Former Penn State basketball coach Patrick Chambers joins La Salle staff as a volunteer
Former Penn State basketball head coach Patrick Chambers joins Ashley Howard’s La Salle staff in a position Howard calls a “special volunteer assistant to the head coach.”
“He volunteers,” Howard said. “Really, whatever title I want to give it, I can give it to it.”
In his actions and words, Howard made his position clear on whether Chambers deserved another coaching chance, after Penn State announced in October 2020 that he had accepted Chambers’ resignation. The school at the time conducted “an internal investigation into further allegations of Chambers’ inappropriate conduct.”
In announcing the resignation, the school specifically noted the allegations that surfaced after a detailed The Undefeated article Allegations by former Penn State basketball player Rasir Bolton on how Chambers referred to “loosening the noose” during a conversation in January 2019. Bolton, who is black, also mentioned other remarks he considered offensive, tweeting that Chambers had said that ‘he was “really impressed with how well spoken and organized [Bolton’s] parents were. Bolton added that it was “yet another subtle insult”.
A number of former Penn State players have defended Chambers, who is white, when it came out publicly. Lamar Stevens, a Roman Catholic high school graduate now with the Cleveland Cavaliers, tweeted: “He used the wrong choice of words, but Coach Chambers is a great man who made a mistake. His actions towards all of his current and past players say a lot more. Ask them.”
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In an interview this week, Chambers, 50, said his remark to Bolton was “obviously insensitive”. He said he had “learned a lot” and felt a better person and a better communicator by learning from his mistakes.
“I never want to minimize what happened,” Chambers said. “I failed as a leader. I was trying to help and used the phrase which was obviously a swing and a dud. I dived deep, took lessons, watched more videos, read more books. … Anything I could exploit.
The idea in his mind that he was not a racist, Chambers said, “I think I took it for granted. I was naive. I was born in Philly, I grew up here, I played in the Sonny Hill League. I really believe my ignorance is what hurt me. But I feel like today I’m better in the sense that you have to learn from your failures.
Chambers, a native of Delaware County and a former basketball player at the Episcopal Academy and what was then Philadelphia Textile, was returning to the area after living in Florida with his family since leaving State College. Chambers and Howard are former Jay Wright’s best assistants from different eras of Villanova.
“He had everything he thought he wanted, and he lost it,” Howard said.
Chambers had already shown a combative side as a coach. In 2019, he was suspended for one game by Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour. after pushing guard Myles Dread during a match.
“I know Pat,” Howard said of the central incident involved in his departure from Penn State. “Most people who know Pat say this guy is not racist. Now was that the wrong choice of words? At the same time, I know that being around him, knowing all the players he touched and all the former players who supported and defended him, I thought it was about who Pat is in as a person.
Regarding Chambers joining his team, Howard recalls saying, “I used to look at him like, ‘I have no room, I would love to have you. He said, ‘Don’t worry about the money. It’s not about the money. I want to help you.'”
Howard said he went to La Salle’s athletic director Brian Baptiste and “told him what I was thinking. There was no hindsight. We both agreed, bad choice. But I felt like I wanted Pat to have a team to stick with.
Baptiste said he had the opportunity to “engage with Pat” even before Howard told him about this possible role for Chambers, calling his interactions “overwhelmingly positive.” He also heard Chambers speak publicly about his experiences in “different Catholic organizations,” had been with him in NCAA environments, and had spoken to a number of people in Philadelphia who had praised Chambers.
Baptiste said he didn’t feel pressured to tell anyone at Penn State about how it ended there.
“Enough information was there,” Baptiste said. “I think we all know what happened.”
Howard said the benefits of having Chambers in practices and games are already substantial. Chambers had been Penn State’s head coach for nine seasons, and before that for two seasons at Boston University. He spent five seasons as an assistant at Villanova, with the Wildcats reaching the Final Four in his final season in 2009.
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In 2020, Penn State was a lock on making the NCAA tournament before the pandemic resulted in the tournament being canceled. There had been all kinds of ups and downs there, with the Nittany Lions winning the NIT in 2018, then 14-18 in 2019, before the 21-10 season in 2019-20, good for a tie for fifth place. of the Big Ten.
“It’s priceless,” Howard said of Chambers’ advice with “fresh” eyes. “I think he did a great job at Penn State. He has a great prospect as a guy who’s been there. … We are like the Penn State of the Atlantic 10. We are a program that fights an uphill battle in a very tough league.
Howard added, “It’s almost like he knows what I’m going through. In a way, he gives me what he may have needed at times. It reminds me of the positives that are happening.
“So that I don’t have all the weight and pressure that Penn State brought, I feel rejuvenated,” Chambers said.
Has Howard spoken to his La Salle players about the end of things for Chambers at Penn State?
“We never even broached it,” Howard said. “I’m sure these guys heard. But at the end of the day, I want them to have their own ideas of who they think Pat Chambers is based on their interaction with him.