FGCU Director of Athletics Ken Kavanagh says he’s never been more confident in a coaching hire. University President Mike Martin says he was convinced FGCU was making its already exemplary athletics program even better. And an array of players, parents, coaches and administrators around the country gave ringing endorsements as well to FGCU’s hiring of former Penn State and Boston University head coach Pat Chambers as the fifth ever to lead the Eagles men’s basketball program.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That doesn’t apply at a great university,” Martin said during a news conference to introduce Chambers on March 15 in Alico Arena. “Make it better. That’s what we do here. That’s how we’ve come this far in 25 years.”
Chambers, 51, a father of four and native of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, has had a home in Naples for almost a decade. He succeeds Michael Fly.
Fly, who went 22-12 in his last of four seasons as head coach and was 55-59 overall at FGCU, was the last on-court connection to the 2012-13 squad that famously became the first in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed.
An assistant coach for seven seasons at FGCU prior to his 2018 promotion, Fly was released from the remainder of his contract after East Division No. 3-seed FGCU lost 81-68 to eventual champion and West Division No. 2-seed Bellarmine in the ASUN Tournament quarterfinals March 3.
Fly agreed to stay on as coach for what turned out to be two postseason games for the Eagles in The Basketball Classic: a home defeat of Detroit Mercy and a road loss to Coastal Carolina.
Tavian Dunn-Martin, a first-team All-ASUN selection and a finalist for the Lou Henson Mid-Major Player of the Year Award, became the first FGCU player to surpass 700 points in a season.
“Michael Fly has been an invaluable member, teammate and friend to so many of us over the last 11 years,” says Kavanagh. “The last four years he did everything he could to continue to move the program forward. Nobody, in my opinion, bleeds more green and blue than Michael Fly.”
Energize the program
In making the change, Kavanagh is seeking to revive the enthusiasm levels FGCU enjoyed under former coaches Andy Enfield and Joe Dooley, who combined for three NCAA Tournament appearances (2013, 2016, 2017) and six straight 20-win seasons starting in 2012-13.
He found his answer quickly in Chambers.
A former assistant coach to two-time NCAA Championship-winning coach Jay Wright at Villanova from 2005 to 2009, Chambers went 21-14 in each of two seasons at Boston University and led the Terriers to what remains the last of their seven NCAA Tournament berths, in 2011.
He took over at Penn State the following season and led the Nittany Lions to at least 20 wins two times, including in 2019- 20, when Penn State earned its first ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll since 1996, reaching as high as No. 9.
Penn State, which also won the NIT championship two years earlier with four victories in Madison Square Garden to complete a 26-13 season, was poised to make the program’s 10th appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2020 prior to COVID-19’s cancellation of postseason.
“Coaching in the Big Ten (Conference), with these great Hall of Fame-type coaches, that was my classroom,” says Chambers, rattling off the names of coaches like Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan and Tubby Smith. “Preparing for those teams, those coaches and players, they made me better.”
Given football-mad Penn State’s comparatively lesser resources than nearly all league foes, Kavanagh confidently included “proven winner” among the traits he ascribes to Chambers, who listed faith, passion and attitude among his core principles for success.
“High integrity, family man, knows the game, relates to players, connects with donors, a proven winner and great ambassador,” Kavanagh says. “We want to win, and we want to win in a way where we get back to seeing the crowds that we had.”
Continuing to learn
Chambers doesn’t take over at FGCU with a spotless record. A racially insensitive remark he made to a player in 2019 contributed to his dismissal just prior to the 2020-21 season.
But Chambers faced the issue head-on.
During a year away from basketball and then as an assistant last season at LaSalle, Chambers read, attended diversity, equity and inclusion courses and talked at length with players – parents and others – people of color especially, about his mistake, and how to learn from it.
“I learned so much from them,” Chambers says of former players, including those from Penn State. “I had those uncomfortable conversations. ‘Teach me. Help me grow. I’m not in your shoes.’ They were incredible to show me where I need to get better. And I was willing to do that.”
Extensive vetting left Kavanagh and FGCU confident not only that Chambers was genuine in his growth and contrition, but that he also is the man to connect with players and fans, and help re-establish the program’s rising arc.
“It’s important that we develop deep, genuine relationships built on trust,” Chambers says, pointing to player development as a key item in his success. “Some coaches have that (all business) approach. That’s just not what I was taught.”