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Smeltzer’s Sunday 7: Who Makes Sense to Lead Penn State Basketball?

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 10: Grand Canyon Antelopes head coach Bryce Drew applauds his team during the college basketball game between the Grand Canyon University Antelopes and the North Texas Mean Green at the Hoophall Jerry Colangelo Classic on December 10, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)

Penn State is still looking for a basketball coach.

Who will be the one?

I’ll list seven potential candidates, and why the fit might or might not make sense.

But before I do that, I’ll quickly go over some names that have been tossed around that wouldn’t make sense.


Terry’s been linked to Penn State.

But assuming Texas, which is currently one win away from the Final Four, removes the interim tag, he’s not going anywhere.


He’s a Penn State legend and I’m sure an excellent coach. But it’s not in Penn State’s best interest to hire somebody from the DIII level.


Another Penn State legend, but with just three seasons of assistant coaching under his belt, Battle likely isn’t ready for the position yet, and probably wouldn’t be getting discussed if not for his program ties.


LOL. Moving on.


Why it Might Happen: If you ask the players who led Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011 and first win since 2001, Fisher is the man for the job.

To be fair, whatever players say about one of their coaches should be taken with a tiny grain of salt because they’re not seeing things through an unbiased lens.

But make no mistake, Fisher can coach and has done so at a high level for a long time.

Jim Larranaga is one win away from taking Miami to the Final Four. Fisher coached under Larranaga for six seasons. Jay Wright is one of the greatest coaches ever. Fisher coached under him for two years, one of which ended in a Final Four berth.

Penn State put together its two best recruiting classes in school history under Micah Shrewsberry, and Fisher played a big part in that.

Fisher is originally from Jamison, Pennsylvania,  which is less than an hour from Philly. So he knows that area, and there’s plenty of high school basketball talent in that area.

It’s also worth noting that the tweets above are from players Penn State got through the transfer portal, which Fisher helped Shrewsberry dominate.

Why it Might Not: This will be Pat Kraft’s first big hire as Penn State’s AD in any sport.

If you were in Kraft’s position, would you want your first big hire to be somebody that’s already employed by the University?

Kraft should hire the best person for the job.

Of course he should. But one couldn’t fault Kraft for wanting to hire an impressive outsider given the context, especially if Penn State is willing to pay big money, which it reportedly is.


Why it Might Happen: May is the head coach at Florida Atlantic. Florida Atlantic’s in the Final Four.

That’s reason enough for Penn State to go after May, no?

Why it Might Not: A Final Four coach is a hot commodity.

Penn State basketball is anything but hot right now.

It’s true that there aren’t a ton of Power 6 jobs open right now, and it’s reportedly true that Penn State’s willing to pay its next coach somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million a year.

That’s big money, and money talks.

At the same time, May has a good thing going at FAU, and he’d be inheriting quote the mess at Penn State. So although there’s little reason not to hire May on Penn State’s end, from May’s side, it might make more sense to hold out for something better.


Why It Might Happen: Langel is a winner.

He’s 202-174 at Colgate and has led the team to four NCAA Tournaments in the past five seasons.

The only year Colgate didn’t make the tournament in that stretch was 2020, when the event didn’t happen due to COVID-19. That season, Langel led Colgate to a 25-9 record and Patriot League regular-season championship, earning conference coach of the year.

Colgate finished 26-9 this past season and made it to the dance, and did it playing an appealing brand of basketball that Penn State fans watched a lot of from their team this past season.

Penn State was second in Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage.

Colgate led the country.

Fans like watching teams that can shoot, and since shooting led Penn State to one of its best seasons ever this past year, this particular fanbase generally wants to keep watching it. Langel would have to get the personnel for Penn State to play that way, but if its there, Langel can make big things happen.

Why it Might Not: Along with what Langel accomplished at Colgate, he also has experience both playing and coaching in Philadelphia.

He played at Penn from 1996-2000 and coached there from 2004-06.

When former Penn head coach Fran Dunphy moved on to Temple, Langel went with him and assisted there from 2006-11 before getting inflation the head coaching ranks at Colgate.

Although Langel coaching in Philly could help him get recruits from that area, the potential problem with it is that Langel has never coached at the Power Six level, head or assistant.

So knowing that, would he be a good fit for the Big 10? Maybe. Maybe not.



Why it Makes Sense: Unlike Langel, Kelsey has years of Power Six coaching experience.

He coached at Wake Forest from 2004-09 before moving on to be Chris Mack’s associate head coach at Xavier.

After Xavier, Kelsey joined the head coaching ranks  at Winthrop.

In eight seasons, Kelsey made the NCAA Tournament twice and won 20 games five times.

From there, Kelsey moved on to College of Charleston, where he’s 48-19 through two seasons. This past season, he went 31-4 and made it to the dance.

What it Doesn’t: Although Kelsey has experience coaching at the Power 6 level, he hasn’t done so in more than a decade and has never done it as a head coach.

College basketball is a different game than it was in 2009. How would Kelsey adjust to coaching in the Power 6 during this decade, as as the No. 1 guy?


Why it Makes Sense: Hey, it’s a big name.

Casual college basketball fans generally don’t know any other name on this list, but they’ll recognize Matta’s.

If Kraft’s indeed looking to make a big splash and raise eyebrows with his first hire, bringing Matta in would accomplish that.

Why it Doesn’t: Pretty much everything else.

Sure, Matta is best known for his 14 seasons at Ohio State, but that was long ago and far away, and the Big Ten has changed.

Plus, it’s far from certain that Matta wants to leave Butler.

He’s only been there for one season in his second stint, and went 14-18. There’s a good chance he wants to at least have a fair chance to turn Butler back into winners before leaving.

Overall, the main appeal to Thad Matta coming to Penn State would be that he’s Thad Matta. He’s coached one basketball season in the past seven, is going to be north of 50 in July and hasn’t coached in the NCAA Tournament since 2015.

Matta might reestablish himself, but it’s doubtful that it would happen at Penn State.


Why it Makes Sense: Who doesn’t love a good redemption story?

Drew’s three-season run as Vanderbilt’s head coach didn’t go well and ended with an 0-18 SEC campaign.

He’s picked himself up at Grand Canyon.

Through three season’s, Drew is 64-27 and has made the NCAA Tournament twice. Not too shabby.

Even at Vanderbilt, there were things to like about Drew. He made the tournament in his first season, and in his last recruiting class, Drew landed two five-stars, so the man can recruit.

Drew’s in a good place right now, but what if he wants a chance to redeem himself at a Power Six school?

Penn State could give him that chance.

Why it Doesn’t: Drew failed at his only Power Six job. Granted, Matta is the only other person on this list to have had a Power Six head coaching job, but rightly or wrongly, a head coach that failed at a big school is less appealing than a head coach who hasn’t had the chance yet.


Why it Makes Sense: Princeton, a 15 seed, got to the Sweet 16. That’s reason enough, no?

If you need more reason, Henderson was an assistant at Northwestern from 2000-11. So he knows a thing or two about the Big Ten.

Why it Doesn’t: It might be tempting for Henderson to go to a school where he could make the tournament as a higher seed and compete in a conference where there’s a more athletic freedom than the Ivy League.

At the same time, he loves Princeton.

Like, really, really loves Princeton.

It’s his alma mater. He’s been coaching there since 2011. It’s home to him. He might want to leave one day, but would Penn State be the right opportunity, especially with the way things have turned for the program over the past several days.

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