Behind Enemy Lines: Penn State coach Pat Chambers

By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 13, 2014

Penn State men’s basketball coach Pat Chambers has seen it all. He’s had a successful career as a businessman, made a Final Four as an assistant, revived a stagnant Boston University program and even survived a near-fatal stabbing.

But perhaps no obstacle he has encountered can match the challenge he currently faces in Happy Valley. Currently in his third season, his team is a combined 6-34 in Big Ten play. Yet the biggest win of his tenure came over then-No. 4 Michigan last February — one of the season’s two conference wins, snapping an 0-14 start to the season.

Despite his teams’ poor showing on the court, Chambers’s off-the-court persona and energy are as entertaining as anyone in the nation.

A spirited Chambers sat down with the Daily at October’s Big Ten Media Day to talk last year’s games, rebuilding and football.

The Michigan Daily: Your win over Michigan last year was a big deal for your program. Can a win like that help cycle some momentum into this year and push the program forward?

Pat Chambers: First of all, I think we helped Michigan. By beating them, I think we helped them. They came together and they went on a run of runs — it was just amazing and (Michigan coach) John Beilein’s a good friend. He and I talk all the time, so I’ve got great respect for Michigan. It can help our program, yes, but we can’t put ourselves in that position every year, or I’m not going to be around much longer, you know? We need to start winning games consistently and competing at a higher level and bringing in the right talent that can put ourselves in position to make some postseason play. The game was great for us, obviously, and it wasn’t so great for them, but I really do believe it helped them go on a nice run. It woke them up a little bit.

TMD: Last year, you were on a big losing streak and came into Ann Arbor and nearly upset Michigan, and then obviously won at home. What about Michigan is it with you? Do you have things figured out, maybe even going back to facing Beilein in the Big East when you were an assistant at Villanova?

PC: I have nothing figured out. (Long pause of laughter.) Sometimes we get too much credit as coaches. I’ve known John since I was a player. Coach Beilein and I go back to when I was a player at Philadelphia Textile and he was the head coach of Le Moyne. We go way, way back. I just — I think it’s all about the team and where you are at that point in the season, and I always believe anybody can beat anybody on any given night. … To go on the road at Penn State, and we’re 0-14, maybe they weren’t as up for the game. Human nature sets in. I don’t know if we have them figured out, but we did play them well. I feel like we’ve played them well the last couple of years and I can’t tell you why.

TMD: It wasn’t long ago that Michigan was finishing at the bottom of the conference and to see them rise so quickly, is that program something you look at as a model for building Penn State?

PC: I do. I look at Michigan; I look at Wisconsin when they were a little down before Bo (Ryan) got into the league. It can be done. People say, ‘How are you going to do it? How are you going to do it? The league is brutal.’ It can be done. Coaches have done it. John Beilein has done it; Bo Ryan has done it. I’m sure I’m missing some of these other coaches that have done it. There’s not coaching changes just because, but I’d like to look at those schools and say they did it and we’ve got to do it the same way.

TMD: Last year, you talked about how having a good football program can complement a basketball program and help it out in a lot of different ways. Michigan is like Penn State in a lot of ways, where you get these primetime football games and big atmospheres. How much can that boost your program’s recruiting?

PC: It definitely helps because I’m bringing recruits to the game and they can see the pride and passion that Penn State and Penn Staters have for their athletics. If you were at the white out against Michigan, or watched it on TV, it was the most electric, loud, amazing event — I’m 42 — that I’ve ever been to in my entire life. That’s how loud it was. I don’t know if you guys can say it because you have the Big House, but it definitely rivals Michigan — it’s just incredible. That type of atmosphere, that type of event can only help you in recruiting.