Penn State’s next move yet another critical one for future of basketball program

The life of a Penn State basketball fan has been a painful experience for many supporters of the program over the years. And just as it seemed the program was about to hit a turning point in favor of more regular success instead of waiting a decade for a shot at experiencing the NCAA tournament, Penn State once again finds itself at a potential critical fork in the road. The departure of head coach Micah Shrewsberry, who reportedly agreed to a lengthy contract at Notre Dame after two seasons in Happy Valley, leaves Penn State in a position of need for a head coach who can continue down the path Shrewsberry was paving without having to take a major detour.

Whoever becomes the next head coach of the Nittany Lions will have a good amount of work to do right off the bat. Seth Lundy declared for the NBA draft. A pair of players entered the transfer portal. And Jalen Pickett, Andrew Funk, and Myles Dread are key players departing the program as well. The transfer portal can ease the pressure with the right conversations and decisions being made with the roster, just as Shrewsberry did right from the start of his brief tenure in State College.

But the real work will have to be done on the recruiting trail, which is a bit more difficult to start given the timing of everything. And the possibility Shrewsberry will lure any top targets to South Bend after initially working on them for Penn State is a real possibility to consider.

Ultimately, what Penn State athletics director Pat Kraft is tasked with doing is not necessarily finding the big splash hire for the sake of generating headlines, but finding the right coach for the job. Players have already voiced their support for Adam Fisher, one of Penn State’s top assistant coaches under Shrewsberry and a former assistant at Villanova and Miami. This turns out being the first major hire for Kraft since being named the school’s athletics director in succeeding Sandy Barbour, who brought Shrewsberry to Penn State.

If you need to have some confidence in Kraft’s ability to identify a good coaching candidate, take a look at some of his notable hires at previous stops. He hired Matt Rhule to be the head football coach at Temple in 2013, and it’s pretty safe to say that worked out pretty well for all parties involved. After Rhule left Temple for Baylor, Kraft hired Geoff Collins to keep things going with the OPwls program, resulting in back-to-back winning seasons. He did hire Rod Carey to be Temple’s next football coach after Collins left for Georgia Tech, so 2-1 isn’t too bad.

Kraft’s men’s college basketball coaching hire at Temple, following the resignation of Fran Dunphy, was thought to be a solid hire with Aaron McKie. McKie was an easy pick for the Owls, but he was just let go by Temple after his fourth season on the job with just one winning season. His coaching hire for the Boston College program, Earl Grant, hasn’t quite panned out for the Eagles after two seasons, although they did win three more games this season compared to the previous season. Hooray for progress?

But Penn State has deeper pockets and more to offer with its financial abilities compared to Temple and Boston College. Penn State still has a long way to go to being a regularly competitive college basketball program, but now is the time to change the narrative.

Penn State has dug deep into the pockets of its football program, which is admittedly the lifeblood of the entire athletics department and has been for decades. It has a history of hiring national championship-caliber programs like Cael Sanderson (wrestling) and Russ Rose (women’s volleyball). It has invested heavily in building a men’s ice hockey program from near scratch and has quickly built a budding NCAA contender in just a matter of a handful of years.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, should be standing in the way of Penn State giving Kraft the green light on making the absolute best hire possible and ensuring the next head coach will have the full financial backing to improve facilities, NIL opportunities, and more for the future stability of the basketball program.

Penn State shouldn’t settle for a coach to go through another rebuild that leads to a return to the NCAA tournament a decade from now. It needs a coach who will keep Penn State fielding a competitive roster through recruiting and the transfer portal for years to come. A step back in the 2023-24 season can be understandable, if not anticipated and expected, but it is beyond time to accept mediocrity as the standard for Penn State basketball.

So when Penn State announces who the next head coach will be, don’t expect a big splashy hire. Instead, look to see how the school and its leadership are committed to a long-term vision for the program that doesn’t waste time in turning words into actions.

The time is now, Penn State.

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Story originally appeared on Nittany Lions Wire