A six-year stop at Seattle University wouldn’t suggest Joddie Gleason has a small-town identity, but that’s where Eastern Washington’s new head women’s basketball coach made her bones.
Gleason took a struggling Humboldt State program in remote Arcata, California – a small coastal community with a population 18,000 – and turned it into a four-time NCAA Division II national tournament qualifier, the best run in Lumberjacks history.
At her previous gig at Butte College in Oroville, California – population 19,000, north of Sacramento – Gleason posted a 120-42 overall record with several postseason runs.
A contrast from bustling Seattle, where Gleason was the Redhawks’ top assistant before accepting the head job at EWU last week, the quaintness of Cheney brings the 1992 Chico State graduate a feeling of familiarity.
Gleason, who was introduced in a news conference on Monday, sees the parallels between EWU and Humboldt State, and hopes to bring that success to Reese Court in Division I form.
“There’s so much pride in the athletic department, that was a huge draw for me,” said Gleason, who replaces 20-year head coach Wendy Schuller, who was fired in April after three straight losing seasons. “It has the small, college town atmosphere, so it’s getting back to my roots.”
Seattle University experienced just one winning season in Gleason’s six years on staff but did reach the program’s first NCAA Tournament in 2018 and was among the Western Athletic Conference’s top three offenses in three of the past four seasons.
Seattle beat EWU 77-65 in Cheney last season.
Gleason, who recently coached the Redhawks’ offense alongside assistant coach and husband Skip Gleason, looks to bring an up-tempo, high-energy style to the Big Sky Conference, a league that has had five coaching changes this offseason.
EWU athletic director Lynn Hickey believes Gleason has the ability to eventually put EWU in a position to compete for its first Big Sky championship since 2010, the program’s lone title.
Hickey, a former Texas A&M and Kansas State head women’s basketball coach, said her staff was thorough in sifting through applications, interviews and accumulating outside input.
“We had a good pool of candidates and worked hard on five different people,” Hickey said. “What was important about Joddie is that she had former head coaching experience. Personality-wise and experience-wise, a very good fit for helping us rebuild the program here.”
Gleason left Humboldt State after 12 seasons for a try at Division I basketball in Seattle under head coach Suzy Barcomb, ending her successful tenure as the 2015 California Collegiate Athletic Association Coach of the Year.
Changing the culture at EWU – the Eagles haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1987 – and diligent recruiting of the nearby Greater Spokane League and local AAU programs are among Gleason’s top priorities.
Late in the recruiting game with a May hire, Gleason knows there are challenges ahead.
“We’re hitting the ground running,” Gleason said.
And behind the eight-ball.
Most of EWU’s roster hit the transfer portal following Schuller’s firing on May 1, including consistent double-digit scorers who’ve since signed with other schools including Maisie Burnham (Portland), Jenna Dick (Tartleton State) and Grace Kirscher (Western Colorado).
Kennedy Dickie, who averaged 11.2 points last season, also entered the portal.
Six EWU players were present at Monday’s introduction and appeared to be in support of their new coach, including Aaliyah Alexander who averaged 10.7 points and a team-leading three assists per game as a freshman last season.
Milly Knowles, who started 10 games at forward last season, said the team has felt an instant connection with Gleason.
“Instant feeling of comfort. We feel at home with coach Joddie,” Knowles said. “We met her in our locker room, and it was as if she was welcoming us. We sat down with her and it was so at ease. We asked her questions and she asked us things. It was really comfortable.”
Even with the addition of EWU’s incoming freshmen, the Eagles don’t have enough bodies for a 5-on-5 scrimmage due to an injury.
Gleason said she wants to primarily recruit and develop from the high school level, but she may need to comb the transfer portal and junior college ranks to fill her roster .
“We have a few holes still, some scholarship spots at this late date,” Gleason said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re talking to some good people.”
Hickey doesn’t expect overnight success but believes Gleason can swiftly get the program headed in the right direction in tough circumstances.
“There’s patience here,” Hickey said. “We want to build the program to a high level, but we want to do it the right way, and I think Joddie has the ability to do that and the values to do that.”
Gleason was a first-year head coach at Butte College during the 2000-2001 season, a team that featured freshman and current Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier.
Fortier, now the leader of a Top 25 program, recently congratulated one of her mentors.
“Congrats @JoddieGleason! So happy for you! You are a HUGE part of why I coach ,” Fortier posted on Twitter.
Gleason isn’t surprised to see Fortier flourish.
“She was the hardest worker, the one taking the charge,” Gleason said. “She was the one asking all the coaching type of questions. You could tell from an early age that was going to be her career path.
“We’ve developed into coaching colleagues, so to speak. She is obviously a huge success over there at GU, and I’m excited to be in the same area as her.”
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