May 11, 2011

Lacrosse Grows Up for Better and Worse

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com


Two lacrosse coaching icons are gone at Towson and Navy. Could Georgetown's Dave Urick be next? The forced removal of the sport's old guard is symptomatic of weightier expectations placed on programs with TV exposure and ambitious athletic directors, writes Gary Lambrecht.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

If you want evidence of just how much college lacrosse has grown in the past decade, just check the television schedule this week. Every first-round game of the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament will be televised, thanks to ESPN.

This once-quaint, provincial game has powered up. Division I schools are recruiting among a record number of high school players from coast to coast. The Denver area now mimics Baltimore and Long Island as an absolute hotbed. Never again will championship weekend be played on a college campus. And countless games throughout the season are televised.

And then, there is the darker, more unpleasant side of college lacrosse's ever-increasing visibility – the side that dictates how higher-paid coaches need to win to avoid being shoved onto the hot seat, and then kicked out the door.

On Monday, nearly a year after Dave Cottle was unceremoniously and unfairly canned after nine seasons at Maryland and 280 victories in his three-decade career, the game lost two more of its better people and revered teachers.

At Towson, time ran out for Tony Seaman, who "resigned" after 13 seasons and a 3-10 collapse by the Tigers in 2011. At Navy, the rumors that had been percolating for the past year came to fruition, as Richie Meade "resigned" after 17 seasons in Annapolis, where the Midshipmen stumbled to their second straight losing record with a 4-9 finish.

The turn of events underscored another bad day for the old guys. And with the reported resignation of Georgetown assistant Matt Rienzo, you wonder how long before Dave Urick, the 22-year face of Hoyas lacrosse, submits his resignation. Georgetown has now missed four consecutive NCAA tournaments.

Seaman, 68, exits the stage after completing his third decade as a head coach. Seaman earned 260 victories while becoming the only coach ever to take three Division I schools (Penn, Johns Hopkins, Towson) to the NCAA tournament. But after taking the Tigers to the NCAAs five times in seven seasons, starting with a wild ride to the final four in 2001, Seaman failed for the fourth consecutive season to get Towson into the postseason.

Just last year, Towson recovered from a terrible start and reached the Colonial Athletic Association tournament final before losing the automatic NCAA bid to Delaware. It was enough for Seaman to win CAA Coach of the Year honors.

Seaman had staved off his own elimination since 2009. But Mike Waddell, Towson's new athletic director, decided to move now, in search of new blood.

The firing of Meade, 57, is a hotter, more controversial affair, and Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk undoubtedly is feeling blowback heat from the long-armed, loyal Navy family. Meade, who spent a combined 26 years coaching at Army and Navy and rebuilt the Midshipmen in the 1990s, guided Navy to six straight NCAA tournaments, starting with the improbable run to the 2004 final.

With his gruff, no-nonsense approach and fierce sense of loyalty to his Mids, Meade also had become a living, iconic example of leadership at a school that churns out leaders in the form of Navy and Marine officers. But Meade's team had slipped in recent years, partly due to attrition, injuries and some recruiting misses.

And with one of his younger squads in 2011, Meade committed what seems to be the unpardonable sin. Never mind his 142-97 record at Navy, which attracts and accepts some of the country's most uniquely gifted and driven student-athletes.

Navy lost to Army last month for the third straight time, dating to last spring's sweep by the Black Knights. That marked the first three-game losing streak to Army in 59 years.

"This is very emotional. It's almost surreal, but I'm OK, and I ain't done. I've got to be coaching somebody," said Meade, who teaches martial arts and boxing as a tenured physical education professor at Navy. "Captains change all the time in the Navy. There are new commanders running the ship. [Lacrosse] is going to another command."

"We're losing that Mom and Pop feel that lacrosse used to be about," Hofstra coach Seth Tierney said. "We were all little hardware stores doing well. Now, Home Depot has moved in. There are [higher] expectations, and there are things that go along with that."

"I didn't want it to end this way. I don't feel that old," said Seaman, whose one-year contract extension expires June 30. "I've been through three [athletic directors] and four presidents here. You only survive for so long. Finishing at 3-10 gave [Waddell] a great reason to do this. It's become a tough profession to stay at the same place for a long period of time."

Both Seaman and Meade have been offered administrative positions at their respective schools. And both Seaman and Meade could not escape the crosshairs of athletic directors who want to jumpstart things with "their coaches." Maybe it is time for younger blood. But the "we-must-win" overtones, indicative of a sport that has grown up on a national scale, are written all over these moves.

"We're losing that Mom and Pop feel that lacrosse used to be about," Hofstra coach Seth Tierney said. "We were all little hardware stores doing well. Now, Home Depot has moved in. There are [higher] expectations, and there are things that go along with that."

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala agreed.

"We have taken some giant strides to catch up with some of the other big sports, and this is part of what has happened. In one year, we've lost three guys at major lacrosse institutions, all in the state of Maryland, where lacrosse is part of the fabric of our community. I guess we have to be careful of what we wish for," Pietramala said.

"Tony loses his job a year after being voted Coach of the Year by his peers. That is a surprise to me. And Richie Meade losing his job is a joke to me. There are bigger things going on [at Navy] than wins and losses. It's about making men, which is what we try to do here. It's certainly what Richie and the academy are about. Who personifies what that institution stands for better than Richie Meade? In my opinion, [Gladchuk] made a bad mistake."


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