Joe Lombardi has been working hard since the end of the season to find some players for his IUP basketball team.
There might be another key spot he has to fill in the coming weeks.
Chris Fite, an assistant under Lombardi for all of his seven seasons at IUP, is one of five finalists for the coaching position at Shippensburg University. He was on the south-central Pennsylvania campus today for an interview.
“We would certainly hate to lose Chris, but I know he’s built himself a reputation in the conference as probably being the top assistant in any of the programs,” Lombardi said, “so I’m not surprised at the type of attention he has received. Eventually I know he’d like to run his own program, and I’m excited that he has this opportunity,”
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 a 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.
“Chris has been a rock since he joined the staff seven years ago,” Lombardi said. “He really does a great job in a lot of areas and he’s great with details and a guy that makes the program run from the ground up. … And he’s really been a great sounding board and has a lot of terrific ideas. We’re really consistent as a coaching staff with the values that we share and the approach we have going about making it a total program and not just trying to put together winning teams. He’s certainly earned his stripes with the experience he has overseas, and the work that he’s done and the responsibility that I’ve given him over the years has certainly prepared him to become a head coach. A lot of any the success we’ve had as coaching staff, Chris deserves a big share of that.”
Fite was a 6-foot-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 rebounds (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.
“I’m excited,” Fite said. “You work hard as an assistant and focus on the task in front of you and do your job year in and year out as best you can and hope the right opportunity presents itself so you can take the next step and be in charge of your own program.”
The Shippensburg job opened at the end of the season when the university chose not to renew the contract of Dave Springer, who was 144-189 in 12 seasons.
“Chris has an excellent work ethic,” Lombardi said. “He has tremendous people skills, and he has a great knowledge of the game. Those are three ingredients for success that you look for in any person that you’d want to be in a leadership position.”