Pat Chambers has been in State College for over four years now, but the perception is still the same. The calendar has flipped to October as football dominates the conversation in University Park. That’s not the case on some other campuses across the country. Today marks the first day of the new college basketball season, as teams can start conducting official practices. But this occasion isn’t even a blip on the radar at Penn State.
Chambers probably didn’t imagine his program would still be in the same position as when he first took the job back in 2011, but his team is ranked near the bottom of the league with no expectations of postseason bids yet again. Four straight losing seasons in the Big Ten without even an NIT appearance will not catch any attention from a mostly disinterested fan base.
In fact, at most other universities, Chambers’ ugly W-L record through four years probably would get him fired. He is paid a great deal of money to win games, and he has simply not done that. After only winning four Big Ten contests in D.J. Newbill’s senior season, the basketball world has begun to wonder how long will Penn State stick with its losing coach?
Sandy Barbour put to rest those concerns immediately after the season, re-upping Chambers’ original contract through 2018-2019, but in today’s ultra-competitive world, that’s not always assumed to be a vote of confidence. Coaches have their exorbitant salaries bought out every year if the administration finds that to be the best course of action for their program. But Barbour plans to support Chambers for the foreseeable future, even if that move does little to change fan perception. For most people, Penn State’s patience with a losing coach is more of the same, i.e. the administration doesn’t care about the program.
However, that's clearly not the reason why Barbour is sticking by Chambers.
When Lamar Stevens made his verbal pledge to Penn State two weeks ago, he became the fifth ESPN Top-100 recruit to join the program over the past two years. That level of recruiting has never been seen before in State College. It has signaled a changing perception that is far more important than what any fans want to believe.
Chambers has been able to effectively sell Penn State basketball as a viable destination among the sport’s most renowned AAU and high school programs. Surely he’s been aided by the changing landscape of college basketball, like the dismantling of the old Big East and the financial security of a Power 5 athletic department. But the grassroots scene now respects Penn State and the numerous resources it can provide. Chambers' salesmanship and relationships have convinced prospects and handlers to look past the program's obvious warts. It may have taken a lot longer than many had hoped, but Penn State is finally luring Big Ten-quality recruits to the Bryce Jordan Center rather than simply out-recruiting the Atlantic-10.
The revolution in Philadelphia is particularly remarkable. Once thought to be this program's greasy pig, Chambers has proved Penn State can be a serious player in Philly for its most heralded prospects. That's a tremendous achievement that could bring great success considering the city's consistent production of NBA players. It hasn't come easy as PSU has been forced to settle for second-tier targets more often than not, but with Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, the staff secured their priority targets for the second class in a row.
While the outside perspective may continue to speculate on Chambers' job security this season, the reality is Penn State is investing in the newfound recruiting success, which is a wise move considering how synonymous the program has become with Philadelphia talent. At this point, a Chambers' dismissal could come with significant recruiting repercussions in the city they simply can't afford to lose. That's not a risk worth taking when the Lions are poised to have an unusually more talented roster in the not-so-distant future.
So put the pitchforks away for now, casual Penn State fans. Pat Chambers isn't going anywhere. It's not like you knew basketball started today, anyway. That won't be the case next year when the program's first ever top-25 class arrives.