NEW YORK – It has never been easy being a college men’s lacrosse coach.
Even if the environment doesn’t change much, you will always face pressure and accountability to produce results. There is a whole swath of coaches who seem perpetually successful and many continue to stay where they are because they know they are helping kids realize their dreams.
But that doesn’t mean the idea of a coach looks the same as it did a few decades ago.
In an effort to meet its commitment to return to the NCAA Tournament by 2015, Long Island University Post dropped two positions and now has a nine-person staff, down from the 13 years of hiring six full-time coaches.
Of the current coaching staff, only two have previous experience as a college lacrosse coach and only one has served as a head coach.
Perhaps even more remarkable is that players on that club team have shifted their focus from supporting their coaches to seeing more of them on campus.
“We got rid of our offices and so many of our students don’t see the coaches as being here, they see the office as just a drop box,” assistant coach T.J. Heeb told the school newspaper. “They don’t even know the exact dates of the coach, they don’t even know that he is available on a weekly basis.”
Post coach Tom Smith said the team has never had so much turnover. And unlike past years, most of the coaches were fired and some have jumped to other college programs.
Smith said the trend started with an athletic director at SUNY Oneonta who took over the lacrosse program after nine years, leaving behind a team filled with veterans and veterans only. That led to a similar situation at SUNY Geneseo in which they were stuck with a bunch of veterans looking for the familiar faces and the coaches didn’t have the time or inclination to do much more than coach.
The varsity never won a game, the club teams lost about 40 percent of their games and post never made the Big Sky Tournament.
“It’s pretty devastating to hear when you lose nine players in your program,” Smith said. “It’s just a bad year all around. It’s been a disappointing year for everyone.”
Smith could be considered the victim of his own success, just like the program at Patriot University, which dropped the 16-team men’s club lacrosse team but then had to continue fielding a men’s club program that included one varsity team and two scrimmages.
“It’s been a difficult situation but one that has allowed us to focus on the varsity program and hope to have that team back in the Big Sky League next year,” Patriot coach Mickey Watkins said in a statement to NJ.com.
It is not an easy situation to deal with, but coaches are finding a way around the new guard.
Those who are not going to varsity coaches have decided to remain with their club teams and be part of the community at large, particularly in their early career. Players talk about how coaches are rarely late and work to ensure that their teammates do the same.
“I love the education and the experience of playing with elite players,” said 17-year-old junior player Ryan Hall. “We all work together toward the same end.”
While the trend is disturbing for coaches, it is a sign of things to come as colleges continue to train their players to become one-and-done pros. That could present a problem to athletic directors who don’t want to wait years to make the changes needed to keep their top talent in college.
“It’s a little bittersweet to move on after one year,” senior defender John Moloney said. “At the same time it was very hard. I really wanted to stay and be on top of things but I’m very happy for T.J.”
Players won’t have to worry about the office anymore. Players can talk about their goals with their parents, try out for the yearbook and even look into signing up for the student-athlete advisory council.
“They don’t see the coach all that much. I think that’s the big thing and the transition that we have to go through with our lacrosse program,” Moloney said. “What we have to do to keep the rich tradition going with the coaches. I think they realize that now.”