‘Let’s Be One Family’: Micah Shrewsberry Calls For University-Wide Unity While Mulling Future At NCAA Tournament
Throughout the rebirth of modern college athletics defined by the transfer portal’s implementation and player-generated NIL monetization, head coaches, particularly in both football and basketball, have become accustomed to giving neutral, cliché stances on pressing topics.
Between maintaining roster stability or attempting to build personal leverage, the level-headed “next game” approach has recently become more common than sheer honesty from leaders at every division or conference. More often than not, the “1-0”, “one day at a time”, or “brick by brick” answer utilized by nearly every staff across the Power Five level has become a cop-out retort to tough media inquiries rather than a genuine reply.
After Penn State men’s basketball’s road victory over Minnesota on February 18, head coach Micah Shrewsberry and his squad adopted the familiar “1-0 mentality” mantra, originally utilized by James Franklin’s locker room across Curtin Road.
However, amid most Nittany Lions sticking to an even-keeled tune ahead of their NCAA Tournament first-round matchup with Texas A&M, Shrewsberry received a question during Wednesday afternoon’s media availability that, naturally, required utter transparency to reach fulfillment.
About midway through Shrewsberry’s 15-minute session at the podium, David Jones of PennLive asked the second-year head coach a simple, yes-or-no question: “Are you going to be the Penn State coach next season?”
In today’s day and age, Shrewsberry could’ve simply said, “We’re focused on Texas A&M,” similarly to how Franklin has counteracted related rumors throughout his nine-year tenure in Happy Valley.
Initially, Shrewsberry replied with typical coach speech, which ultimately required Jones to push a follow-up, asking “So, is it a ‘yes’, ‘no’, or an ‘I don’t know’ question?”
Instead of backing away from the tough ask, Shrewsberry stuck out his chest and issued a firm reply.
“It’s an ‘I don’t know’ question,” Shrewsberry said.
Naturally, the non-committal remark leaves most believing the Midwestern product might bolt in favor of heading to another program entrenched in historical pedigree, perhaps among the likes of Notre Dame or Georgetown.
Regardless if the Nittany Lions pull out an upset triumph over Texas A&M or not, several suitors are already poised to potentially lure the hot commodity away. While it seems as though Shrewsberry’s willingness to leave Happy Valley could be at an all-time high, his bluntness could ultimately prove worthy in outlining several needs to solve Penn State hoops’ long-term stability conundrum.
Since the turn of the century mark, the Nittany Lions possess just three NCAA Tournament appearances, coming in 2001, 2011, and 2023.
Within the three previous program administrations led by Jerry Dunn, Ed DeChellis, and Pat Chambers, Penn State holds claim to just three bids to the Big Dance across a 28-year span, despite Chambers losing his lone tournament lock due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
In just his second campaign at the helm, Shrewsberry led a team littered with transfers and a pair of veteran pieces who began under Chambers to a Big Ten Tournament runner-up distinction and a 10-seed tag in the postseason’s main event.
Throughout Penn State basketball’s 125-year history, arguably no coach has reached an instant success benchmark quicker than Shrewsberry. With Villanova and Pittsburgh historically holding down the fort on both ends of Pennsylvania, and Syracuse manning the depths of the Northeast, it’s no secret that winning on the hardwood has always been tough to come by at Penn State.
With that in mind, I asked Shrewsberry, quite simply, “What does it take to win at Penn State?”
At first, Shrewsberry was stumped and contemplated the direction he wanted to take with the straightforward, but curious, dilemma. While mentioning his desire to continue Penn State’s special run, he discussed how an initial vision for success starts with congruency from the top down — beginning with President Neeli Bendapudi and Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Kraft.
“I’ve been in a lot of different places, but there is a part of it where everybody [needs to be] in sync,” Shrewsberry said. “I feel really in sync with our administration, president, [and] our athletic director.”
In November, Franklin issued a similar sentiment regarding the administration’s newfound embrace of the football program’s overarching goals, stemming from grand facility masterplans to growing NIL fundraising initiatives.
At that point, Franklin’s body of work proved worthy of the comprehensive buy-in request. After taking over a program crippled with sanctions, the head coach nabbed a Big Ten Championship, three New Year’s Six bowl appearances, and a trio of 11-win campaigns in just eight seasons.
During the 2022 football season, Bendapudi, Kraft, and Franklin all spoke at the State College Quarterback Club in October, marking the first time the university’s president, athletic director, and head coach all made a joint appearance at the donor-driven luncheon since its inception in 1941.
Consequently, the Board of Trustees recently approved a $7.5 million plan to upgrade Holuba Hall and the Lasch Building’s practice area in February. Last August, a comprehensive $48.3 million weight room renovation also bolstered the program’s status in the overall facilities arms race.
