Free State assistant lands BHS boys’ basketball head coaching job
Baldwin High School has found its next head boys’ basketball coach, just one month after the entire staff resigned.
BHS Activities Director Gary Stevanus found his man in Dustin Leochner, an assistant boys’ coach at Free State High in Lawrence. Leochner’s hire was approved Monday by the USD 348 Board of Education. He was one of 15 to 20 candidates that applied for the opening.
“We had good interest in the opening,” Stevanus said. “I was kind of skeptical what we would have since we had no teaching job opening. We had a lot of very qualified applicants, so I was happy with the pool.”
Former head coach Eric Toot and his two assistant coaches, Chad Scoby and Jason Crowder, resigned in March. They just resigned from coaching, not their teaching positions.
Leochner, who has been an assistant at Free State for the past eight years (five years with boys’ team and three with girls’ team), was thrilled when named the next Bulldogs’ coach.
“I’m definitely excited for the opportunity to be a head coach,” he said. “I’ve been an assistant coach here at Free State for eight years now, so I’m definitely ready to trek out on my own. I’m ready to see how I can do and if I’ve learned anything over the last eight years.”
He even admitted the situation wouldn’t be ideal since he will continue teaching at Free State, but he will find a way to make it work.
“My principal has been very nice from day one telling me that he would work something out with my schedule that would allow me to be over there for practices and games,” Leochner said. “Without being in the building, it’s as good of a position as it can be. It’s close and the drive over there will give me time to get my mind focused on basketball. It will also give me time to decompress on the way home, too.
“It’s not necessarily the most ideal situation without being able to be in the building,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity, none the less. Baldwin is a really good community. I went to high school in a similar community in south central Kansas. It’s kind of a smaller town and it has good community support for its athletics. Baldwin has a lot of nice things about it.”
Stevanus was happy with the hire as the Bulldogs’ coach.
“He had very good references and basketball knowledge,” Stevanus said. “We got lucky in that Free State’s administration is willing to work with us and let him teach there and coach here. All in all, I think Dustin fits what we’re looking for.”
While the search for a new coach lasted one month, Stevanus didn’t feel like it was too short, nor too long. He wanted to hire a coach before the school year ended to allow the coach to set up summer activities and meet the students and parents.
“It’s nice to fill the spot quickly,” Stevanus said. “With summer coming up, we didn’t want drag out the process, but we also didn’t want to rush it. Since we’re looking for an entirely new staff, we had to jump on it early. We know teams stay busy in the summer with offseason workouts, camps and leagues. We didn’t want to wait very long, because those need to be organized before the summer arrives. Hopefully, this will allow our new coaching staff to work with the team and build for the future.”
Leochner agreed with Stevanus’ idea of hiring early. He hopes to meet with parents and players during the next couple of weeks. He wants to sit down with and introduce himself, as well as get to know his players.
“I have a little bit of familiarity with it,” Leochner said. “We actually played Baldwin during the summer a few times and they played our freshman team this year. Our freshman team only lost a few games, so that got our attention a bit. I’m not really familiar with the personnel yet, but I’m looking forward to getting in the gym and running them through some drill and instruction. I’m ready to get over there, evaluate the players and start to strategize on how we want to play next season.”
Baldwin High will also be hiring two assistant coaches. That’s next in the process.
“That’s the next step,” Stevanus said of hiring assistants. “We wanted to get the head coach hired first, obviously. We definitely wanted the head coach to be involved in that process, which we will start almost immediately.”
Leochner graduated from Buhler High School. He coached at Southwest Junior High in Lawrence for two years before going to Free State. He has coached and taught at Free State for the past eight years.