The Team USA Way
by Justin Feil | LaxMagazine.com
|Fried wears his emotions on his
sleeve. It makes him relatable to players, Team USA's Lindsey
© Scott McCall
The following article originally appeared in the print edition of the June issue of Lacrosse Magazine, an exclusive benefit for the more than 400,000 members of US Lacrosse. Join US Lacrosse now to help support the positive development of the sport, and receive Lacrosse Magazine delivered right to your mailbox.
Ricky Fried wears a hat when he coaches, but it never stays on his head.
"His poor hat takes a beating," said former Georgetown women's lacrosse assistant Michi Ellers, who coached with and played for Fried. "He is passionate."
Fried's passion on the sidelines has been fostered by every stop in a life of lacrosse — from the time he first held a stick at age 3 to a decorated playing career at UMBC and later becoming the first male head coach of the U.S. women's national team.
"I wear my emotions on my sleeve," Fried said, "so it's not hard to tell how I feel."
Fried was an assistant coach on Sue Heether's staff when the U.S. reclaimed the gold medal at the 2009 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Women's World Cup in Prague, Czech Republic. Now it's on him to guide Team USA to a repeat next month in Ottawa, Canada.
"What you do has an influence and how you do it has an influence," Fried said. "When I was named, being a male didn't really resonate with me, but I do realize that that is a factor and it is something that people are going to judge."
As passionate as Fried is about lacrosse, he keeps his wife Halyna, their 9-year-old son Jack and their 8-year-old daughter Paige first in his life. He turned down an opportunity with the U.S. in 2005 because it would have compromised his family life.
"It's not the most important thing in my life, so I don't expect it to be the most important thing for my players at Georgetown or with the U.S.," he said.
Family first goes to the core of Fried's own introduction to lacrosse. His father was an Army infantry officer who played at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and Loyola University before becoming a college official. He gave Ricky his first stick. No matter where they moved, Fried kept that stick within reach. While at West Point, Fried's father served as the officer representative for Army men's lacrosse.
"I was able to travel around with the team," Fried said. "Coach [Dick] Edell was the head coach then. I learned a lot being around the game that way."
Fried wasn't big, but his speed and game sense helped him star at Calvert Hall in Maryland before developing into an All-American midfielder at UMBC (1985-88).
"He was a leader on the field," said former UMBC coach Dick Watts. "What he's doing does not surprise me."
Fried started his coaching career as a volunteer assistant at UMBC before joining John Tucker's staff at Gilman (Md.) School.
When Gilman eliminated coaches who were not employed by the school, Tucker suggested Fried join his wife Janine Tucker's staff at Johns Hopkins.
"For girls?" Janine Tucker said of Fried's reaction. "I had to convince him he would enjoy coaching women. I wanted to bring in some of the things from the guys' game."
Said Fried: "I did not know the women's game from bocce ball. It was all new to me. Janine gave me a VCR tape of a game — that's how long ago it was. I watched the game and came back and talked to her with two pages of notes."
That first year at Johns Hopkins, Fried kept quiet as he soaked up the nuances of the women's game. "Janine was not a traditionalist," he said. "We were willing to listen to each other and throw ideas out and tweak things."
After nine years as an assistant with the Blue Jays, Fried moved to Georgetown for two years as an assistant before rising to head coach in 2005. Fried did not realize at the time he was at the forefront among male coaches in women's lacrosse.
"It didn't really have anything to do with the gender," Fried said. "I was very content to be coaching where I was coaching. The dominos fell the right way."
Twenty years after Tucker's overture, Fried remains in the women's game.
"I'm extremely different now," Fried said. "It may not seem it, but I'm calmer on the sideline. I do a pretty good job of being self-aware, understanding what my strengths and weaknesses are. It doesn't mean I don't have weaknesses, but hopefully I'm aware of them."
Fried works closely with U.S. team assistants Amy Bokker, Liz Robertshaw, Jess Wilk Strosberg, Michelle DeJuliis, Bowen Holden and Carol Cantele.
"Talent is the easier part. It's figuring out which talent has the right mentality and which people are willing to put the team ahead of their own goals," Fried said.
Fried has spearheaded drastic change in the Team USA selection process. He helped to initiate a move to one 36-person team in place of the old 24-person developmental and elite teams and made the process more transparent.
"He's very open about what we're trying to do and the way we want to do it," said Nathaniel Badder, director of national teams at US Lacrosse. "He developed a Team USA way. This is his vision of the right way to play, and he's ready to scream it from the mountain top."
Team USA employs the full-field ride, called "Aces," Fried first introduced to Johns Hopkins. The style wears on opponents physically and mentally, allows Fried to utilize the deeper U.S. roster and forces a unified defensive approach.
"The thing I enjoy the most," Fried said, "is when we put something into play and there's a complete buy-in from the players and watching it become successful. Getting U.S. attackers to buy into the ride isn't the easiest to do, but the fact that our team rides better than any other team in the world is rewarding."
Fried's passion for the game has led him in building a team that meets his vision.
"After a good play or not such a good play, he is really, really passionate about it. Whether you're up or down, you're getting the same from him," U.S. attacker Lindsey Munday said. "That's a motivating thing when someone is that into every play. That keeps you on your toes."
And it keeps his hat off his head.