IUP BASKETBALL: Hawks assistant takes head coaching job at Shippensburg
June 21, 2013 10:39 AM
by TONY COCCAGNA
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Chris Fite is moving on.

Fite, an assistant men’s basketball coach at IUP, on Thursday accepted the head coach position at Shippensburg University.

“It feels great,” Fite said. “It’s going to take some adjusting, but I’m certainly excited about the possibilities and moving forward and the opportunities this presents for me and my family.”

Fite came to IUP when Joe Lombardi was hired as head coach in 2006 and was a member of his staff for all seven seasons.

“The IUP basketball family and I

are very excited about the announcement of Coach Fite as the next head men’s basketball coach at Shippensburg University,” Lombardi said.

“Chris has earned the opportunity with the tremendous contributions that he has made to our basketball program over the last seven years. His impact working as a recruiter, with game preparation and player development were very instrumental in our program winning three PSAC championships in the last four years. Shippensburg is moving forward with a man of great class and integrity who will fit in well with an institution of similar values. He is very prepared to be a successful head coach and ready to lead the basketball program with a tireless commitment to building a program with student-athletes that will compete on and off the court.”

IUP and Shippensburg are members of the 18-team Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. IUP has been the most successful program in the PSAC over the past five seasons, winning three of the last four conference titles and four straight division titles. IUP has 130-29 record in that span and has earned five straight NCAA tournament berths, including an appearance in the Division II championship game in 2009-10.

Fite succeeds Dave Springer, whose contract was not renewed after last season. Springer was 144-189 in 12 seasons.

Shippensburg has had only 10 head coaches, and only two in the last 43 years. Rodger Goodling preceded Springer and coached from 1970 to 2001, compiling a 356-443 record. Success, however, has been hard to come by, and Shippensburg has had only 20 winning seasons since 1926-27.

Springer had three straight in the middle of his tenure. The Red Raiders were 7-20 last season.

“They’ve struggled,” Fite said. “They’ve had a really hard time putting together winning seasons over the years. But I’m going into it with my eyes open. I understand the challenges ahead of me, and I have to find a way to break the mold and to have success that previous coaches haven’t had.”

Shippensburg has 10 players on its roster. Two key players were lost after last season, one to transfer and one to academics.

“I do know they have some talented kids coming back and a core to build around and some solid pieces in place,” Fite said. “I’m getting a much later start than I would like as far as getting on the recruiting trail and identifying new pieces. But I have a couple months, and there are stones to be turned, and I hope to identify some kids who will be able to help us.”

Fite was a 6-for-9 forward at the University of Rochester, where he was a two-time Division III All-American and remains the program’s all-time leading scorer (2,066) and ranks second in rebounding (1,023). He was named the most outstanding player of the Final Four as a sophomore after leading Rochester to the national title.

After college, he embarked on 11-year professional career in Europe. After his playing career, he spent one year as an assistant at his alma mater and another at Saint Vincent College in his hometown of Latrobe.

“As someone taking over a head coaching position for the first time seven years ago,” Lombardi said, “I needed a steady and calm influence, and Chris certainly proved to be that and allowed us to have some of the best years the IUP basketball program has ever experienced. His fingerprints are certainly all over the three conference championships and the trip to the national championship game. He also represented IUP in a class manner in the community, and he and his wife Susan certainly had a positive effect and touched a lot of lives in their time here at IUP.”

Fite is going to be a head coach for the first time. He was a finalist for jobs in the past.

“I have mixed emotions,” he said. “Throughout the process, part of me was saying I’d be almost relieved if I don’t get offered the job because I’ll get to remain somewhere where I know I can have success in an environment where my family can be very happy. So it was difficult for us to make the decision to leave the success and security we have here. But when I entered the coaching profession it was with the idea that I eventually wanted to run my own program and make the decisions and carry on with my visions.”

Fite was one of five finalists at Shippensburg. The group consisted of two head coaches and three assistants.

“I am very excited that Chris is joining our department and program,” Jeff Michaels, Shippensburg’s director of athletics, said in a statement. “He will work effectively with our current student-athletes and also recruit outstanding prospects to help our program be successful.”

Shippensburg plays at IUP on Dec. 18.

“I didn’t know the specific date,” Fite said, “but I knew it was out there.”

“I wish him the very best,” Lombardi said, “and I hope he wins all his games, except when he comes back to the KCAC.”

Lombardi said he hopes to name Fite’s replacement in the coming weeks.

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