The odd timing of Patrick Chambers’ resignation, just a month before the season, means that Penn State can’t perform a coaching search right now.
Jim Ferry will be the head coach on an interim basis this season, then PSU will conduct a national search in the spring. Maybe Ferry will do a great job this year and warrant consideration, but the Lions are picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, so it’s more likely that they’ll struggle and then go out and hire a new coach.
We’ll hear about a lot of potential candidates over the next five months. Some who may seem like good candidates now could fall by the wayside, while others who may not yet be on the radar could spring up if their teams have big seasons.
What kind of coach will PSU be looking for? Well, a name coach would be ideal, someone who can come in and excite the fan base and recruits.
But let’s be honest: It’s damn near impossible to find that kind of coach for what Penn State is willing to pay. Chambers was making about $1 million a season, a paltry sum in big-time college basketball.
For example: Let’s say PSU is interested in Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard. That would make sense in a lot of ways. Except, Willard makes $2.1 million at Seton Hall, plus that’s a better job than Penn State anyway. If you challenge that assertion based on some PSU bias, just know that Seton Hall has made the last four NCAA Tournaments — it would have been five this year — while PSU has made only two (would have been three this year) tourney appearances this century.
We need to be honest about what the Penn State job is, and is not. Any time PSU basketball fans get riled up about things, they start throwing out names of big-time coaches who could come in and turn things around.
Let’s be real. Big-time coaches aren’t coming to Penn State. The program won’t pay them enough, and PSU basketball just isn’t good enough to lure them away from whatever good job they already have.
So stop with the likes of Tom Crean ($3.2 million at Georgia) or others like him who are, quite simply, out of Penn State’s league in basketball.
It is possible that PSU could be gearing its search toward hiring a minority candidate. Given what happened with Chambers, that would make a lot of sense and probably would be welcomed by players in the program.
Let’s look at some potential candidates.
1. Steve Donahue
Head coach at Penn. Formerly head coach at Cornell, where he did a fabulous job, and at Boston College, where he really struggled.
He’s 58 years old, so he’d be taking over a PSU program when he’s 59. But that’s still not old by any means.
His salary at Penn isn’t available, but it is probably less than Chambers was making.
Donahue also was an assistant at Penn from 1990-2000, so he certainly has the kind of Philly connections Penn State desperately needs for recruiting.
Donahue led Cornell — yes Cornell — to the Sweet 16 in 2010. That’s an amazing feat. Things didn’t go well in his first major conference job at Boston College (54-76 record in four years), but he is 83-63 at Penn in five years, including 24-9 and an NCAA Tournament appearance two years ago.
Donahue can coach. He runs a smart, efficient system. Whether that system would work in the Big Ten night in and night out against great competition is up for debate.
All things being equal, I think Donahue would be a smart choice for Penn State. Maybe not the best choice, but solid for many reasons. He deserves another crack at a major job somewhere.
2. Gerry McNamara
I think this would be an awesome choice. I’m biased because I’m a lifelong Syracuse basketball fan, and the 2003 national title team with Carmelo Anthony and McNamara is the only one of my diehard favorite teams that has ever won a title in any sport.
He’s been an assistant at Syracuse for nine years and is a Scranton native. He considered coming to Penn State out of high school before going on and having a legendary career with the Orange.
McNamara is a name. Penn State fans could get excited about that. No, he doesn’t have head coaching experience, but he’s a hot commodity in the coaching ranks and will land a big job somewhere at some point.
He could be holding out to possibly be the heir apparent at Syracuse when Jim Boeheim retires in the coming years. If not, I think McNamara would jump at the chance to branch out on his own and see what he could do at Penn State.
3. Tommy Amaker
I haven’t seen his name mentioned anywhere, but he’d be a great choice.
Head coach at Harvard, where he’s done an excellent job since 2007. He’s been around a long time, but he’s still only 55 years old.
The former Duke star began his head coaching career at Seton Hall in 1997 and went 68-55 there in four years. He landed the Michigan job in 2001 and went 108-84 there in six years, with but he never made an NCAA Tournament and was fired.
Amaker has gone 250-138 in 13 seasons at Harvard, with with four NCAA Tournament appearances. It’s been reported he makes less than $1 million a year, so PSU could top that.
Amaker’s name comes up a lot in coaching searches, but he has always decided to stay at Harvard. Whether he’d want to leave there for another crack at a big job is unclear.
But if you’ve watched Harvard play over the years, you know Amaker is an excellent basketball coach by seeing his system and how his players compete.
4. Andrew Toole
Head coach at Robert Morris. I’ve seen his teams play a ton having covered Saint Francis in the Northeast Conference, and Toole is an excellent recruiter and coach.
He’s gone 188-154 with two NCAA Tournament appearances at Robert Morris.
Toole is ready for a big-time job. He deserves one.
5. Mike Rhoades
Head coach at VCU. His name is getting mentioned in several places. But he makes more money at VCU ($1.7 million) than he would at PSU, plus VCU is a better basketball job with an easier path to the NCAA Tournament.
Like I said before, Penn State fans get upset hearing things like VCU is a better basketball job, but that’s just reality. The Rams have made as many NCAA Tournament appearances since 2009 (nine) as Penn State has made in its program history.
Some other names:
**George Mason coach Dave Paulsen, who was at Bucknell from 2008-15.
**GW coach Jamion Christian, someone I know well from his days at Mount St. Mary’s in the NEC.
**St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt, who was a PSU assistant from 1991-91. He’s gone 229-180 with two NCAA appearances for Bonnies since 2007.
**A buddy mentioned an intriguing name: John Thompson III, the former Georgetown and Princeton coach. He would be a name, for sure. But he made $3.6 million at Georgetown and hasn’t coached since 2017.
Rob Krimmel, Saint Francis head coach.
Listen, many people haven’t heard of him. He wouldn’t be a name hire. And there’s very little chance he could get the PSU job right now.
But Krimmel is a fantastic basketball coach and an even better human being. He’s done tremendous work at Saint Francis, which is one of the toughest jobs in Division I for many reasons. He’s also a State College native, so that would be a nice homecoming story.
He at least deserves a look from the PSU search committee. His father, Bob, was PSU’s swimming coach for three decades before becoming Saint Francis’ AD.