“I think probably the biggest factor for [excitement] is the alignment,” Franklin said in November. “That has been phenomenal. I think you guys know in the past, I’ve always been happy with the leadership, but I did feel we needed more alignment, specifically when it comes to football. I think that’s been obvious from the chair to the president.”
Similarly to Franklin, Shrewsberry rapidly skyrocketed through his projected ceiling, and he knows it. With four key transfer pickups, the relentless recruiter navigated Penn State to more than nine conference wins for the just third time across the last 27 years. His ability to quickly construct a formidable, tournament-caliber force in the Big Ten should instantly make the fiery leader worthy of a blank check.
To keep Shrewsberry in place at Penn State, Kraft will likely need to allocate similar resources to morph the basketball program into a perennial NCAA Tournament contender, which has never been the case in over a century’s worth of the squad’s existence.
However, Shrewsberry’s requests don’t end at the top. While fans of squads that largely lack continuity often become quick to criticize shortcomings, the head coach feels as though Penn State supporters need to come together and embrace change, rather than immediately drawing comparisons to previous head coaching figures.
“Every group that’s a Penn Stater needs to be in sync, and when you have a lot of change and a lot of turnover, sometimes you get out of sync a little bit, right?” Shrewsberry said. “Like, I can be a Bruce Parkhill guy; I can be an Ed DeChellis guy; I can be a Jerry Dunn guy; I can be a Pat Chambers guy; I can be a Micah Shrewsberry guy, but what about being a Penn State guy?”
When former Athletic Director Sandy Barbour axed Chambers just a month before the Nittany Lions’ opening matchup in 2020 after the tournament’s cancelation, many thought the basketball program reached an incapacity of ever capturing any stability.
But, while Chambers’ forced resignation amid committing zero NCAA rule infractions resulted in widespread criticism, Shrewsberry’s rallying plea is still certainly warranted.
At Purdue and Butler, Shrewsberry’s previous landing spots in an assistant role for 10-combined campaigns, the head coach alluded that fans latched onto the program as a whole, regardless of who held the clipboard at the time.
“Obviously, like Purdue, where I just came from, they’ve had Matt Painter, and Gene Keady, and everybody is a Purdue person,” Shrewsberry said. “…[It’s] the same thing at Butler. The coaches that they have gone through have all been there, so people are a part of it because they’re Butler people.”
For a place unknown for its basketball prowess, Shrewsberry’s attempt to generate unity amongst a community of staunch loyalists is undoubtedly a tall order. However, in regard to Penn State hoops, the benchmark he’s instantly set could be labeled as the program’s pinnacle since reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2001.
His attempt to consolidate the current, and former, Penn State community as one during the recent underdog run isn’t for a lack of trying, either. Throughout his recent run consisting of eight wins across the final nine contests, Shrewsberry mentioned he’s conversed with several former Nittany Lions’ head coaches over the span.
“All those coaches have reached out to me, which is great,” Shrewsberry said. “During this run, during this tournament, I’ve talked to every single one of them, and that’s what I’m trying to aim for. We’re Penn State. That’s who we are. It’s not an ‘I played for this coach, that coach, or the other’ [culture].”
While Franklin’s contract, although signed under a different administration, will likely hold the football program at bay for the foreseeable future, the Bendapudi and Kraft tandem should extend a competitive, long-term offer to Shrewsberry to accomplish a similar goal.
Whether or not Shrewsberry complies with an extension bid will remain to be seen until the Nittany Lions’ glass slipper eventually shatters. Does he want to? For the sake of leverage, the answer shouldn’t be an instant “yes,” even at the NCAA Tournament’s press podium.
But, is the “I don’t know” remark assuring? Most certainly not.
If a consistently competitive basketball brand remains here to stay in Happy Valley, it needs to be embraced by all, not just by the president and the athletic director.
Community spread hesitancy should be left in the past in the realization that today marks one of the program’s most crucial matchups at the century’s turn. And, as long as Shrewsberry is donning the Penn State emblem on his gameday quarter-zip, the on-court product will likely continue its accelerated ascension.
“I’m happy that this group gets a chance to fire up all Penn Staters about basketball…Let’s keep that going,” Shrewsberry said. “Let’s be one family, and let’s keep rolling in one direction, and let’s keep going to tournaments every single year.”
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About the Author
Our photographers were on hand to capture the sights of Penn State basketball’s return to Rec Hall.
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“I’ve just been super interested ever since that first year trying to grow my personal THON story, get more connections to it, help as many people as I can, and be that person [my mom] is for other people.”