Micah Shrewsberry’s Brisk Exit From Penn State Hoops Contradicts Once-Revered ‘Hard Route’ Mindset
On Wednesday, March 22, Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Kraft confirmed rumors that had been swirling for upwards of a week: Micah Shrewsberry is leaving Penn State and is heading to widely-reported Notre Dame to be the Fighting Irish’s next head coach.
While it’s natural for head coaches to move on to new schools or teams, Shrewsberry’s departure stung a little bit more than usual. Just over two years since Penn State offered the former Purdue, Butler, and Boston Celtics assistant his first head coaching job, Shrewsberry quickly bolted in the direction of something shinier.
It’s widely recognized and understood that the undertaking of the Penn State hoops program would be a patience-inducing, trying process. With meager buy-in from the community, a lack of NIL money, and a slow recruiting trail, there was little incentive for Shrewsberry to make the commitment to Happy Valley.
However, he did.
By way of his midwestern charm and carefree charisma, the Indiana native casually cultivated the support of a community heavily invested in football and wrestling. From home-grown camaraderie-building events like the Shrews Slamma Jamma to rarely turning down a photo-op, Shrewsberry put in the work to earn the respect of a group that’s never had a stake in college basketball.
With local roots to keep him grounded, Shrewsberry brought associate head coach Adam Fisher back to State College after nearly a decade with Miami and onboarded assistant coaches Aki Collins and Mike Farrelly.
Together, the trio managed to recruit transfer portal champion Jalen Pickett onto the Nittany Lion roster to build a team around the Siena College superstar and loyalists John Harrar, Seth Lundy, and Myles Dread.
Pickett answered the call to Happy Valley and a brand new head coach, but Harrar, Lundy, and Dread had no reason to stay beyond Shrewsberry’s pitch. Harrar and Lundy both announced intentions to leave the program by way of the transfer portal after Jim Ferry’s departure but ultimately decided to stay alongside Dread and take a chance on the rookie in Shrewsberry.
Harrar, despite entering the portal the day of Shrewsberry’s hire, instead committed to Shrewsberry and the Penn State hoops “community.”
“I’ll be walking downtown, and whenever someone says, ‘I’m glad you came back,’ my first response will be, ‘Thanks for inviting me back,’ because I felt very welcomed here,” Harrar said in August 2021. “The community is what Penn State is all about.”
Shrewsberry, in need of a culture driver and big man, was elated to learn that Harrar chose to stay regardless of the few positives associated with the decision.
“I was really excited when he told me he was coming back,” Shrewsberry said of Harrar in 2021. “I was doing sprints around our office because I know how important he is to this program. It’s huge to have him back, and we’re really excited about that.”
Similarly to Harrar, Lundy planned to part ways with Penn State but changed his mind after one month with his name in the pool.
Dread, though, a Nittany Lion through and through, remained locked into the Penn State way and never indicated any intentions to depart Happy Valley for his senior year.
Without the pledge from Pickett and the Penn State triumvirate, Shrewsberry’s program would’ve been in greater despair than it already was, but the group provided the foundation and standard for what turned out to be one of the most impressive year-to-year turnarounds in Penn State basketball history.
Little was in it for the college basketball veterans through their choices to tough it out, and Shrewsberry knew it. So much so that the coach often expressed gratitude throughout his two seasons at the helm and into the 2023 NCAA Tournament run.
“We’ll be showing film on John long after he’s gone here,” Shrewsberry said of Harrar on an episode of the Big Ten Network’s “The Journey” in January 2022. “I get him for one year, [and I’m] totally happy that I get that one year. But John’s going to be remembered for a long time. I’m going to make sure of that.”
The Nittany Lions’ leader spoke about mainstays Lundy and Dread on the stand at the NCAA Tournament and the sacrifice they made, choosing to remain at the program they originally committed to for two years underneath three different coaches.
“Seth [Lundy] and Myles [Dread], they didn’t have to stay,” Shrewsberry said. “They chose the hard route, right? There was two routes to take —There was an easy route and a hard route. They chose the hard route.”
It’s a bitter feeling to watch Shrewsberry depart a team that invested in him and asked for nothing in return. Even though Harrar, Lundy, Dread, and Pickett curiously signed on under a coach with no head coaching experience, they fully devoted their final years of college ball to the newcomer.
Few can blame Shrewsberry for returning to his home state and in the direction of a basketball program brimming in historical pedigree, but when four seasoned products yielded loyalty to the coach, he walked away after just two years. That decision halts all of the progress made within those two historical, program-record-shattering seasons.
Just over one month ago when the Nittany Lions began their end-of-season sprint toward the Big Ten Championship and NCAA Tournament, Penn State basketball believers jokingly called for the construction of the Shrewsberry statue. Finding success after two years might’ve been luck or perhaps the pinnacle of the coach’s instruction, yet leaving Happy Valley after a program-peaking run will likely result in a crash-and-burn scenario and force another rebuild. When loyalty was the example set by the players, it’s upsetting for that characteristic to get lost within leadership.
The communication between Shrewsberry and his current roster remains unclear, highlighted by sixth-year transfer Mikey Henn calling on Penn State Athletics to do what it could to retain the second-year head coach. Henn published the desirous tweet at 3:05 p.m. on Wednesday, just two-and-a-half hours before the first reports of the finalized deal between Shrewsberry and Notre Dame emerged.
It would be disappointing to uncover that the Penn State men’s basketball team learned the news at the same time as the rest of the world, and the brief timeline between Henn’s tweet and ESPN’s Pete Thamel’s initial report perhaps suggests exactly that.
What’s next for the Penn State group is unknown, but Kraft’s search for “a tremendous coach, teacher and person, who will take us to unprecedented heights” is already underway. Whether that be the internal hire of Fisher or the beginning of a national quest is unknown at this time, but a rebuild feels unavoidable.
Rising seniors Dallion Johnson and Caleb Dorsey have already reportedly thrown their names into the transfer portal, and Lundy opted to forgo his final year of COVID-19 eligibility for a spot in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Shrewsberry’s first recruiting class of freshmen, including Kebba Njie, Kanye Clary, and Evan Mahaffey, could be the next group to announce their departures, and three-star signee Braeden Shrewsberry’s transfer should be anticipated.
Through the lens of irony, Shrewsberry’s exodus directly negates the “hard route” mindset laid down by the likes of Harrar, Lundy, Dread, and Pickett, and instead shines light down the easy path.
A whirlwind season en route to a rapid exit by Shrewsberry was the last thing the Nittany Lions needed, especially when the whiplash decision was made by a coach once so easy to root for and support.
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