Penn State Basketball: Pat Chambers’ resignation equals death of ‘the climb’

Jan 4, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers looks on prior to the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at The Palestra. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 4, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers looks on prior to the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at The Palestra. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Penn State basketball head coach Pat Chambers’ resignation signifies the end of “the climb,” for promising program

Wednesday afternoon, Patrick Chambers announced his resignation as Penn State Basketball’s Head Coach.

Chambers’ resignation brings about “The Death of the Climb”

After his “noose” comment was unearthed in The Undefeated in July, one could have seen this coming back then.  While Chambers said all the right things at the time, by immediately apologizing and using this mistake as a learning opportunity, there is no excuse for using that word when talking to a young black student athlete.  Period.

Seeing the whole context of the quote; “I want to loosen the noose that’s around your neck” was slightly more palatable but, bottom line, that can’t be a word in your vocabulary when teaching and inspiring black student athletes.

Like Gregg Marshall at Wichita State, when stories like this surface, the breaking of the dam often follows quickly.  But that did not happen for Pat Chambers.  Many players, such as the just graduated and potential NBA Draft pick Lamar Stevens and rising senior leader and starting PG Jamari Wheeler immediately defended Pat Chambers.

Stevens summed up how most people felt, stating on twitter “He used a poor choice of words but Coach Chambers is a great man who made a mistake.  His actions towards all of his current and past players speaks much more volume. Ask them”.

That seemed to be the end of the issue.

Key rising junior Myles Dread had joined the B1G’s new Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition.  Rumors of COVID-related schedule changes bounced around all fall.  And Chambers gave interviews to both Ben Jones ( and Blue White Illustrated earlier this week.  So, what was happening in the background that we did not see?

Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour directed a joint review by Penn State’s Affirmative Action and Athletics Integrity offices after the Bolton comment.  Good.  There is no place for racist tones and words in today’s game (or anywhere).  And while her press conference Wednesday made veiled insinuations that the review may have found another incident, no new issues were discussed.  Barbour also clearly stated that “NCAA matters were not part of this”, likely ruling out any real recruiting issues.  More accusations anonymously surfaced that Pat was very hard on both players and coaches.  Certainly, no one has ever described Pat as a man without passion.  There is always a line you cannot cross of course, but can you really imagine Pat Chambers being harder on his team and staff than Tom Izzo, for example? And while it is likely we will never know what actually happened, let’s look at the three real possibilities:

There was a consistent pattern of inappropriate and racist behavior – outside of Barbour’s vague comment that the review found something outside of the Bolton comment, this is probably the scenario the fans who wanted Pat out will believe and the scenario the fans who loved Pat will never believe without more proof.  It is safe to say most fans were surprised when the noose comment came to public light in July.  You can easily make the argument it was likely a one-time mistake.  You can easily make the argument if he said it once he probably said stuff like that all the time.  I will say what makes this possibility increase in likelihood is that you just don’t fire a coach 31 days before the season starts, in an international pandemic, with department budget shortfalls, after arguably the best season in program history unless it had to happen. Which leads to Option B.

Athletic Department incompetence – no one has ever accused the athletic department of loving Penn State Basketball (more of that in Option C).  PSU has a history of not defending high-profile coaches.  The joint Athletics/Affirmative Action review interviewed scores of former players and coaches.  In the high stress, high turnover game that is today’s college basketball, it would be incredibly easy to find numerous disgruntled former employees and bitter players that transferred.  I hope the review members understood that and took stories with a grain of salt.  Or at least that Pat was given the opportunity to explain his side of the story.  But given that Pat gave interviews to news organizations just this week, you have to assume he was as surprised as we were.  Which leads to my best guess, Option C.

It is just Penn State Basketball – perhaps worse than Athletic Department incompetence is Athletic Department irreverence.  Pat had by far the lowest head coaching salary in the B1G, rumored to be under a million dollars.  PSU Basketball always turned a profit due to tv contracts and revenue sharing, regardless of success or whether the BJC was even half filled.  So why “waste time” defending a coach through allegations?

If the revenue stream keeps flowing, who cares which head coach is in charge.  This is an athletic department that moved the basketball team’s practices from the Bryce Jordan Center to the student Intramural Building when a big concert came to town and needed the entire Bryce Jordan Center … to rehearse.

This is an athletic department that likely has to scrap plans to revamp Beaver Stadium due to the pandemic.  This is an athletic department that has to support far more teams and programs than many other Universities’.  This is an athletic department that sells basketball season ticket holders with a pregame “meal” of concession stand popcorn and lemonade.

Maybe a combination of these possibilities occurred, maybe something else happened entirely.  I doubt we will ever know.

But, it took Pat Chambers nine years to build a consistent recruiting pipeline.  If that seems too long, I will point out that no coach in program history did it faster, or even at all.  So let me leave it at this: Sandy Barbour better know a lot more than she shared because after reaching a program high #9 ranking earlier this calendar year, #theclimb is dead and Penn State Basketball is starting back in the basement. Again.