Rudel: Another search for elusive success for PSU hoops


Since everything has been said during this virus-extended offseason about the latest opener in the modern era of Penn State football — the 1887 team (PSU’s first) opened Nov. 5 — my usual pre-game column will shift today.

Besides, there was a bigger Penn State story this week with the sudden resignation of Nittany Lion basketball coach Patrick Chambers.

Chambers went 148-150 in nine seasons, and under his watch, Penn State beat 18 ranked teams, the most of any previous coach.

He had his moments, certainly, and it was most unfortunate that this year’s team, led by star Lamar Stevens, did not get an opportunity to compete in the NCAA Tournament due to the coronavirus.

While Chambers did not otherwise guide the Lions to the NCAA Tournament, he did win the 2018 NIT and made some serious recruiting inroads in Philadelphia. He didn’t outrecruit Villanova and couldn’t be expected to, but he started getting players that Temple and St. Joseph’s used to land and raised Penn State’s profile in an important territory, one previously uncultivated.

So there was an upside to Chambers.

At the same time, he could also be a loose cannon, sort of a Yosemite Sam and, in speaking to freshman guard Rasir Bolton in January of 2019, he made a poor choice of words when he said, “I want to loosen the noose that’s around your neck.”

It was Chambers’ way of trying to take the pressure off. Instead, Bolton transferred, told the story to a national publication (ESPN’s “The Undefeated”), which got him reprimanded for a racially insensitive comment (Bolton is Black) and further investigated by Penn State.

The fact that the investigation began over the summer, after the remark was published, and included interviews with former and current players, it’s safe to say Penn State found enough other concerning information to cut the cord.

Thus, Chambers’ resignation, with practice already having begun and the season a month away, was tendered Tuesday.

Penn State is fortunate that in interim coach Jim Ferry, the Nittany Lions at least have somebody with head coaching experience, having had a successful stint at Long Island before landing the Duquesne job, to shepherd the transition.

Where Sandy Barbour turns for her first really high-profile hiring (translate: football or men’s basketball) is anybody’s guess. She tapped Carolyn Kieger out of Marquette after Coquese Washington’s departure.

Barbour likely will be seeking an up-and-coming candidate with low to mid-major head coaching experience or an established assistant from a high major. That’s generally how it works.

Many big-name coaches flirted with the Penn State job early in their careers–Bob Knight when he was at Army, Jim Valvano while at Iona, Rick Pitino while at Boston U — but weren’t hired as either Penn State was scared off or vice versa.

Barbour has worked in multiple conferences so she isn’t geographically bound, although Penn State’s recruiting base is clearly in the East.

Since the Big Ten started, the Lions are 263-453 in conference play with Bruce Parkhill managing the highest conference winning percentage .414.

Parkhill was an excellent strategist and the fact that he won 41 percent of his games is a testament to that, given that he inherited the rugged Big Ten while his successors –Jerry Dunn, Ed DeChellis and Chambers–at least knew for what they had signed up.

On the NCAA front, Parkhill took the Lions dancing in 1991–when they decked No. 4 seed UCLA. Dunn got them there in 1996 (with essentially Parkhill’s team after a late resignation) and then 2001, when he and the Crispins authored the best win in school history over North Carolina, a No. 2 seed.

DeChellis made one trip and Chambers, as mentioned, would have made one.

That’s four/five appearances since the mid-1960s when the Lions went to a pair of NCAA tourneys, though the NIT was the bigger event at the time.

Suffice to say this job is not easy. History has proven that. Football is built to succeed. Basketball is not.

But about every decade, for one reason or another, Penn State embarks on a search to find sustained basketball success.

At least this time around, it has roughly six months before it needs to introduce the next coach who can do what no one else has — and that’s be more than an occasional guest in the NCAA Tournament.

To Sandy Barbour and her committee: As the tape concluded on the old Mission Impossible show, “Good luck.”


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