Giger: O’Brien, Chambers make for great fit, good friends

UNIVERSITY PARK – There’s a genuine affection, mutual respect and friendship between Bill O’Brien and Patrick Chambers, and while Penn State undoubtedly is lucky to have both of them, each is fortunate to have someone so similar to himself to pal around with as they try to help their respective programs through difficult times.

O’Brien, 43, has the toughest job in college football. Chambers, 42, has one of the toughest jobs in college basketball.

They’re not only similar in age and predicament, but also in coaching philosophy, in background, in family values, in sense of humor and in being part of the new breed of Penn State coaches who came to Happy Valley with no ties to the school or the region and in need of finding friends and allies to help them feel comfortable and at home.

“It’s been a great friendship,” O’Brien said at Friday’s Coaches vs. Cancer golf event, “because we’re similar in age, we both grew up in the Northeast. I love basketball, he loves football.

“Our coaching philosophies I think in many ways jive. We want kids that play hard and we want kids that play fast, we want good teammates. We support each others’ programs, we talk to each other about recruiting.”

They’ve spent a lot of time together since O’Brien arrived 16 months ago – on two coaches caravans where they swapped stories and a lot of jokes on the long bus rides, as well as popping into each other’s office on occasion to chat. They’re maybe not best friends, but to have someone so similar in the same athletic department is a benefit to both.

“He’s got a great wife. We both outkicked the coverage with our wives,” O’Brien joked. “So it’s been a good friendship.”

Penn State has a “One Team” public relations campaign that tries to convince people that everyone at the university is on the same page working toward the future. That’s clearly not the case in the post-scandal era as there certainly are competing agendas among some at the university that I’m not going to get into here.

When it comes to O’Brien and Chambers, they coach different sports, but they really do adhere to the “One Team” mentality.

“We believe in each other,” O’Brien said. “We believe in some of the same philosophies, generally speaking, in coaching – you win as a team, you succeed as an athletic department when you do it as a team.”

Penn State could not have hired anyone on the planet better than O’Brien to lead the football program through these unfortunate, uncertain times, and Chambers has been able to watch up close and personal how his friend has maneuvered through the most challenging of murky waters.

“This guy has been a true ambassador for, not just football, for the entire university,” Chambers said. “And what he’s had to do over the last [16 months] has been amazing. You want to be with a guy like that, you want to support a guy like that. We genuinely have an interest in one another’s programs, as well as each others’ families.”

Football has always and will always be the biggest sport at Penn State. It’s no secret that the school’s administration hasn’t always given the men’s basketball program everything it needs to succeed, and so by and large the Lions haven’t had much success over the years.

I believe, as many others have said or written, that if a guy like Chambers can’t win at PSU with all of his charisma, personality, Philly recruiting ties and coaching IQ, then perhaps no one can.

“I can’t tell you enough about him, coming here and taking a chance on a basketball program that hadn’t been that successful,” O’Brien said with Chambers flanked to his right before teeing off Friday. “We’ve got a hell of a basketball coach here, and I think it’s important for everybody here to support him.

“I say this all the time: I don’t know why we can’t sell out the BJC for men’s basketball games. [Chambers is] going to say, ‘When we win, we will.’ I think they should start doing it now. I’m a big supporter of Pat and what he stands for and what he’s trying to do here, and I believe he’s going to get it done.”

Chambers then discussed how he respects O’Brien for working his way up after he “started at scratch, living in crazy places.”

“You commend a guy like that, work ethic and for where he’s come from and to be where he is today.”

The longer these two coaches remain at PSU, the better it will be for the school. Still, the reality is that if O’Brien continues to do the phenomenal job he’s done that he will be highly coveted by NFL teams year after year, and if Chambers does get things going in the right direction and succeeds with the basketball program, he will become a hot commodity in the coaching ranks.

Penn State hired two of the best coaches it possibly could have hired to lead its two primary sports, and O’Brien and Chambers can only become better friends the longer they stick around.

If Penn State is lucky, this is all just the beginning of a beautiful friendship that endures for a long time in Happy Valley.