Penn State was dealt a dose of that cold reality when basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry reportedly turned down $4 million per year to head back home to Indiana and coach at Notre Dame.
College coaching is a shrewd business, and relationships rarely end amicably regardless of whether a coach resigns or is fired.
It was a “right place, right time” situation for Shrewsberry. Penn State was the “right place” fkr him until the Fighting Irish called with an offer to return to South Bend, the city where Shrewsberry got his start as a head coach.
Penn State and its faithful were a perfect match for Shrewsberry. He’s a blue-collar coach who endeared himself early to the Penn State program and its fans. His teams played hard, scrappy and competed in more games than not his first year despite finishing 14-17.
In Year 2, Penn State laid the blueprint to beat Purdue in an eventual loss to the Boilermakers in the Big Ten Championship. Most importantly, Penn State earned its first berth NCAA Tournament berth since 2011.
Penn State and Shrewsberry took down Texas A&M by 17 points in the Round of 64, captivating Penn State’s fanbase and turning all eyes on a basketball program on the rise. Then a round of 32 loss to Texas left Penn State fans disappointed, but hopeful for what was to come.
Until … last Wednesday when Shrewsberry took the Notre Dame job.
Any other year, any other opening and honestly, I feel as though Shrewsberry would be still be in Happy Valley and this article wouldn’t be possible.
Now, a program on the rise is left searching.
Will it be current assistant Adam Fisher? Dustin May, coach of the NCAA Tournament darling and Final Four participant Florida Atlantic? Mike Rhoades from VCU?
It’s too early to tell, but instead of there being an inordinate amount of hope in the future of the program, fans are just hopeful Dr. Pat Kraft can find the right guy.
The levels of sting this has on the program and its fanbase go far and wide. Penn State isn’t used to having a sports program serve as a stepping stone. It’s generally a destination job. That can be easily seen with coaches such as Cael Sanderson being at the helm of the wrestling program for 14 years and even James Franklin and Rob Cooper running their programs, football and baseball, for the past nine seasons.
It’s not supposed to be a place where a coach of Shrewsberry’s caliber bolts after two years. It’s a place where they should be until they retires or are forced out.
Heck, even Patrick Chambers, he of the 148-150 record at Penn State, is an example. It took disdain from athletic director Sandy Barbour and a myriad of controversies to force Chambers out after his best season at Penn State.
After a season of interim coach Jim Ferry, along came Shrewsberry, who tackled the transfer portal harder than Micah Parsons tackled Big Ten running backs. Shrewsberry not only landed guys like Jalen Pickett from the portal, but also convinced guys like Myles Dread, Seth Lundy and John Harrar to stay.
Those four set the foundation for what’s next for Penn State basketball, but it’s going to be an uphill climb with only three returning freshman in the fold for the coming season, and that’s if nobody else enters the transfer portal, which is unlikely.
It’s the harsh reality of a coaching change and the nature of college athletics with NIL deals and the transfer portal dominating the game in all facets.
Shrewsberry proved that with the portal winning is possible in the short-term. It can be done again, but the school’s running out of time to make the right hire. It’s imperative for the program to get its guy sooner than later, to try and salvage what was a great recruiting class by Penn State basketball’s standards and hold on to the remaining squad from this year.
Rushing to find a coach could also backfire with May – allegedly an option – not being able to discuss the opening until this weekend at the earliest while Fisher is reportedly a top choice for the Temple opening.
Playing the long game in the coaching carousel is never fun, but it has the community captivated on what’s to come for a program that just over a week ago was playing for a Sweet 16 berth.
What’s next is yet to be determined, but it’s certainly not smooth sailing for the Nittany Lions and their fans.