Coach Patrick Chambers never even let the thought of a winless conference season creep into the minds of his players.
But when a team loses its first 14 conference games, remaining positive may be easier said than done.
Prior to Penn State’s 84-78 upset of No. 4 Michigan on Wednesday, Chambers had said one of the main things he was learning from the underwhelming season was how to be more open-minded toward trying new things. After the miraculous victory, the coach elaborated on how utilizing this strategy prevented the team from ever becoming overly negative — something he plans to continue doing moving forward.
“We’ve done some creative things such as [practicing in] Rec Hall, the White Building, having Bill O’Brien speak,” Chambers said. “Just doing different things like that keeps them energized.”
The second-year coach said he reached out to O’Brien to speak to the team and the football coach gave a motivational speech earlier this week that helped inspire a winning effort on Wednesday.
Further, Chambers said a good friend offered him a well-known Winston Churchill quote encouraging the team to never give up.
“There are so many people that have touched this program that really care about us,” Chambers said. “And they really want to see this program do well and be successful.”
This isn’t the first time Penn State’s coach has tried to switch things up, as earlier this season Chambers gave his players an early wake-up call on a road trip and had them all jump into the hotel pool.
However, the team’s ability to hone in on these motivational tactics seems to have made a serious impact on the Lions’ win against the Wolverines.
“Tim Frazier did a pre-game prayer and he was phenomenal,” Chambers said. “He talked about Abraham Lincoln. Little things like that, especially from your teammate and captain, really help.”
Although the Lions finally got off the schneid by winning their first Big Ten contest, there was a 59-day period where they hadn’t won and could have begun wondering if the streak would ever come to a close.
Yet, redshirt sophomore D.J. Newbill said after the game that remaining positive throughout the tough stretch allowed players to pull through it.
“Our foundation is based upon attitude,” Newbill said. “We could easily have gotten down on ourselves and complained, or we can do what we did and just try to work hard and make change.”
Meanwhile, the Lions (9-18, 1-14 in Big Ten) still have three more opportunities for wins left on the table, starting with a shot against Minnesota (19-9, 7-8) at 3 p.m. on Saturday in Minneapolis.
When asked how to ensure there is no letdown for the Lions after the upset, Chambers joked that he’d like to enjoy the win “for just a minute” before worrying about that.
However, the coach said the celebration would not last long, as the team’s first conference victory was not a complete validation of its hard work this season.
“They put the work in and we’re still looking to get better,” Chambers said. “We didn’t win the championship. We play Minnesota on Saturday. It’s only one game. We did a great job and we have to continue to get better for the next one.”