MJ: Berkman Making a Name for Himself
Kylor Berkman, the new head coach of Aurora, a second-year program located in the leafy Chicago suburb bearing the same name, seems comfortable. When I talked to him on Tuesday, he spoke in careful phrases as many rookie head coaches do during interviews. Even for a guy born and bred on the Eastern Shore, Berkman struck all the benign chords you'd expect from a proper Midwesterner.
"When I found out [former Aurora coach and new Widener head man] Brendan Dawson wasn't coming back, I thought this would be a great opportunity for me," said Berkman. "Aurora treats its coaches and student-athletes very well."
In our conversation, we touched on all sorts of subjects – if he's ready for the job ("Being the assistant last year helps to make this an easy transition"), if he has learned to recruit the Midwest, where most of the players on his team hail from ("We've built great relationships with most of the coaches in the region"), and what kind of coaching philosophy he has ("We're going to play high-pressure lacrosse, much like I did when I was in college").
One of the subjects that I purposely did not touch upon was the fact that Berkman is the scion of Salisbury's Jim Berkman, the best coach in Division III. I figured I'd just leave it out there and see if he said something – I even left a couple of pregnant pauses in our conversation to see if he'd take the bait – about his dad. I got nothing.
I had an idea Kylor was attempting to distance himself from his father and create his own legacy when I read the release about his hiring and found zero references to the Old Man. As a former SID, I know a school doesn't omit mentioning they are hiring the son of the all-time winningest coach in the NCAA and the owner of nine national championships unless it is requested.
The fact that Berkman the Younger is making a clean break from his father shouldn't be surprising. No one wants to coach in a shadow, even if it's 843 miles away. As it turns out, Kylor shouldn't be worried about living up to any established expectations because he is already ahead of his father's pace. While Jim was, by all accounts, a solid middie a St. Lawrence (he was an All-American), he wasn't up to his son's standards, which included two Midfielder of the Year awards. "He was definitely a better lacrosse player, but he couldn't hold a candle to me on the basketball court," said Jim, who was a two-sport standout for the Saints.
Because The Elder was also proficient on the hardwood, he lost three years of lacrosse coaching when he returned to his alma mater to be the head hoops coach after a one-year lacrosse gig at Potsdam State. As such, Kylor, who is 24 – the same age as Jim when he started his career with Potsdam – has a chance to lay the foundation to exceed his father.
All things considered, Kylor likely won't approach his father's exploits, but that doesn't mean he has to operate in awe of them. He's his own man. In addition, Kylor has the chance to make a larger impact than could come from a winning percentage or titles. If he can build Aurora into the power it has the potential to be, he'll be the one who cracked the Chicago egg for Division III – a feat that could unlock an entirely new lacrosse hotbed, dwarfing any statistical achievement.
Was Berkman helped because of his surname? Maybe. Was he the right guy at the right time? No question. The reasons for his hiring are inconsequential, however. Kylor Berkman is now at the helm of a team that could make a run at the Midwest Lacrosse Conference's automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament. If that happens, he could find himself bracketed with Salisbury, and we'll then be able to adequately analyze the two coaches in a fair manner. Until then, Kylor Berkman should be judged by what he does for his student-athletes at Aurora, not by his last name.