Like a point guard seeking an opening in the defense, Sean Bair patiently surveyed the landscape. When he saw what he was looking for, he put his head down and attacked.
Only Bair wasn’t driving to the basket, he was seeking a position on the Penn State women’s basketball coaching staff. The former New Oxford boys’ coach who spent last year with the Arkansas Razorbacks men’s program, reached out to PSU head coach Carolyn Kieger, made his best pitch, and waited.
Nothing but net.
On Thursday Bair was formally introduced as the newest member of the Nittany Lions’ staff, where he will serve as the Director of Video Analytics.
“I was ecstatic,” said Bair via telephone on Friday. “I felt like the interviews had gone well and it was a good match. The stakes were so high in terms of this being such an incredible opportunity, one that would get my wife and I closer to our families. This was not just any job, it was the ultimate best-case scenario.”
Bair applied a full-court press as soon as the position opened, shooting an email to Kieger.
“I reached out to Penn State the day that person who left the staff got another job,” he said. “As aggressive as any job I’ve ever gone after.”
His best shot was on the mark as Kieger publicly welcomed Bair to the staff via a release from the school on Thursday.
“Sean brings a wealth of experience from different levels of coaching,” Kieger said. “His Pennsylvania basketball ties run deep. We know he will be great asset to our program.”
Bair’s path to Penn State was a circuitous one after making the difficult decision to leave New Oxford, where he grew the program into a District 3 power. The Colonials struggled in 2013 and 2014, winning just nine total games. The building – and believing – process took hold after that as New Oxford qualified for the state playoffs in 2017 and 2018 and recorded 20-plus wins in his last two years. The Ox also reached the YAIAA Tournament championship game in his final season, falling 54-50 to York High in front of a packed house at York College.
Despite having a loaded roster returning, one he said might not come around again for years, Bair decided to bet on himself and took a graduate assistant position at the University of Arkansas. It was quite a gamble.
“I was in the most stable profession there is, had tenure, was good at my job and loved it, and we had it rolling,” he said. “I was lucky to have the most supportive wife who is willing to go for it, who pushed me to go for it.”
With the Razorbacks Bair worked on recruiting graphics, logistical organization and strategic research, among other areas. He gained experience working under former NBA head coach Eric Musselman, who was in his first season in Fayetteville.
Looking to continue his growth as a coach, Bair sought other opportunities. Having the chance to work in Pennsylvania, where he and his wife’s families are from, was a bonus but not the sole reason the Gettysburg High School grad sought a position in Happy Valley.
“The most important thing for me was finding a staff I believe in and that will want to foster my growth and is something I can be proud of,” he said. “I got that sense from Coach Kieger right away. Whatever opportunity I took, I wanted to make sure I had full faith in the staff. I’m thankful that I got that from Coach Kieger and her vision.
“She took a chance on someone she doesn’t really know, and let my work speak for itself. I’m very appreciative because that’s something not a lot of head coaches are willing to do.”
Kieger is entering her second season at Penn State after a successful stint at Marquette. The Golden Eagles won nine games in her first season at the helm but quickly improved with win totals of 14, 25, 24 and 27 before she became the head coach at PSU.
The Nittany Lions went 7-23 overall last season and 1-17 in Big Ten Conference play.
Bair is already getting up to speed in State College. He said producing video breakdowns for the team’s offensive and defensive coordinators will fall under his purview, as will compiling video for Kieger. He will also assist in recruiting, helping with player evaluation.
“I’ll get our breakdowns and make sure it’s all organized so (the coaches) have what they need when they need it,” he said.
There may be a brief adjustment period settling into his new surroundings but Bair doesn’t anticipate a difficult transition going from men’s to women’s basketball.
“I’m looking forward to learning the women’s game better,” he said. “The strategic elements are similar and it’s cool to see how much teams are doing the same things.”
As always, there will be plenty of basketball talk around the Bair household with father Jeff the head girls’ coach at Gettysburg and Sean’s older sister, Ellen, the head girls’ coach at Linden Hall. Sean’s younger sister Anne is a rising junior at Gettysburg who recently received her first NCAA Division I scholarship offer.
“I love how hard she plays, she really competes, but she has to get those three-point attempts up,” said Sean, laughing, after giving an impromptu scout of Anne.
More interested in continuing his development as a coach and mentor than quickly climbing the coaching ladder, Sean said he’s excited to learn the ins and outs of high-level Division I women’s basketball and help the Nittany Lions’ building process.
“The bigger picture is to keep improving,” he said. “My current spot is as good of one as I’ll get to learn the game and be around people on this side of the industry. I’ve been blown away by the staff member already and how much our players trust and respect them. This puts me in a great position to keep working toward goals.”