Even as his winning percentage improved, Tom Galeazzi never had the desire to coach big-time college basketball. It was enough for him to ply his trade on the local level, compiling a record of 775-336 at three Long Island colleges en route to the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame. Along the way, he gained the admiration of those in his profession.
"I think he could have coached at any level if he wanted to,'' said George Mason coach Paul Hewitt, who started his career as an assistant under Galeazzi at C.W. Post (now called LIU Post) and coached Georgia Tech to the 2004 NCAA final.
Galeazzi, an East Moriches resident, died in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Saturday of a heart attack at 75. He would have appreciated the comparison. He grew up in Syracuse and played in college at Cortland, and those upstate roots remained important to him as his Division II team at Post played non-conference games against mighty Syracuse over the years.
But Galeazzi's heart -- and success -- remained on the local scene. "He was a local legend,'' said Joe Castiglie, who assisted Galeazzi at Post. Galeazzi spent 25 years at Post, and his teams made nine NCAA Tournament appearances, with one trip to the Elite Eight.
"A lot of people win games because they have more talent,'' said Joe Pellicane, who coached Dowling and had a rivalry with Galeazzi. "The real coaches take their talent to the highest level. I believe Tom always did that.''
Eugene Farry, a teammate at Cortland, replaced Galeazzi at Suffolk and coached against his Farmingdale teams. "He seemed to have a knack to have his teams at the three-quarter mark early in the season,'' Farry said. "He was an outstanding coach.''
Area coaches turned to Galeazzi for advice on their own programs and coaching ambitions.
"Tom Galeazzi was one of the most influential coaches in the New York area for a long time. He mentored a number of us,'' said former Hofstra coach Tom Pecora, now at Fordham. "He went out of his way to help young coaches. A lot of us wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for him.''
Garee Bryant was one of Galeazzi's best players at Post, holding the school's career record of 1,835 points for 10 years.
"Coming in as a skinny little freshman, the fact that I was able to play right away was a testament of how hard he pushed me,'' said Bryant, the director of basketball operations at Iona. "He taught me a lot. I think that's why I am a college coach today.''
Galeazzi was a successful area businessman, once owning an ice cream franchise, and had real estate interests. But, his son Richard, of Bohemia, said, "His passion was coaching and teaching.''
Galeazzi retired from Post in 2006 and spent much of the year in Florida playing tennis on a senior circuit. He recently was elected to Post's Hall of Fame and is to be inducted in June. Gale Butler, his fiancee, said he had been working on his acceptance speech.
"He said, 'What I'm most proud of is I got to do what I love for so long. I got to make peoples' lives better. My joy was seeing them succeed.' ''
Galeazzi also is survived by another son, Robert, of Tucson, Ariz., and four grandchildren. Galeazzi is to be cremated in Florida, with a memorial service on Long Island at a future date.