CARBONDALE — New SIU coach Ed Allen inherits the oldest volleyball facility in the Missouri Valley Conference, but believes recruits will see more than the 93-year-old Davies Gym when they come visit campus.
"I know that facilities are a big part of what allows teams to build and be successful, but not everything is tied up in brick and mortar, either," Allen said Thursday at an introductory press conference. "The reality is you have an opportunity to build a program, and it's built in a variety of ways."
Allen knows a lot of ways to rebuild a program, judging by his record. The former Alabama head coach has endured just one losing season in 27 years as a college head coach, the last 16 in Division I. Allen, who has reached the NCAA Tournament six times and brings 646 victories to Carbondale, was announced as SIU's new head coach earlier this week. He replaced Kari Thompson, who was let go after a 5-26 season in which the Salukis went 1-17 in the MVC.
Allen led the Crimson Tide to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and 2014 before abruptly stepping down in November. Alabama hadn't had a winning season in seven years before Allen took over the program in 2011, and was 18-9 when he announced he was stepping down in his eighth season.
"It was a situation where I'd worked for three athletic directors in an eight-year period of time and we'd gone through four presidents in that same period of time," Allen said. "I felt like we'd reached a ceiling with what we were capable of accomplishing and had a conversation about that. In that conversation, I felt like it was a great time to allow one of my assistants to have an opportunity to finish things."
Liz Jarnigan, a former volleyball player at St. Olaf College (Minnesota) who coached for 10 years at three different schools, oversaw Allen's program at Tulsa. Jarnigan said Allen will be a great fit with the Salukis.
"I've been able to see first-hand how he can turn programs around and make them winners in a hurry. I'm just in awe, and respect him so much for the standards and values he embodies and instills in the programs that he leads," she said. "His record speaks for itself, for sure. Coach (Jerry) Kill talks a lot about Saluki Standards and the Culture of Champions, and from my own personal experience, I cannot think of anybody better than Ed Allen to come in and lead our volleyball program to be a Culture of Champions and to embody Saluki spirit."
Allen earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from Ball State in 1988 and finished his master's in athletic administration there in 1996. He coached 11 years at Division III Anderson (Indiana) University (1992-2002), three years at Presbyterian (2003-05) and five years at Tulsa (2006-10) before going to Alabama in 2011. Allen took Presbyterian to the NCAA Tournament twice (2004 and 2005), Tulsa twice and the Crimson Tide twice.
Now he is curious what ceiling the Salukis have.
"The Missouri Valley is a really good mid-major volleyball conference. The ability to recruit Illinois, Indiana the Louisville area, the St. Louis area, I think it is geographically located in a perfect place to pull mid-major talent," Allen said. "We'll obviously stay in areas that we have relationships in, which is Texas and California and try to pull a kid occasionally from those areas. Our goal is to be able to recruit within a tank of gas, and we have a lot of good volleyball within a tank of gas."