Penn State's Pat Chambers resigned this week amidst NCAA probes, charges of racial incidents within the program and the need for a shakeup in an athletic department that's already suffered too many public relations nightmares.
What Chambers leaves behind is a Big Ten program that enjoyed its most successful season in nearly 20 years last year. They lose Lamar Stevens, their top player, to the NBA, but if Chambers proved anything positive during the last few years in State College, its that there are ways to be moderately successful. They won double-digit games in the conference for the first time since 2008-09, and were ranked in the AP poll as high as #9 in the country.
Chambers and his staff enjoyed a distinctly Philadelphia flavor with their roster, too, winning local recruiting battles and stocking up with talent closer to home. Those tactics bore results and will likely be a talking point for whomever takes the helm next. They need to continue their positive momentum in the City of Brotherly Love.
So who should take over for Chambers and be on the short-list of candidates for their hiring committee to consider? Basketball and non-basketball factors need to hold somewhat equal weight when replacing a controversial figure. Let's take a look at a few different targets:
Mid-Major Head Coaches with Experience
Anthony Grant, Dayton head coach
No name is hotter for Power Five conferences than Anthony Grant. After coaching Dayton to national prominence and developing Obi Toppin into a potential lottery pick, Grant has shown no signs of cooling momentum. DaRon Holmes and Kaleb Washington committed to the Flyers for the class of 2021, giving Grant two 4-star recruits and an incredibly versatile frontcourt. How he continues to pull off these names at Dayton is beyond remarkable.
Grant's pedigree is likely part of his success. He'd been a successful head coach at VCU and Alabama, was an assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida and even spent some time on Donovan's staff with the Oklahoma City Thunder before returning to take the Dayton job. He's a powerful black voice and calm leader with the pedigree of on-court success to backup his poised demeanor.
Grant will likely have no shortage of phone calls to answer from Power Five program over the next year or so. Penn State, the first and only opening right now, should view themselves as having "first mover's advantage". While Grant doesn't necessarily have ties to Philadelphia or the state of Pennsylvania, his overall success is too endearing to pass up.
John Groce, Akron head coach
Groce is no stranger to Big Ten fans, as he was the head coach at Illinois from 2012-2017. In his five years at the helm, the Illini won 18 games four times, making once NCAA tournament appearance. The program was not incredibly productive under Groce, a Thad Matta protege.
Groce should be back on radars due to the impressive turnaround he's orchestrated since leaving Illinois. Under his tenure, the Akron Zips have improved each of their three years, rising up to a 24-7 record, going 14-4 in the MAC, last year. Groce won those games while two impactful transfers (from Missouri and St. John's, respectively) sat out. The Zips had impressive showings against Louisville and West Virginia this season, too.
As far as Groce is concerned, now is the time for him to cash out. He graduated two of his top three scorers and the MAC is in danger of not having a season after their football schedule was cancelled. If he's looking for a spot to move onto, his resume and past experience in the Big Ten should focus his search on Penn State. The Nittany Lions would be wise to give Groce a listen, as his resume is as filled with conference success as they're likely to find.
The Mid Majors with Local Ties
Mike Rhoades, VCU head coach
A legend in the central Pennsylvania folklores, Rhoades is as intense and passionate as they come. Folks in his inner-circles will attribute the successes of Shaka Smart (his old boss) and the construction of their HAVOC system to Rhoades. A wildly successful Division III player at nearby Lebanon Valley College, Rhoades would make the locals happy while bringing an intensity to the program that would keep the Nittany Lions on the map.
Rhoades has been pretty successful as a head coach in his own right. He won 28 games two years ago at VCU, has won 18 in each of his three years and helped develop Marcos Santos-Silva into an All-Conference player. The Rams are a perennial favorite within the A-10, and have been before Rhoades arrived, but their longevity is due in large part to how he built the program as an assistant.
Penn State is the logical next step for him, and a search firm would likely suggest the same. He's a good match with a football blueblood screaming for some energy and a unique style of play.
Andy Toole, Robert Morris head coach
The 40-year-old Toole has been head coach at Robert Morris for ten years now, winning 20 games in five of those campaigns. His presence in a low-major league of the NEC reinvigorated the school as a relative basketball power and saw the recruitment of many local Pittsburgh talents. His success helped usher in a new facility that is state-of-the-art, and ushered Robert Morris into joining the Horizon. That's single-handedly due to Toole and his consistency.
Most young mid-major head coaches offer risks when they land on Power Five radars. Is their success sustainable? Are they a flash in the pan?
With ten years experience before turning 40, Toole is the best of both worlds. He's got Pennsylvania roots; he's coached in Pittsburgh and played at Penn. There's a little risk with taking someone from a low-major to a high-major that directly, but Toole's sustained success should merit him the opportunity to impress in an interview setting.
Outside the Box
Chris Jans, New Mexico State head coach
The best in-game or tactical coach on this list, Chris Jans is a defensive maestro. He boasts the highest winning percentage in active Division I, winning 83 percent of his games in three years at New Mexico State. He's landed impactful transfers from UNLV, UTEP and Ohio State, and made the NCAA tournament every year there.
Jans would be a stylistic boon for the Nittany Lions. His defensive schemes are so unique and difficult to prepare for that Penn State automatically would become a really tough opponent in the rugged Big Ten. That personality and mantra fits with the Central PA fanbase.
Jans was a finalist for the East Tennessee State job this Spring before withdrawing his name. There's little doubt that, with only four years as a head coach under his belt, Jans is a bit of a reach for Penn State. But this guy screams rising star. He'll be a Power Five head coach some day,
Jerry Stackhouse, Vanderbilt head coach
Here's the worst-kept secret in college hoops. Jerry Stackhouse wants out at Vanderbilt. Malcolm Turner, the AD who hired Stackhouse, was pushed out, and now Stack doesn't have the insulation he needs in a tough SEC job. A rough start there could mean job security isn't coming, and the best time to look for a job is while you have one.
If Stackhouse is preemptive about finding a new home, Penn State could be a fit. He's got the NBA pedigree so many are attracted to, has done a solid job tactically and could continue to keep that Philly pipeline going by leveraging his connections in the league to keep homegrown talent here. It's a great counter to Michigan taking in Juwan Howard.
Stack comes with some real red flags, though. He's not proven to be a great recruiter and his staff experienced some sizeable turnover at Vandy. The win-loss record of 11-15 in year one likely gives pause to any hiring committee about truly recommending him.
Phil Martelli, Michigan associate head coach
A Philadelphia legend, Martelli would reinvigorate this program from a prestige standpoint while finally getting the opportunity to move into a power conference as the head man. After being muscled out at St. Joe's, Martelli landed as the lead advisor to Juwan Howard at Michigan. Nittany Lion fans can't help but enjoy the double-blow of finding their new leader while dealing a blow to Big Blue.
Martelli is 66, which is likely older than many candidates Penn State will consider. He has an old school approach, and following Chambers, there are definite concerns about hiring an abrasive, rough-around-the-edges leader. But the success speaks for itself. 444 career wins, seven NCAA Tournaments and that magical run in 2004 to a number one seed.
Think of Martelli more as a stopgap for a few years. Maintain the positive momentum recruiting in Philadelphia and let Martelli empty his rolodex. See if you can beat Big Ten schools by getting guys from the East Coast to join you. At the very least, you know this guy can coach.