Patrick Chambers keeps a bag of bloody clothes and shoes in a cabinet in his home office. He was wearing them the night he was jumped and stabbed in the neck.
The BU men’s head basketball coach, then a successful 31-year-old salesman, had been out one night in Philadelphia. In his hotel lobby he bumped into a woman he went to high school with, along with her girlfriend and the girlfriend’s husband, who was at the bar. Chambers chatted casually with the two women, and the next thing he knew he was grabbing his neck in pain and being thrown to the ground, taking punches to the mouth.
“The friend’s husband was out of his mind drunk, on drugs, too, I think,” Chambers recalls. “He thought I was hitting on his wife. He stabbed me twice with a broken vodka glass. I was in the hospital for four or five days. I was a centimeter away from death. It took me a long time to recover mentally.”
Now 40, Chambers pulls out that bag whenever he hits a rough patch to remind himself of his good fortune and what’s important in life. And at the start of the current basketball season, his second as Terrier head coach, he showed that bag of bloody clothes to his new squad, this year comprising mostly freshmen and transfer students. A scar running several inches down the side of his neck animates the story.
“You want to know why I have so much energy, why I act the way I act, why I embrace life, why I love this job, this is why,” he says, running his hand over his close-cropped silver hair. “Maybe the guys didn’t know why I was doing it. I was just trying to reveal who I was, to open up. If they don’t know who you are, they won’t be able to trust you.”
But the high-octane Chambers is about more than motivating athletes on the hardwood and racking up victories. His work at BU is as much about turning boys into men, about preparing them for life.
“I’m glad I was stabbed,” he says. “It was totally a defining moment. It changed my career, changed the way I looked at things. I had a big house, fancy car, was making really good money, flying to Miami or Saint Martin on a whim, doing whatever I wanted. All these materialistic things that at the time you think are important—they’re not important at all. Life is all about relationships, about your faith, your family. I’m a better person today: a better man, a better leader, a better father, a better brother, and a better husband. I’m thankful it happened.”
Terrier guard Matt Griffin (SMG’12) remembers the moment Chambers pulled out the bag.
“I was very taken aback,” he says. “It was a very emotional thing for him to talk about, a tough time in his life. I appreciate that he opened up to us. It really showed what he’s been through, and that really meant a lot to us. He was trying to tell us to not take for granted every day that we put on this Boston University uniform, to really cherish every day. You never know what’s going to happen in your life.”
A college player himself, Chambers was a walk-on at Philadelphia University in 1990, leaving the team four years later as starting point guard and the school’s record-holder for assists. After almost 10 years in sales, first for a pharmaceutical company and later for his family’s print and copy business, Chambers turned his extracurricular coaching stints into a steady paycheck, ending up as associate head coach at Villanova for five years. He saw the Wildcats make the NCAA tournament four times, including a spot in the Final Four. In his first year with the Terriers last year, Chambers propelled the squad to the America East finals for the first time since 2003, stamping their season with a 21-14 record, BU’s first 20-win season since 2004.
Chambers’ players also know that their coach has an eye on qualities that can’t be numbered or parsed into columns.
“If you fly home for a couple of days, he’s calling to make sure that you’re spending time with your family,” says guard Darryl Partin (MET’12). “That’s what really surprised me about Coach Chambers. He called my mother when I went home for Christmas break and made sure that I was staying in the house with my mother and father.”
Family is a driving force in Chambers’ life. He hails from a robust clan, to say the least. He is the youngest of 12 brothers and sisters.
“To be part of a large family is the most amazing thing ever,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine not being a part of it. I get emotional thinking about it because I miss them. They’re just great people.”
Most of the Chambers siblings still live in the Philadelphia area, where they grew up. They keep in close touch and always gather for the Christmas holidays, along with a burgeoning brood of nieces and nephews, more than 25 at last count. Many of the siblings still work for the family business, Chambers & Sons. “I broke away from the family,” Chambers says with a smile. But his upbringing has come in handy on the basketball court.
“I’m able to deal with different personalities and able to feel comfortable in front of people,” he says. “What my brothers and family have passed down is leadership. And this is a job that demands leadership.”
Another Chambers sibling is in construction, putting in basketball gym floors among other things, and took on his kid brother during the summers, starting when Patrick was eight years old. “That part taught me my work ethic, getting down on my hands and knees and swinging the hammer with grown men and feeling the calluses and the knees and the bad back.”
Men’s basketball head coach Patrick Chambers has begun developing a fan following known as the Pat Heads.
Today, Chambers and his wife, Courtney, have a seven-month-old and a two-year-old and are considering a few more—but no, not a dozen, he says with a laugh. The family lives in Brookline, which allows Chambers to sneak home for lunch and spend more time with his kids in the mornings and evenings.
“If I didn’t live close that might be a major problem,” he says. “I don’t know that I could do this job at a higher level. I like to think I work very hard, but I want to be a great father.”
Chambers learned that lesson the hard way last year. As the rookie coach of a veteran squad, he felt he had a lot to prove—and to deliver—his first season and admits he was holding both ends of the candle in one hand and a blowtorch in the other.
“You have nine seniors, and you’re trying to do everything you can; you want them to taste that success they’ve been yearning for for four years,” Chambers says. “There was a lot of pressure, being preseason number one, being a new coach, the learning curve. In the end, after that year was over, none of that really matters. Getting their degrees, helping them become men, and giving them this great word, ‘attitude,’ that’s what was important. And that’s what I try and teach, that you’re in control of your attitude, of your effort, of how you handle adversity.”
Chambers has posted the word “Attitude” above the door to his office suite in the athletics department. He speaks about Valdas Sirutis (CGS’08, CAS’10), the Terrier forward from last year’s squad, who was diagnosed with a heart problem after graduation, all but ending his playing career.
“I got the most amazing email from Valdas,” Chambers recalls. “He’s in the hospital and he wrote, ‘Everyone around me is so upset and thinks it’s the end of the world. But they don’t know the power of attitude, the power of my attitude. It’s not the end of the world, everything is going to be fine. I know I can be successful at other things. Because you taught me what attitude is, and that I’m in control of my attitude.’”
It’s those kind of stories that has Chambers still shaking his head that he’s at BU, not only among the school’s deep traditions and history, but with its everyday human narrative and quiet achievements.
“BU has an unbelievable academic reputation, it’s in this amazing city, has a great basketball program,” he says. “All these buildings are great—Agganis, FitRec, StuVi2—but it doesn’t touch the people.”
Watch the video above for a behind-the-scenes look at Chambers on game day. Courtesy of BU Athletics.
The Terriers begin a three-game home stand tomorrow, February 12, against Hartford at Case Gym. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. They face UMBC on Monday, February 15, at 7:30 p.m. and Canisius College on Saturday, February 19, at 2 p.m., both at Agganis Arena.
Caleb Daniloff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.