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PSU shouldn’t dismiss a Ferry ride

Penn State basketball commentary

Penn State coach Jim Ferry signals against Michigan State during an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Other than an occasional Twitter comment, I don’t cover Penn State basketball anymore, but I still watch it, and I think Sandy Barbour has an interesting situation on her hands.

The Nittany Lions are 7-9 overall and 4-8 in the Big Ten entering Sunday’s game with Nebraska at the Bryce Jordan Center (3 p.m. tipoff, BTN).

Jim Ferry has done a very serviceable job as the interim coach since Pat Chambers resigned under pressure in October for making a racially-insensitive comment to a player.

Penn State may be under .500, but it’s been in just about every game, including on the road in the rugged Big Ten, where it suffered close losses to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the top teams in the country.

It’s beaten Top 20 teams (Virginia Tech, Wisconsin) and ones in the Big Ten regional footprint (Rutgers, Maryland).

The Lions have their share of perimeter talent with Myreon Jones, Izaiah Brockington, Seth Lundy, Myles Dread, Sam Sessoms and Jamari Wheeler.

Their offense moves the ball better than past years, and the Nits play extremely hard, especially center John Harrar, who works like a dog underneath and is among the nation’s top rebounders.

Can they make more clutch shots late in games? Yes. They could have four more wins, but without frontline depth or a true center — Harrar is listed between 6-foot-8 and 6-9 — they’ve done well to be in position to win as often as they have.

And that’s a credit to Ferry and the coaching staff.

Barbour said earlier this season that Ferry has done an “outstanding job” in his “hands-on audition.”

She’s vetting candidates and has been working her channels since Chambers was jabbed off the plank.

It’s highly doubtful an established, big-name coach is taking this job. It more likely will be a coach who has done well at a mid-major program — similar to what appears to be a good hire on the women’s front with Marquette’s Carolyn Kieger — or an assistant from a big-time program looking for a first head-coaching opportunity.

And it may be that Barbour has someone in mind whom she worked with in the past or simply wants a fresh start.

Through Barbour’s six-plus year tenure, Kieger has been her most visible hire, what with James Franklin and Cael Sanderson already in place and Russ Ross predating everybody.

So maybe Barbour wants her own stamp on this hiring. We’ll see.

She’s been around Penn State long enough to know basketball has more built-in challenges than football or wrestling.

Of the previous coaches over the last 50 years, only Jerry Dunn didn’t have head-coaching experience. The job wore down many accomplished coaches who were either nudged (John Bach, Dick Harter, Dunn, Ed DeChellis and Chambers) or surrendered (Bruce Parkhill).

The common thread was not strategy or recruiting or league affiliation: It was Penn State.

Barbour needs to keep that in mind.

Chambers did an excellent job cracking the code with Philadelphia recruits and beat more ranked teams than any of his predecessors.

That can’t be lost.

Penn State has played at a higher level and more competitively these last three years than any stretch in its Big Ten history.

Ferry has been part of that, just as he was on the staff that won the NIT in 2018, finished strong in 2019 by winning five of their last seven Big Ten games and would have been in the 2020 NCAA field were it not for this brutal, sickening coronavirus.

Ferry has been around the program long enough to know what he’s in for, and he’s also been a head coach at outposts like Long Island (two NCAA trips) and Duquesne to appreciate what Penn State does offer.

Much of being a Power-5 leader is media exposure and communication and Ferry, 53, has handled that, too.

Barbour can go get the next coach and then sit back and hope he will be as good as Jim Ferry.

Then there’s the transfer portal to consider. Players have freedom today. Barbour wasn’t their favorite person for firing Chambers, even though he shot himself in the foot via indiscretion.

Should this nucleus go elsewhere – only Harrah and Wheeler are seniors — the program could be set back much further than necessary.

At the same time, a new coach can usually charm the existing players because he needs them, and fleeing isn’t always feasible or the best option.

Presuming they’re loyal to Ferry, Penn State’s players should finish strong, beginning with a must-win over Nebraska, to help make their case — a case Sandy Barbour can’t easily dismiss.

Rudel can be reached at nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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