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Penn State Basketball: Right or Wrong, Move May Leave Penn State with Another Long Road Ahead

by on October 21, 2020 9:20 PM

So much has changed and yet so little has.

Nearly 10 years have gone by since Ed DeChellis left Penn State, fresh off an NCAA Tournament berth with a team that was a Jeff Brooks injury and a late buzzer-beater away from a second-round appearance.

He had tired of the job, unknowingly ducking out of the way of the Jerry Sandusky scandal by just a few months. Annapolis was beautiful this time of year, and the rigors of the Big Ten are far different than the demands of coaching at the Naval Academy.

The problems left in his wake crippled the program for years. The roster was largely empty, incoming recruits an uncertain fit to an uncertain future. There was apathy abound at nearly every corner, neither side of the state friendly on the recruiting trail and State College largely indifferent to the program’s existence save a few seasons and games here or there.

Eventually, late into the hiring season, Penn State settled on Boston University coach Pat Chambers, and the next decade played out across at least two versions of a Bryce Jordan Center court with an occasional trip to Rec Hall.

Over that span Philadelphia became a recruiting home, an NIT title was won, an NCAA Tournament berth all but days from becoming official. Upsets became normal, wins not all that unusual and a handful of NBA hopefuls found their way to various leagues. Branding, facilities, and enthusiasm growing by the year along the way. Certainly it was not perfect, nor short of reasonable criticism and the occasional cry for something new, but one would be hard pressed to say the program is in the same state today as it was 10 years ago. One would be even harder pressed to argue it wasn’t well equipped to continue that trajectory, or at least sustain it.

Now is not the time to eulogize a career of someone who has resigned as the result of an investigation or to judge such a move on an incomplete set of facts. Stories and truths can be subjective and an athletics department’s messaging is rarely as straightforward as whatever has actually happened.

In all likelihood -truly to no one’s benefit- Penn State will never release its findings, leaving much to speculate and far less to know with any real certainty. Narratives will undoubtedly come forth from both sides, but for whoever is to come next, nothing good will be left behind.

All told, one imagines that whatever happened to trigger a late offseason departure/firing/resigning of a long term head coach was substantial. However at this point it is impossible to judge the merits of such a decision and in turn that will not happen here.

The act itself aside, objectively the challenges have never been greater than they are right now across college athletics. Penn State faces the ever present threat of furloughs, the athletic department forging its way through a pandemic and the subsequent fallout of lost attendance revenues. Dreams of a new Beaver Stadium are all but impossible now, and programs hoping for a bigger slice of the pie will be hard pressed to see money thrown anywhere but towards the breadwinner of the family. Football will continue to reign supreme and the disparity between the haves and have-nots in State College is unlikely to shrink.

For basketball the challenges are nearly endless. Penn State will have to retain a roster of talented players that had bought into Chambers’ style of play and personality. If it moves past Jim Ferry in an interim role it will have to find a coach willing to do the hardest job in the Big Ten for likely the least amount of money. For whatever Chambers' faults might have been, he was giving Penn State results at a margin price. Of course the money aspects could change, but it’s difficult to imagine that Penn State AD Sandy Barbour will buck tradition and open the department’s pocket book to pay for a program that makes a revenue largely by virtue of the Big Ten TV deal and far less because of its guaranteed return on investment. All of this especially true during a time when the money is flowing the least.

The program will have to mend fences with Old Main as well if and when Ferry is inclined to hang on to current staff members. Chambers ran a fiercely loyal ship and longtime assistants and staffers are likely not inclined to play any nicer than they have to with their respective higher-ups. It seems likely that most will stay on board for the sake of the players, but a defection or two would not be out of the realm of possibility, especially with the future so uncertain.

In turn Penn State is left with the new decade looking much like the last. Something good, something bad and a dwindling optimism that change -in this fashion- will bring about long term success on a short term timeline. Of course if the change was truly warranted, time will tell and the burden will not rest on Penn State’s shoulders for having its hand forced. These things are a topic for another day.

When it’s all said and done Penn State basketball’s mantra that it is “Climbing” is an appropriate image, Sisyphus rolling the stone to the top of the hill, only to see it crashing back down, resting quietly at the bottom once again.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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