Pat Chambers and his family descended from the small plane onto the nearly deserted tarmac at University Park Airport on Monday morning, and the new Penn State basketball coach looked around and said, "Wow, it's great to be in beautiful Happy Valley. Let's get to work."
Wow, indeed. It is a word that has always followed Chambers around. The youngest of 12 children raised in the Philadelphia suburbs, Chambers always had to scrap harder for attention, always had to work more enthusiastically than the next guy, always had to believe passionately in the outcome before it could ever come true.
Compared to the latest bite he has taken from life, however, what came before were mere morsels that were easy enough to chew. Accepting the basketball job at Penn State, a notoriously underperforming program, is a full meal and then some.
Those who know Chambers best don't pretend to predict the future in terms of wins and losses for the Nittany Lions but are confident the program is about to experience an almost uncontainable infusion of energy.
"His greatest qualities are his passion and his enthusiasm. It's something special that he has," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "You want to be around him. It's not fake."
Chambers was hired after Ed DeChellis unexpectedly resigned to take the coaching job at the Naval Academy. Penn State turns the page with this hire, and don't be surprised if the words jump off it. That is how the 40-year-old Chambers operates, with relentless intensity and passion. It is how a smallish point guard with no outstanding skills could become leader of his high-power prep school team, survive getting cut by one university, hook on with another as a walk-on, and proceed to set the school record for assists. Chambers confronts what would be roadblocks for anyone else and sees them as mere hurdles that make the course more interesting.
"The perception is there that there are all these challenges," Chambers said Tuesday at his introductory news conference. "We've got everything we need. We've got great support and a great arena. We have everything we need. Now we just have to go out and recruit the best players and get it done."
Luring quality basketball players to the middle of the state - and particularly making inroads for Penn State in the Philly recruiting market - is a job for a master salesman. Fortunately, that's the top line on Chambers' resumé.
"Oh, if it's about talking your way up there, he'll have them at the top of the Big Ten next season," said Dan Dougherty, the longtime coach at Episcopal Academy. "But you know what you're going to get with Patrick. He is going to give you absolutely everything he has."
It was Dougherty who helped along the way when he made a call to Philadelphia University (née Textile) coach Herb Magee after Chambers was cut by Drexel.
"I knew Herbie would be interested because Patrick wouldn't be any threat to his scoring records," Dougherty said. But what he really knew was that Magee would see in Chambers what Dougherty had seen in high school: a true point guard, that rarest of commodities.
"The true point guard is a guy who has to sacrifice of himself to make the team better," Dougherty said. "It's a guy who gets to know what is necessary for success."
Four years and 709 assists later, Chambers knew exactly what it took, and it wasn't long before he was an assistant on Dougherty's staff. His passion and enthusiasm there would catch the eye of Wright, whose own son played at Episcopal under Chambers. After several years at Villanova, the last as associate head coach, Chambers was offered the job at Boston University, did very well for two years, and now it's the big time and the Big Ten.
"It's amazing how things have worked out for him, but he's earned it. And I know that he'll do a good job," said Magee. "He's a great salesman. When he first got out of school, that's what he did. He was a salesman, and in a couple of years he had a house at the Shore and a big Cadillac."
Chambers promises he will take a few pages from the Jay Wright book of reviving a program. When Wright got to Villanova, he was famous for climbing on a table in the cafeteria and telling any student who would listen to come out to the games. He took the players around campus and used them as walking billboards to pump up the enthusiasm and get things going.
"Whatever we're allowed to do, we're going to do," Chambers said.
He has always seemed like a man in a hurry, anxious to meet the challenge of the next practice, the next game, the next recruiting trip. Well, Chambers has met a new challenge this time, and it probably isn't one that will be solved in a hurry. But he can't wait to find out.
"This is like a game day when you're really prepared," Chambers said. "There's no stress because you know where you're going to go."