Dear Critical Sportswriter: Penn State’s Basketball Program Is Not The Wrestling Program (Nor The Football Program, For That Matter)

Penn State formally introduced Pat Chambers as head basketball coach, at a presser on June 6, 2011. Photo by Mark Selders/Penn State

Without question, the positive reactions amongst the Penn State faithful and PSU beat writers to the hiring of Pat Chambers have been nearly unanimous in comparison to Ed DeChellis’ hiring eight years ago. Please note the italicizing of the “nearly” in that previous sentence, that’s because Brad Wilson, a sportswriter for the Lehigh Valley Express-Times, has stepped up to play the role of “Debbie Downer,” criticizing the athletic department for not hiring a ‘name’ coach, and doing so by making false analogies to the wrestling and football programs:

…But Chambers raises hardly a blip on the national college basketball scene. Recruits won’t be flocking to State College because of Pat Chambers.

In contrast, remember what Penn State did when it had another head coaching job open for a winter sport. The Lions went out and paid a lot of money to get one of wrestling’s living legends, Cael Sanderson, to leave an established national program (and his alma mater) at Iowa State to come to Penn State.

Result: A national championship.

If PSU were that interested in winning in men’s basketball, it would have made a similar splash. Instead of hiring a Jay Wright assistant, the Nits could have lured, well, Jay Wright. Butler’s Brad Stevens would have been a huge “get.” Perhaps Virginia’s Tony Bennett?

That’s taking a sport seriously.

Yes, forget about the fact that Penn State has established decades upon decades of consistent success and enjoys infinitely larger booster support in wrestling and football to the point where they are highly attractive jobs to the biggest names in their respective coaching fraternities. Forget about the fact that Penn State has long been derided by sportswriters and coaches over the years as a basketball wasteland. Forget about the fact that Brad Stevens is happy at Butler, or that Tony Bennett is already coaching in the ACC at a program far more prestigious than PSU’s, this hire was a failure because Pat Chambers’ name isn’t being parroted on ESPN or the other major sports channels with the likes of Stevens, Shaka Smart, both of whom were ‘no name’ coaches themselves not that long ago.

Here’s another fun fact: Did you know that nearly half of Chambers’ roster at Boston U was comprised of Pennsylvanians? It takes one hell of a salesman to get that many PA kids to come play for some low-major school in the middle of New England, the same type of salesman PSU needs in order to steal some quality recruits from Philadelphia, New York, and the Baltimore/DC region. No, Chambers and his staff will not land guys who otherwise would have gone to Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UNC, or some other hoops factory. However, the talent pool in Division 1 basketball recruiting is drastically larger compared to its football counterpart, and you can sure as hell bet that this incoming staff will find those kids with NBA-level talent who aren’t quite getting looks from the aforementioned schools, but can help transform PSU into an consistent winner, the likes of which is landing NCAA Tournament bids on practically a yearly basis.

And if none of the above has you convinced that this hire is different from the previous few, allow me to remind you that Coach Chambers was stabbed in the neck. He’s seen firsthand the preciousness of life and how it can be taken away from us in an instant. It’s what persuaded him to trade in his lavish lifestyle as a successful salesman in order to pursue the nitty-gritty world of collegiate basketball coaching. Boundaries do not exist in his mind, and he laughs in the face of sportswriters like Wilson who suggest that he will be the next in a long line of coaches to fail in making Penn State basketball into a very pleasant distraction from football during the long, cold, winter months.

So yes, Mr. Critical Sportswriter, keep on doubting this hire. Coach Chambers is huffing your noxious fumes of negativity and using it to fuel his Tasmanian Devil-like drive for success.

  • Galen

    Not only does the comparison to wrestling not hold water but what he says about Sanderson is a flat out lie. Sanderson has said numerous times that Penn State didn’t pay him “a lot of money” as this idiot says, but rather came here because it’s in the back yard of the most fertile wrestling recruiting grounds. Sanderson was Iowa’s little brother at Iowa State, here he’s the top dog in one of the biggest wrestling factories. He came her to win national titles and apparently he knew what he was doing.

    • Mike

      Totally. The wrestling comparison was probably the worst I’ve heard yet from the main stream media. To compare a program (wrestling) that has been one of the more successful in its sport FOR DECADES, to another (basketball) that has been lucky to make it past the NCAA first round on the very, very, very rare occasions they make the tourney at all, is just lazy. If it wasn’t a lack of effort in actually researching the two programs, then it was just plain disingenuous to knowingly make that comparison without logic like that.

  • Kevin McGuire

    Yeah, this guy totally took the recycle-a-story route instead of checking on reality of the situation.

  • fugimaster24

    The reality of the situation is that Penn State is paying a coach with two years head coaching experience by far the lowest salary in the Big Ten.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look at those simple facts and argue Penn State could be taking basketball more seriously by paying a more established coach more money.

    There are a lot of things to like about Pat Chambers, but my optimism about the hire is more driven by the fact that it wasn’t a bad hire than the notion that Penn State did the very best it could.

    • Galen

      But the reality of ANY sport at Penn State is that PSU doesn’t pay well compared to the major players in college sports. Joe Paterno is a living legend and makes considerably less than his colleagues. Penn State has been and always will be a university that pays decent money for their coaches but will never get in the coaching arms race like Alabama or Florida. Considering that, one can conclude that they got a lot of bang for their buck.

    • Eric

      First, define ‘by far’. No one knows what Chambers is getting paid. While it very well might be the lowest in the league, it most likely is not a rip off, nor ‘by far’ the lowest. I’m more concerned about the assistants’ pay than the head coaches millions.

      And there’s no way throwing out more money would lure better coaches here. If you don’t believe that, you haven’t been around this program long enough.