When Jerry Dunn was fired in 2003 after a terrible (sorry, that’s being a bit too kind) reign as head coach, PSU fans were frustrated about and doubtful of the move to hire Ed DeChellis. The action screamed of inaction – a coach from East Tennessee State? A chicken soup for the sports soul story is one thing, but (coaching, in this case) talent is often the opposite. DeChellis worked his tail off every season, but ultimately the results weren’t good enough.
To be fair, Easy Eddie and the Nits did get a raw deal following the 2008-09 regular season when a 27-11 record along with a 10-8ledger in conference play, which ended up tied for third-best in the league with Ohio State and Wisconsin, failed to vault them into the NCAA Tournament. That was the team, led by Talor Battle, which won the NIT over Baylor. Last season, Battle’s stellar career ended in the first round of the Big Dance after a terrific team effort against Temple fell two points short.
Still, for DeChellis, everything he did was not enough.
It’ll never be publicly revealed, of course, whether DeChellis was asked to look for another job by then-athletic director Tim Curley in lieu of doing the dirty deed, but either way, DeChellis landed in Annapolis and is currently the head coach at the Naval Academy. Don’t call him, though – he’s a little preoccupied; team’s playing Bethesda Medical next week.
Insert Pat Chambers, who turned 40 yesterday and physically looks every single day of those years. The kid who grew up on the Main Line also made his bones there as the associate head coach under Jay Wright at Villanova. From there, Chambers got a head coaching gig up in Beantown with BU, which he led to the tourney this past March.
It finally appeared as though the athletic department wanted to take the men’s basketball program seriously when it lured Chambers to University Park. This was a legitimate hire, unlike Dunn and/or DeChellis. The top assistant from a powerhouse program is in place and at some point, the excuses for this program’s mostly miserable existence must stop. Popular thinking would allow three full seasons, maybe four, to see what Chambers can do with a few of his own players.
This is now a pedigreed position. Chambers is a thoroughbred, at least compared to those who came before him. Most of the time, a good head coach learns to be good while under the tutelage of a great one, and Jay Wright definitely fits into such a category. At his introductory press conference in early June, it was apparent to everybody in the room that Chambers wants to do great things in Happy Valley. However, every head coach who ever starts anew at any college program in any sport has those dreams.
The early returns? Some good, some bad. Obviously it’s way too early in the long-term game to determine anything about Chambers’ ability to build a program. His first major test resulted in a 38-point loss to Kentucky. One week later came an ugly 65-47 setback at Saint Joseph’s – the Hawks’ campus is only miles down the road from Chambers’ former stomping grounds, but you’d never be able to tell by watching that game that he was very familiar with the area or the opponent.
A win over Boston College in the latest installment of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, in which for some strange reason this program has performed very well through the years, on the final day of November was followed by a pair of shaky losses to Lafayette and Duquesne. Home tests against Mount St. Mary’s and Cornell early next week will cap the semester.
If the search for positives here is the goal, then look no further than the statement Chambers made about recruiting on the day he was hired:
“We have to tap into our relationships – the relationships I’ve built all my life in Philadelphia when I was in high school and college and when I got to Villanova. When people trust you, they’re going to send you their kids. I built a lot of good relationships with a lot of Philly kids.”
This guy gets it. He understands that in order to turn this program into a legitimate conference contender, the primary focus must be to start the process of attracting top prep players from the surrounding cities and land them. Philadelphia is one of the best high school basketball cities in the country, but no Penn State coach has ever been able to bring those kids to State College.
Now wouldn’t be a bad time for culture change, Pat. Let’s see what you can do.