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Nine Coaching Candidates for Penn State Basketball

Here’s a list of names to store in the memory banks as the coaching search moves along.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Houston Rockets Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Back in January 2019, when the hoops squad was in the midst of their 0-10 start to conference play and it looked like Pat Chambers’ firing was all but certain, I created a draft of a coaching candidates list in the BSD dashboard. After the team turned things around in February and Chambers subsequently kept his job and saw great success the following season, I finally deleted it this past Spring. Oops.

The list of candidates below are simply names that came to mind and is not meant to be taken as a complete list by any means. We may end up treating this as a “big board” of sorts depending on how much we receive in terms of new reports/rumors on the search throughout these several months.

Jim Ferry (Penn State Interim Head Coach) - Sandy Barbour mentioned in her press conference that Jim Ferry would be considered for the permanent head coaching gig, so consider this upcoming season his audition. After back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2011 and 2012 at Long Island University, Ferry moved on to Duquesne where he was unable to replicate such success in the Atlantic 10.

Short of miraculously making the NCAA Tournament, it’s hard to picture Ferry having his interim tag removed. If he remains the head coach beyond this upcoming season though, it’s vital that he make to have an assistant or two on staff with staunch Philly recruiting ties, to help keep that pipeline which Chambers painstakingly built intact.

Mike Rhoades (VCU HC) - A Mahanoy City, PA native who led Lebanon Valley College to a Division III NCAA title back in the 90’s, Rhoades has taken VCU to an NCAA Tournament once already in his three seasons in Richmond. He currently makes around $1.5 million a year at VCU, so PSU will need to sweeten the pot to get him to listen, but this is a name to keep in mind.

John Becker (Vermont HC) - Now entering his tenth season at Vermont, Becker has three NCAA Tournament appearances to his credit, including two in the last four years (likely would have been three out of the last four had COVID not cancelled the most recent tourney). He’s also won four consecutive America East regular season titles and counting. Don’t be surprised to see him on the short list of candidates to whom PSU reaches out.

Steve Donahue (Penn HC) - After getting Cornell to three straight NCAA Tournaments (including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2010), Donahue had a rough go in the ACC at Boston College, with only one NIT appearance and three straight losing seasons to show for it. He’s since redeemed himself at Penn, having clinched three straight winning seasons, including an NCAA berth in 2018. Being in the heart of Philly, he likely has to have built some ties with the local hoops scene, which should make him an attractive target in those regards.

Keith Dambrot (Duquesne HC) - Yes, he is Jim Ferry’s successor at Duquesne, but long before that, Dambrot was coaching LeBron James at St. Vincent/St. Mary’s High School in Akron. He eventually went off to coach college ball at Akron for a dozen years, earning three NCAA Tournament appearances before coming to Duquesne in 2017, where he has not had a losing season in his three years there.

Under Dambrot, the Dukes’ win totals since year one have improved from 16 to 19 to 21 (which is the school’s most since 2008-09). Dambrot has yet to coach at the power conference level and Penn State may just be the landing spot for him, if he’s interested.

Shaka Smart (Texas HC) - It feels like he’s been on the hot seat at Texas for the last few years now, but if the Longhorns fail to make the Big Dance next March, the school may finally pull the trigger on making a change.

He’s still best known for coaching VCU during their Cinderella run to the Final Four back in 2011, and while two NCAA appearances and an NIT title may not be enough for Texas standards, they sure are more than good enough for Penn State’s. If Shaka becomes a free agent after this season, PSU should absolutely kick the tires on this one.

Jon Scheyer (Duke Assistant Coach) - I’m old enough to remember when then-Duke assistant (and current Marquette head coach) Steve Wojciehowski was rumored to be on the short list of candidates to replace Jerry Dunn. So, out of obligation, I’m adding Jon Scheyer to the list. Scheyer was reportedly offered the Pitt job a couple of years ago before his former colleague Jeff Capel ultimately landed it. He’s since been given increasing responsibilities on Coach K’s staff at Duke, including the associate head coach title.

Scheyer may very well be in the process of being groomed to succeed Coach K whenever he retires, and he surely will be getting more attractive job offers than PSU, but it sure couldn’t hurt to reach out.

Rick Pitino (Iona HC) - Okay, you can file this under “not a snowball’s chance in hell” given how Louisville got into hot water with the NCAA under his watch. Admit it, though: There’s a part of you that wouldn’t mind seeing how someone with Pitino’s coaching and recruiting pedigree would fare in Happy Valley of all places.

Brett Brown (former Sixers HC, currently unemployed) - What better way to help ensure Penn State basketball maintains that Philly pipeline than by hiring the guy who recently coached Philly’s NBA team? No?