With just a few weeks to spare, the State College girls’ basketball program has a new coach.
Chris Leazier was approved by the school board Monday night to take over the highly successful program.
“Clearly his resume of experience is outstanding,” Athletic Director Peg Pennepacker said. “Along with that is his general and overall philosophy of coaching, coaching kids and working with people in general. It was just head-and-shoulders.”
Leazier has an extensive resume coaching everything from youth sports to some of the nation’s best basketball players. He was an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s teams at Dartmouth; the head coach of the men’s team at Vermont Tech and the women at St. Anselm College; scouted for and coached the Bakersfield Jam in the NBA Developmental League; and was even an assistant coach for the Nigerian National men’s team at this summer’s Olympics.
While he has never guided a high school girls’ team, he has coached girls and women at other levels, and some might even consider him overqualified.
“If you look at his resume I guess you could say that,” Pennepacker said. “We feel very comfortable with Chris and he’s a people person. He’s coached every level imaginable.”
As for Leazier, every stop has been a learning experience and valuable.
“I’ve enjoyed it all,” he said. “I wouldn’t look at one of those experiences and say I would prefer this one. I like the sport, I like working with kids, and hopefully it’s an area I can make a positive contribution.”
Coaching in the NBADL piqued the interests of Pennepacker and those involved in the interview process — as Leazier figured it would — but he doesn’t view coaching men at such a high level as that different.
“I see the similarities more than I see the differences,” Leazier said. “Whether you’re in an NBA Developmental League game or a middle school girls game or a State High girls’ game, it’s really, really important to the kids to take the floor. It’s a really important part of their experience, and it’s important for a coach to recognize that.”
Leazier has lived in State College for 15 months. His wife, Amy Allen, is head of the philosophy department at Penn State after moving from Dartmouth. He sells video editing and analysis software for Hudl for pro and college coaches.
When they got to town, Leazier sought out some of the coaches in the district, including then-girls basketball coach Bethany Irwin, boys’ basketball coach Joe Walker and football coach Matt Lintal, just to learn about their coaching philosophies. His daughter, Isabelle, is a freshman and plays basketball. Their oldest, Clark, is a college junior in Los Angeles; a son, Oliver, is on the football team and their youngest, Eloise, is 9 years old.
Leazier and Irwin spoke a few times, and, knowing his resume, she suggested to Leazier to apply for the position when she decided to step down.
He replaces a coach who racked up 399 wins, eight District 6 titles, five league championships and took two teams to the PIAA semifinals in her 23 seasons with the Lady Little Lions.
“Looking over the course of the last 23 years, that’s a heck of a lot of games to win,” said Leazier, a Miami, Ohio, graduate. “She’s done such a terrific job with the program. Certainly I’m stepping into a situation where the program is stable and in great shape.”
Irwin stepped down at the end of August, looking for more time to watch her children play their sports in college. Her son, Patrick, is a quarterback for the Stony Brook football team while daughter Kyla is a freshman with the defending national champion Connecticut women’s basketball team. She has been holding open gym time all fall to keep the girls prepared for this season, and was still holding sessions as recently as Monday night.
Due to the late decision to step down, with the first official practices in about a month and the season tipping off Dec. 13 at Central Dauphin East, State College may not have had the largest selection, but Pennepacker said there were plenty of applicants.
“We had very good interest — let me just say that,” Pennepacker said.
“If the job would have been posted in June, we probably would have had more interest, but relative to the time we had very good interest.”