2008-07-03 / Sports

Lea hired to lead cross country, track teams at Cal Lutheran

By Thomas Gase tgase@theacorn.com

Matt Lea Matt Lea Ten years ago Matt Lea was one of the top track and field athletes in Ventura County.

These days the 28-year-old is looking to have similar success as a college head coach.

After serving as an assistant coach at Cal Lutheran University the past two years, Lea was hired last month as the school's new head coach for men's and women's cross country as well as track and field.

Lea replaces Scott Fickerson, who left CLU to coach at Santa Barbara City College after guiding the Kingsmen and Regals the past seven years.

"I'm surprised I got a head coaching job at CLU so quickly," Lea said. "With (Fickerson) being very young, I thought he would be here for a while.

"After Fickerson left, I applied for the job. About three weeks later, while I was fishing with my father and some friends, I received a call from CLU telling me that I had the job. I was very excited."

Prior to becoming an assistant at Cal Lutheran, Lea worked in a similar role at UC Santa Barbara for two years.

Before Lea began coaching, however, there was hardly a soul that could keep pace with him on the track.

During Lea's senior year at Camarillo High in 1998, he registered a time of 47.37 in the 400-meter dash, fourth best in the nation that year.

Although Lea acknowledges that he was influenced by Smith, he didn't begin thinking about coaching as a career until college.

After graduating from Camarillo, Lea attended the University of Arizona, where he was an AllPac10 member four times.

In 2001, Lea was on the 4x400 relay team that placed fourth at the NCAA Indoor National Championships.

Two years later, in 2003, he became the Wildcats' team captain and qualified for the 2003 NCAA Regionals in the 400 meters.

While in Tucson, Lea said he began thinking about a career in coaching thanks to Arizona head coach Fred Harvey.

"In high school I never wanted to be a coach because I was too focused on being an athlete," Lea said. "In college it was different. Being around (Harvey) all the time, I knew coaching was something I wanted to do the rest of my life."

Harvey said he received a phone call from Lea moments after his former athlete received the job at CLU.

"He told me he wanted to tell me the good news in person and not have me find out by an e-mail that was being sent out," Harvey said. "I thought that was real nice of him.

"Prior to his hiring, I didn't get a call from CLU asking me if I thought he would be good coach, which I think says a lot. The school is very confident in him, and they should be."

Lea will also teach two classes at CLU- jogging and body conditioning. He said teaching is one of the most rewarding things about his job.

"I love seeing my athletes grow from young kids to adults," Lea said. "That's the real reason I do this. Put all the medals and awards aside, I just want to see the kids improve in the classroom and on the track."

Lea said he's glad to be back in the community where he grew up, and is hoping to stay in town for a long time.

"I'm not setting any goals for myself coaching, except that I'd like to be here a while- 25 to 30 years if possible," Lea said. "I know that's easier said than done.

"Coaching is very strenuous, and being active for 25 years would say a lot. Not too many coaches stay in one program that long. As long as I keep learning, I think I'll be all right."

Harvey said Lea has all the right tools to be a good coach at Cal Lutheran.

"He has that very special personality it takes to coach- kind of a self-serving attitude," Harvey said. "He's always had a passion for running and a passion for success."

Lea said he wouldn't have to change much in order to make CLU a successful program.

"The program is already in good shape from the way Fickerson left it," Lea said.

"Obviously I'm going to put my own touches and ideas into the program, but the main thing I want to do is to keep it fun. Nothing has to change much; I'll just have a little more paperwork, that's all."

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