What Pat Chambers' Resignation Means for Penn State Basketball's Future

Penn State accepted Pat Chambers' resignation, abruptly altering the course of its men's basketball program. What happened, and what happens now?
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Pat Chambers nearly leaped through the radio three weeks ago while discussing the Penn State men's basketball team. He raved about the veteran experience returning from a 21-win team, gushed over a freshman class that heralded a promising future and explained how the program's Leadership Council had made him a better coach.

"You get different perspectives about the team, about what's going on in our country," Chambers said on the Penn State Coaches Show in early October. "It's been great for me. I've become just a guy who's listening and learning to be the best coach and leader I can be."

On Wednesday afternoon, Chambers stood before those players and told them he was resigning after nine seasons as head coach. Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour announced that she and President Eric Barron accepted Chambers' resignation after an internal investigation uncovered allegations of "inappropriate conduct" by Chambers toward players.

Barbour did not discuss details of the investigation, citing department policy, but acknowledged that it did not involve NCAA matters when asked about potential recruiting violations.

"As difficult as this news may be, both President Barron and I believe that this is the right outcome," Barbour said.

So how did this happen so swiftly? Just this week, Chambers was conducting interviews with State College media about the 2020 season. And what does it mean for Penn State men's basketball, about which Chambers sounded so enthusiastic?

The investigation can be traced to a July story in The Undefeated by Jesse Washington. In the story, former Penn State player Rasir Bolton said that Chambers used the phrase "I want to loosen the noose that's around your neck" during practice in 2019.

Bolton said that the comment led him to transfer from Penn State. He currently plays at Iowa State.

"Coach Chambers never apologized," Bolton wrote in a message on Twitter, "he said that he was 'from the north and wasn't aware.'" Bolton said that repercussions followed his reporting of the incident to Penn State's athletic department.

Chambers issued a public apology, saying he "understands the pain" he caused Bolton, and Barbour said that education would be "imperative" to Chambers' future at Penn State. Following The Undefeated story, Penn State announced the formation of an Intercollegiate Athletics Response Team to address "issues and concerns affecting the culture, climate and experience" of its teams.

"It’s imperative that we all learn from the mistakes of the past – our own and those of others – to move to a more inclusive, just and respectful environment," Barbour said in July.

Soon after The Undefeated story, Penn State's Affirmative Action and Athletics Integrity offices began investigating the men's basketball program. Barbour said Wednesday that the investigation discovered a previously unknown allegation of improper conduct by Chambers.

Barbour and Barron received the report within the past two weeks and accepted Chambers' resignation Wednesday.

"Coach Chambers has made many contributions to the program and to this university for which we are grateful," Barbour said. "The team has been on a positive trajectory and has responded well to coach Chambers' efforts on and off the court. But as difficult as this news may be, we think it's in the best interests of Penn State, our program and our student-athletes. Our main focus is squarely on them."

In his July public apology, Chambers said he "failed to comprehend the experience of others" and that he will carry what he said "forever."

Asked Wednesday how she manages coaching behaviors, and athletes' responses to them, Barbour said she relies on a personal ethos.

"That obviously is something that coaches in general nowadays really do walk a fine line, and it's obviously my job as athletic director to evaluate that," Barbour said. "There's behavior that you know represents your values and there's behavior that you don't. And, I'm speaking very generally, that's typically what I lean on from a values perspective."

Chambers' departure thrusts Penn State into an uncomfortable spot. The Lions won 21 games last season and were poised to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011 before the season was canceled. Chambers cried having to tell the players of the NCAA's decision in March when they landed in State College after leaving the Big Ten tournament.

The Lions resumed practice last week, and Chambers praised the players for their adherence to COVID-19 prevention protocols. The team had not had a positive test through September, Chambers said.

On the Penn State Coaches Show, Chambers paged through his roster excitedly, his voice growing higher and quicker with each new description. He predicted a high-powered, fast-paced offense that would play this season with "unfinished business."

Then on Wednesday, Chambers issued a statement saying he needed to take a step back "and prepare for the next 20 years."

"This has been an incredibly difficult year for me and my family, and we are in need of a break to re-set and chart our path forward," Chambers said.

The basketball team gets no such break. Assistant coach Jim Ferry, who joined Penn State's staff last season, was promoted to interim coach.

Ferry is an experienced head coach, with 19 years at four programs, most recently Duquesne. Barbour said she hoped that Ferry would have enough success to be considered for the permanent job, which will prompt a national search next season.

How will Penn State approach that? It might be difficult to make the financial commitment to hire a high-profile, expensive coach as the athletic department curbs spending during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Penn State also might consider making a splash to generate excitement, and potentially increased revenue, for the program.

Meanwhile, the players are tasked with making one more huge change in an already turbulent year.

"The young men in our program are talented, passionate and resilient," Barbour said. "They have been the authors of the rebirth of Penn State men's basketball, and although I am sure it will take them a little time, I am certain they will find their footing and move confidently and successfully through the academic year, through the COVID-19 environment and the competitive season. And I look forward to supporting their successes."

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