When Ed DeChellis abruptly quit what was once his dream job, coaching hoops at his alma mater, to become the head coach of the Navy Midshipmen, many people wondered why anyone would make that career move. DeChellis went from major to minnow and even took a pay-cut to do it.
The timing was pretty horrible as well, with both recruiting and the coaching carousel wrapping up. Not that it mattered, Penn State was never going to lure in a big name to coach Men's basketball — even for a program coming off a trip to the Big Ten title game and an NCAA Tournament bid.
Enter Patrick Chambers, the former Episcopal Academy coach was hired by Jay Wright to join his staff in 2004 and turned that successful stint into the head coaching position at Boston University. Today he will be introduced as the new head coach at Penn State.
The press conference and releases will sing the praises of Penn State and Big Ten basketball, and note the coup of grabbing Chambers (who has family connections to the school) to lead the program.
Chambers was easily the best hire that Penn State could have made. His ties to the Philadelphia area and recruiting prowess, PSU hopes, will allow him to draw at least a few of the commonwealth's best players to State College. He is also known as a great "X's and O's" coach.
Is Penn State the best job for Chambers?
Gary Parrish called Penn State's hoops job a "career-killer," and frankly he is probably right. It isn't easy to succeed at a school where basketball is such an afterthought that team practices are moved to retrofitted volleyball courts because Bon Jovi needs to rehearse (or because a career fair conflicted with practice).
It isn't that football is king at Penn State. Lots of football schools have success on the hardwood. Texas, for example, has used it's football successes to build up the basketball program. Penn State, however, has never shown the same commitment to winning at hoops. As Parrish wrote:
Odds are, you'll consistently lose. Odds are, it won't be a springboard to a better situation. The best thing anybody can say about Penn State is that the administration cares so little about basketball that there's no risk of you getting fired for at least five or six years, meaning you're guaranteed to earn in the high six-figure range for the next five or six years like former coach Ed DeChellis did for eight years despite a Big Ten record of 41-95.
Maybe Pat Chambers can turn it around in State College, but without the institutional support of the university, that seems unlikely. Among the pantheon of bad major-conference jobs, Penn State is easily among the worst of them. Even a down-on-its-luck DePaul has an administration that desperately wants to see the program succeed. Penn State has been indifferent at best toward it's program.
Chambers has certainly be convinced that the school is determined to change. Telling the Patriot-News:
"They've been unbelievable," said Chambers of the PSU administration. "In the whole interview process, in the meetings, they've laid out their plan of exactly how they're going to support the program. They've definitely stepped up and I think they want to see a great men's basketball team. They want to be in the top of the Big Ten. And they proved that today with everything that they offered."
Maybe the departure of DeChellis was a wake-up call to the Nittany Nation. Other coaches, like Duquesne's Ron Everhart, turned down the Penn State opportunity because they likely didn't believe that a turnaround was possible. Chambers better hope that it is, because all the promises in the world are meaningless without actions to back them up.
Only time will tell us whether the marriage of Patrick Chambers and Penn State will be a happy one.