCAA tournament appearances - at Tennessee State and was named national Coach of the Year in 1993.
UMBC became the third school that Allen helped steer into the postseason.
"He will do a phenomenal job," said Monroe, who made the two-hour drive down to Princess Anne with assistant Aki Thomas to watch Allen's introduction. "He's an outstanding coach, has a tremendous basketball mind and impeccable people skills.
"In due time, he will turn the UMES program around."
Allen's first decision was to announce the hiring of Jamal Brown, a former assistant at South Carolina State, as his No. 1 assistant here. He also met with his new players at 8 a.m. yesterday.
Ed Tyson, a Walbrook graduate who led the MEAC with 20.2 points a game for the Hawks as a junior, had a class at 8 but caught up with his new coach soon after.
"We need a guy who'll come in with an iron fist and is real strict in discipline," Tyson said. "We need a guy who's always on our case. And then maybe we can get it done."