Former Penn State head basketball coach Patrick Chambers is joining Ashley Howard’s La Salle staff in a position that Howard is calling a “volunteer special assistant to the head coach.”
“He’s volunteering,” Howard said. “Really, whatever title I want to give him, I can give him.”
In his actions and words, Howard made it clear where he stood about whether Chambers deserves another chance to coach, after Penn State had announced in October 2020 that it had accepted Chambers’ resignation. The school at the time conducted “an internal investigation of new allegations of inappropriate conduct by Chambers.”
In announcing the resignation, the school specifically noted allegations that had surfaced after an article by The Undefeated detailed allegations by former Penn State basketball player Rasir Bolton about how Chambers had referenced “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 he was “really impressed with how well-spoken and organized [Bolton’s] parents were.” Bolton added that was “yet another subtle insult.”
A number of former Penn State players stood up for Chambers, who is white, when this came out publicly. Lamar Stevens, a Roman Catholic High graduate now with the Cleveland Cavaliers, tweeted, “He used a poor choice of words, but Coach Chambers is a great man who made a mistake. His actions towards all of his current and past players speaks much more volume. Ask them.”
In an interview this week, Chambers, 50, said his remark to Bolton was “obviously insensitive.” He said he has “learned a lot” and feels he is a better person and communicator from learning from his mistakes.
“I never want to diminish what happened,” Chambers said. “I failed as a leader. I was trying to help and I used the phrase that obviously was a swing and a miss. I’ve taken a deep dive, taken classes, watched more videos, read more books. ... Whatever I could tap into.”
The idea in his own mind that he was no racist, Chambers said, “I think I took it for granted. I was naive. I was born in Philly, raised here, played in the Sonny Hill League. I really believe my ignorance was what hurt me. But I feel like today, I’m better in that you have to learn from your failures.”
Chambers, a Delaware County native and former basketball player at Episcopal Academy and what was then Philadelphia Textile, was moving back to the area after living in Florida with his family since leaving State College. Chambers and Howard are former top Jay Wright assistants from different Villanova eras.
“He had everything he thought he wanted, and he lost it,” Howard said.
Chambers had shown a combative side before as a coach. In 2019, he was suspended for a game by Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour after he shoved guard Myles Dread in a huddle during a game.
“I know Pat,” Howard said of the central incident involved in his Penn State departure. “Most people who know Pat say that dude isn’t a racist. Now, was it a poor choice of words? At the same time, I know just being around him, knowing all the players he’s impacted, and all the former players who supported him and stood up for him, I thought that spoke for who Pat is as a person.”
As far as Chambers joining his staff, Howard remembers saying, “I was looking at it like, ‘I don’t have a spot, I would love to have you.’ He was like, ‘Don’t worry about the money. It’s not about the money. I want to help you.’”
Howard said he went to La Salle athletic director Brian Baptiste and “told him what I was thinking. There was no pushback. We both agreed, poor choice of words. But I felt like I wanted Pat to have a team to be attached to.”
Baptiste said he had opportunities to “engage with Pat” even before Howard talked to him about this possible role for Chambers, calling his interactions “extremely positive.” He has also heard Chambers speak publicly at “different Catholic organizations” about his experiences, had been at NCAA settings with him, and had talked to a number of people in Philadelphia who had spoken highly of Chambers.
Baptiste said he didn’t feel he had to talk to anybody 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 around at 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 last season in 2009.
In 2020, Penn State was a lock to make the NCAA tournament before the pandemic caused the tournament to be canceled. There had been all sorts of ups and downs there, with the Nittany Lions winning the NIT in 2018, then going 14-18 in 2019, before the 21-10 season in 2019-20, good for a tie for fifth in the Big Ten.
“It’s invaluable,” Howard said of having Chambers advise him with “fresh” eyes. “I think he did a great job at Penn State. He has great perspective as a guy who has been there. ... We’re like the Penn State of the Atlantic 10. We’re a program that’s fighting an uphill battle in a very challenging league.”
Howard added, “it’s almost like he knows what I’m going through. In a way, he’s giving me what he may have needed in certain times. He reminds me of the positives that are going on.”
“For me not to have all the weight and the pressure Penn State brought, I feel rejuvenated,” Chambers said.
Has Howard talked to his La Salle players about how things ended for Chambers at Penn State?
“We never even addressed it,” Howard said. “I’m sure those guys heard. But in the end, I want them to have their own ideas of who they think Pat Chambers is based on their interaction with him.”