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Iezzi ready for new chapter at Thaddeus Stevens, but years as MAHS football coach remain vivid

By Jason Maddux

jasonmaddux@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 8/21/19

Talking to Dennis Iezzi, he doesn’t sound like someone who has been gone from Middletown for more than 15 years.

The memories flow back quickly and easily for the former Blue Raider football …

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Iezzi ready for new chapter at Thaddeus Stevens, but years as MAHS football coach remain vivid

Dennis Iezzi was the head football coach for Middletown for 14 seasons, winning a pair of District III championships.
Dennis Iezzi was the head football coach for Middletown for 14 seasons, winning a pair of District III championships.
press & journal file photo
Posted

Talking to Dennis Iezzi, he doesn’t sound like someone who has been gone from Middletown for more than 15 years.

The memories flow back quickly and easily for the former Blue Raider football coach and high school principal. The names of families known well in the borough roll off his tongue with ease, especially the players he coached and their current levels of success.

“There are so many names,” he told the Press & Journal earlier this year after being named to lead the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology football team. “I’ve had guys reach out and congratulate me that I haven’t heard from for awhile but have a special place in my heart, no doubt about it.”

“They helped make my tenure at Middletown easy and such a special place,” he added.

He officially starts a new chapter in his long coaching career when Thaddeus Stevens kicks off the season at 2 p.m. Aug. 31 at Geneva College in Beaver Falls.

“Middletown always had teachers that cared, and that's really cool, too. They’ve also hired people that went to school there,” he said.

Iezzi took over the Blue Raider program in 1982 and stayed for 14 seasons. His teams compiled a record of 109 wins, 52 losses and two ties. The Blue Raiders won or shared five division titles and claimed a pair of District III championships — in 1986 and 1988. 

Middletown’s current football success — three straight appearances in the state championship game — is directly connected to Iezzi, says current head coach Brett Myers, who played for Iezzi and coached under him at Exeter High School.

“We are following the same program and same recipe for success that he had in the mid-’80s through the early ’90s. Football changes a little bit, but in the end, it’s still the same stuff that he taught us. A lot of us on the coaching staff would say he’s a very large part of our success today, just the basic core philosophy of how you run a program,” Myers said.

Iezzi is a mentor and inspiration for Myers getting into coaching.

“He’s a special man, especially when it comes to building relationships. As a player, you never had to worry where he was at. He was always upfront, honest. We knew exactly where we stood,” Myers said.

“It’s a pretty high standard that we’re all trying to chase,” he said.

Iezzi calls Myers “a special man, no doubt about it. We will always be connected. Nothing will take that away.”

“Brett is an extremely hard worker. Brett builds relationships with his players. He does things in a way that he teaches kids life skills and he cares for them. He sincerely cares for his players. And here's the top thing. He's so intelligent and adaptable. He continually evolves. So they're very fortunate to have a man of that caliber there,” he said.

Iezzi stopped coaching at Middletown because he wanted to have more time to watch his daughter play field hockey at Lebanon Valley College and his son play football at Elizabethtown High School.

He replaced another Middletown coaching legend — Casper Voithofer, who led the basketball team to a state title in 1968 — as MAHS principal when Voithofer retired.

When he left MAHS in 2002, it was to take a head coaching job, at Exeter High School.

“I brought Brett Myers with me. Another grad was Bobby Shipp. Both of those guys played for me and they played together. All three of us went to Exeter and coached football together. Bobby's now at Hempfield High School coaching football and teaching,” Iezzi said.

“Todd Kleinfelter, who played for me also, was a personal trainer at a gym. He ended up coaching with us. So we had all those Middletown guys together. That was pretty cool,” he added.

He stayed at Exeter until 2007, then retired from public education and went to coach at Kutztown University, where he was assistant head coach and defensive coordinator until 2013. He then became assistant head football coach and defensive coordinator at Thaddeus Stevens until 2015. He left there for his alma mater, Albright College, spending two years as a position coach. He then was secondary coach at Alvernia University in Reading before returning to become head coach at Thaddeus Stevens.

“I enjoyed the people when I was there,” he said of the college. “I enjoyed the players, and I really enjoyed the mission and purpose of Thaddeus Stevens College and what they represent. It was always the way I approached coaching all my life and teaching life skills, building relationships, helping kids get a degree and then having a successful life. That’s why I came back.”

He also loved his 20 years in Middletown. He told the Press & Journal that he fears he is going to leave out so many names because he can go on and on and on with “the amount of people that were great people,” but he highlights some who are key people in the district today.

“Michael Corradi and Chris Lupp and Brian Keating are all on the school board and they’re all great people from great families and I coached all of them, and that’s pretty neat to have that kind of consistency within your education system, to have people that were educated in the school district and now are responsible for a lot of things at the board level,” he said.

Michael Carnes, the current MAHS principal, played for Iezzi.

“One day, he was a student at the high school. He came in to me and said, ‘Coach, I want to tell you one thing. I’m going to have your job.’ I said, ‘What?’ That’s a true story. And there he is, principal of the high school. How about that. Tell me that’s not insightful,” Iezzi said.

Current girls basketball coach Robert Pelletier was a player on his first team.

“I always look back, and I’m in their debt, because they bought in to what we were trying to build and our philosophy of teamwork and playing good football, but also never separating athletics from academics. They were always one. I’m in debt to those guys because we might’ve won three games that year, but we started to build back on that tradition that was lost for a period of time,” Iezzi said. “That’s always been special to me because if it wouldn’t have been for those guys, we would’ve never been able to bring it back and do the things that we did for the next 13 years.”

In his third year at MAHS, he said, the Blue Raiders ended up playing undefeated Lower Dauphin for the conference championship.

“We ended up beating them at home. Oh, wow, it was awesome. It was like we won the Super Bowl. There were people all over the field,” he said.

Now, Myers holds the two jobs that Iezzi previously had — head football coach and assistant principal.

“When he would come in to visit, that was really different. It felt like we were sitting on the wrong side of the desk,” he said.

Those core values that Myers took from Iezzi?

“Relationships. You’ve got to spend time, you’ve got to care. It’s not just about football, it’s about the total person. Football-wise, it’s about playing great defense, being able to have physical, strong, demanding practices, running a comprehensive, year-round program that challenges kids both physically and mentally, making sure they are mentally prepared to play on Fridays,” Myers said.

“Coach Iezzi was a father figure for so many of us. You want to be a part of that. You want to be able to help out people the way he helped us out,” Myers said.