Coaches help coaches in Penn State's new athletic environment


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The universe of the college coach is a strange one. Claustrophobic yet ridiculously lucrative, obsessive-compulsive disorder-inducing yet presumably rewarding, a coach's existence is constricted, intense and constantly watched, and free time has to be etched onto a schedule that is more often than not too full for such an accommodation.

So, when you think of coaches, you don't really think of their friends. And coaches don't have friends in the traditional sense. Too much time is spent in the office. Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien reminds people that he has a significant amount of work to do practically every time he speaks publicly. Basketball coach Patrick Chambers is the same way.

"He's busy; I'm busy," Chambers said.

But on days like Friday at the Coaches vs. Cancer charity golf tournament or a few weeks ago during the Penn State Coaches Caravan, O'Brien and Chambers said they cherished the time they had together to just talk. That's right. When Chambers and O'Brien have the time, they are brothers.

Their bromance follows a theme many Penn State coaches have espoused since O'Brien's hiring: Between all the practices and film sessions, the Penn State coaches have at least attempted to cultivate closer relationships. They go to each other's games more often. They trade tips and strategies. They stop by each other's offices if they have downtime.

Chambers and O'Brien are example A. They played "best ball" in a foursome Friday, looking rather out of the ordinary because they actually looked like normal people. O'Brien wore a baseball cap, navy polo shirt and black shorts. Chambers also wore a navy shirt, and he had a pair of seer-sucker shorts that managed to further illuminate his ultra-pale legs (because of all that lack of free time stuff, coaches apparently spend little time in the sun).

When they talk commonalities, they almost always start by saying they're both Irish Catholics, but they have plenty of other matching characteristics.

"We're similar in age, we both grew up in the Northeast, our coaching philosophies, we both outkicked the coverage with our wives," O'Brien said. "So, it's been a good friendship."

During this past year, O'Brien let the men's basketball team (and other sports teams) use the Lasch Building for training sessions. That facility previously had been for the football team only.

Late in the basketball season, Chambers asked O'Brien to stop by a practice to chat with his players. His speech was to serve as motivation. Coincidence, probably, but a couple of days later Penn State upset highly ranked Michigan at the Bryce Jordan Center.

"I'm a believer in Pat and what he stands for," O'Brien said, "and I believe he's going to get it done."

O'Brien said he went to a few basketball games this past season. Other coaches, such as wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, women's basketball coach Coquese Washington and field hockey coach Char Morett have said they would often see O'Brien in the crowd when their teams competed.

"We weren't saying, 'come to our games,' " Morett said. "He was saying, 'When's your game? I want to be there.' That sort of ignited the spark that got everybody going."

Washington said O'Brien gave her a book about Patriots coach Bill Belichick for help with motivation last year. Later, O'Brien asked her for advice about game-day coaching and demeanor. She said it's not uncommon for her, O'Brien, Sanderson and Chambers to trade coaching tips.

A closer athletic department, by definition, is a happier athletic department. And though the Chambers-O'Brien golf outing Friday was clearly a manufactured set piece for purposes of charity and public relations, they were also ready to have a good time.

Paired with a duo who paid $5,100 to play with them, O'Brien hoped the two men would be ready for 18 holes worth of his and Chambers' brand of humor.

"Not many people get it," O'Brien said.

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Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.


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