Looking back on his first job as a head coach, Jeff Chambers gave himself a brutally honest one-word self-evaluation.
Chambers coached his daughter’s AAU basketball team in the mid-2000s, and he said he won just one tournament — maybe two — during a three- or four-year stretch.
“I’m the worst head coach ever,” he recalls telling himself.
He vowed that he’d never become a head coach again. As time passed, however, the urge to take on those duties again grew, and on Monday, Frederick Community College put Chambers in a position to break that vow, announcing it tabbed the 49-year-old as head of the Cougars’ men’s basketball team.
“I’m very grateful and very thankful,” said Chambers, who had spent the previous seven seasons as an assistant coach on the FCC staff.
He takes over for Chris Lewis, who spent one season with the Cougars before taking an assistant coaching job on the UMBC women’s basketball coaching staff.
Chambers’ stint as an AAU basketball coach, along with the fact that he applied for another head coaching position in Maryland and failed to land it, humbled him, but he still yearned to share knowledge with anyone willing to soak it in. So the 6-foot-8 Chambers, who played collegiately at James Madison University in the early 1990s before eventually putting down roots in Frederick County, offered individual basketball instruction to middle school, high school and college students.
And he never stopped playing basketball, regularly competing in men’s leagues across the state and pick-up games. During one pick-up game, he met current Frederick High boys coach and former FCC head coach Emonte Hill, who at the time was playing college basketball. The two played together on a men’s league team for five years, with Hill eventually landing an assistant coaching job under Tom Dickman at Hood.
“Emonte Hill said, ‘If I get a head coaching job, I will bring you along as an assistant coach,’” said Chambers, who also served as an assistant coach at FCC under Dave Miller for the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons. “He gave me his word, he kept his word, and we had six great years together.”
In their first season paired together on the Cougars’ staff, Hill and Chambers endured a trying 4-24 season. But FCC then took off, winning a Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference title in 2015 and following that up with a Region XX crown and berth in the NJCAA Division II national tournament. Both were firsts in program history.
“Each year, you learn a different phase of the game — you learn about when to call a timeout, when not to call a timeout, when to play zone, when to play man-to-man, how to communicate in timeouts, how to communicate in practice, what drills to run, what offenses to run that best fits the talent and personnel on your team,” said Chambers, who has helped students with social and emotional learning as a special education instructional assistant at Ballenger Creek Middle School for the past four years.
And after the Cougars’ recent season under Lewis, Chambers viewed himself as fully prepared to take on a head coaching job after having received an opportunity to put together a scouting report and a gameplan for one of the Cougars’ contests.
The gameplan worked.
“That’s what kind of made me realize I could do it,” he said.
Chambers now assumes control of a team that went 13-17 last season but upset top-seeded Community College of Beaver County in the quarterfinals of the Region XX Division II tournament. Chambers said he must still evaluate the personnel of his team before committing to any particular style of play for the upcoming season.
In a statement released by the school, Dr. Nora Clark, FCC’s vice president for learning support, said Chambers “is known for the strong relationships he builds with his players and for helping them succeed in all areas of their lives.” When asked to lay out his team’s goals, Chambers’ response fell in line with Clark’s statement.
“I think my vision as a coach to assist young men in becoming better students, better basketball players, better human beings from the time they got to FCC until the time they left — trying to encourage them in any way I can to make sure that they know that anything is possible,” Chambers said.