Penn State's 2011 men's basketball coaching search was an easy target for sarcasm. It offered up the perfect amount of low-hanging fruit sarcastic jerks like myself so love to pick: Ed DeChellis leaving for Navy (what?), a string of so-so candidates (Jeff Lebo, Ron Everhart, Rob Jeter), a mysterious phone call with the Don Quixote of coaches (come on, really?).
Before Friday, Penn State's coaching search was a comedy of errors. With an emphasis on "comedy."
Friday brought something different. Believe it or not, after all that, Penn State made a downright impressive hire.
Be sure to read my colleague Dana O'Neil's argument, published after the news broke Friday night, for why former Boston University coach Pat Chambers qualifies as such. He's a young, energetic program-builder with close ties to the Philadelphia area, and his ability to increase Penn State's profile there -- both among young players and nascent fans -- is intriguing in and of itself.
Chambers also vows to liven up PSU's style of play. The 2011 Terriers were a slow-paced bunch, but the 2010 version was among the fastest teams in the country. When Iowa's Fran McCaffery took over in Iowa City last summer, he promised a similar speed boost, and Iowa fans responded with their time and attention. When you're going to be rebuilding anyway, you might as well give people an entertaining product. Chambers gets it.
He also seems to get the more difficult parts of relating to a fan base. As Dana wrote Friday, Chambers was known for scooting around BU's campus in a golf cart, chatting with students along the way. He also did a video, part of the Pack Network's "Behind BU" series, called "A Day in the Life of Pat Chambers." (The Beatles aren't on the soundtrack, unfortunately.)
The Big Ten Network has its own behind-the-scenes show, "The Journey," which is remarkably similar to what Chambers was like on the aforementioned feature. He'll be a natural fit.
Perhaps that's why this hiring seems to have Penn State fans riled up, and in a good way. Black Shoe Diaries says Penn State athletic director Tim Curley has redeemed himself for the so-so DeChellis hire by hitting a "home run" with Chambers. Linebacker-U.com cites Chambers's marketing degree and sales experience -- not to mention his experience coaching at a school that considers basketball a second-fiddle sport (BU has its hockey, Penn State its football) -- as reasons he'll succeed at the school.
The rebuilding process is always a tricky thing. Can you get the ear of recruits? Can you keep the fan base interested despite the ugly stuff on the floor? Is there a sense of optimism at work?
In most cases, those questions come in order. At places like Penn State, though, they're a jumbled mess, which is why sales and marketing can be every bit as important as the on-the-ground recruiting efforts and a coach's style of play. None of these things outweighs sheer coaching and program-building ability. But Penn State did need a quote-unquote "salesman." They got one in Chambers.
Fans should be excited. The ridicule, fun though it may be, should stop. Given where the Nittany Lions have been, perhaps those reasons -- some small measure of success, some reason to praise the program -- are the best way to evaluate the Chambers hire. If so, yep: It's a home run.