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Giger: My picks for who should and who will be Penn State’s next basketball coach

Photo by Penn State Athletics

I’ve got two picks for you here, folks, and either one would be a good hire for Penn State. I’ll start with my preference for who I think SHOULD be hired to lead the Nittany Lions, and down the page I’ll reveal who I believe actually WILL get the job.

OK, are you ready?

Rick Pitino.

No, sorry. Just kidding. I know, that’s a jerk move on my part, but hey, can’t we have a little fun with all this?

Penn State isn’t gonna hire someone with a lot of baggage. And it’s not gonna hire someone who costs a lot of money. That’s just the way it is, and if you follow PSU hoops at all, that should be clear by now.

Could interim coach Jim Ferry get the job? Yes, it’s possible. Ferry has done a very commendable job under tough circumstances this season. Still, I just don’t believe he’s done enough — losing too many games the team could have won — and that there are numerous candidates with better resumes who deserve the job more than Ferry.

Who should get the job?

My pick is Purdue assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry.

I got a tip from a source in early January that Shrewsberry was very interested in the job, and that PSU was said to have mutual interest.

I believe Nittany Sports Now was the first Penn State media outlet to tout Shrewsberry a bona fide candidate. This is my story on him from Jan. 16, which I had been saving for a few days leading up to PSU’s game against the Boilermakers.

In the following weeks, Shrewsberry’s name started popping up more and more. And rightfully so.

Given all the candidates that Penn State can afford for around $1 million a year, would actually hire and would be thrilled to get the job, Shrewsberry checks almost every single box.

Almost.

The only box he doesn’t check is that he’s never been a Division I head coach. He was head coach at NAIA Indiana-South Bend from 2005-07, but that won’t help him a ton in this search.

What helps the most, to me, with regards to Shrewsberry is his significant NBA experience. That makes him a better candidate, in my opinion, than the person I’m going to discuss below as the coach who I believe ultimately will get the PSU job.

Shrewsberry was Brad Stevens’ assistant at Butler from 2008-11, helping the team get to back-to-back national championship games his final two years. I’m 47 years old and love college basketball, and I can honestly say that Butler coming out of absolutely nowhere to reach two straight national title games is the single biggest surprise I’ve seen in the sport during my lifetime.

Stevens left Butler in 2013 to become head coach of the Boston Celtics. Shrewsberry had departed Butler two years earlier for Purdue to serve as an assistant on Matt Painter’s staff. When Stevens got the NBA job in 2013, he hired Shrewsberry to be an assistant with the Celtics, and he stayed there for six years.

Shrewsberry returned to the college game in 2019 with Painter at Purdue and is the program’s offensive coordinator. He’s also the program’s associate head coach. He knows the Big Ten and what it takes to win in the league, which would be extremely helpful at PSU.

The 44-year-old not only has excellent experience as a college assistant with Butler and Purdue, like I said earlier, he also has the incredibly valuable six years of experience in the NBA with the Celtics.

I believe that is something he can really sell to recruits, all of whom want to get to the NBA and would see Shrewsberry as someone who knows what it will take to help them get there.

The wealth of combined knowledge Shrewsberry has gained being in major college programs and with one of the NBA’s greatest franchises would make him a fantastic choice for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State is considering some outstanding candidates, many of whom could do a good job. But it’s doubtful AD Sandy Barbour and the search committee are considering anyone else who has the collective college and NBA experience that Shrewsberry would bring to the table.

All things being equal — perhaps most importantly the low salary — I do not believe Penn State has a legitimate chance to hire a coach who would be a better fit right now than Shrewsberry.

Along with everything else on his resume that makes him a great choice, he also fits what many people believe Penn State is looking to hire for this job, and that’s a Black coach. Whether that should or should not be the determining factor can be debated, but after what happened with Patrick Chambers, it makes sense that the school would want to make a diversity hire.

Who will get the job?

The answer very well might be Shrewsberry.

But I believe Penn State’s next basketball coach will be … Dennis Gates.

He’s 41. In his second season at Cleveland State. He spent eight years (2011-19) working for a fantastic college head coach in Leonard Hamilton at Florida State. He has a history with Barbour, having served as an assistant coach at Cal from 2005-07, when Barbour was the AD there. He’s a Black coach.

Then there’s this from a couple of days ago, which I think ultimately might have sealed the deal for Gates to become Penn State’s next coach.

Gates led Cleveland State to the NCAA Tournament this season by winning the Horizon League Tournament. The team also tied for the conference’s regular-season title and has a 19-7 overall record (16-4 in the league).

Gates turned the program around quickly after taking over a tough job and going 11-21 in his first season.

It might not be as easy for Penn State to hire Gates from Cleveland State had he not reached the NCAA Tournament. Yes, he’s still a good coach either way, but if you’re Penn State and cannot hire a big, splashy name, the least you can do is find someone who has proven himself by getting to a tournament as a head coach.

Gates also is a leading candidate for the Boston College job — and his wife works there — so that could play a role in all of this. I just happen to think the PSU job is a better job than BC, although many may disagree. And BC probably will pay more.

Shrewsberry also is a candidate for the job at Boston College.

Final verdict

Shrewsberry has never been the head coach of a major program.

Gates has been the head coach of a mid-major, although for only two years at Cleveland State, so he’d be making a huge jump to the Big Ten.

Their assistant coaching resumes are similar in that both have learned under great head coaches — Shrewsberry with Brad Stevens and Gates with Leonard Hamilton.

While I believe Shrewsberry’s NBA coaching experience makes him a better candidate, I can see how Penn State would lean toward someone who has been a head coach and has gotten a program to the NCAA Tournament.

All of that, according to my crystal ball, will lead Dennis Gates to becoming Penn State’s next basketball coach.

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