Remembering Longtime Lafayette Coach
|Lawson during his
© Lafayette Athletics
I've gotten to interview a lot of great people during my time working with Lacrosse Magazine – some famous, many not so famous – but one trip I always look back fondly on was getting the chance to meet former Lafayette coach Bill Lawson in the spring of 2002, his final year coaching at the school.
Lawson died on Saturday, after a car accident in New Jersey. I first saw a tweet about it from Bill Tierney and felt an instant sadness. Lafayette's current coach, Jim Rogalski, said he felt like "the wind got taken out of me" when he heard. Lawson remained close to the program after retiring.
"He's the type of person that when he walked into the room, everyone was happier and felt better," said Rogalski. "The first time I walked into my office there was a note from him saying congratulations and to call him if I ever needed anything."
That welcoming feeling was the same thing I felt when I visited him at Lafayette for my Lacrosse Magazine story. We talked briefly in his office and then walked to a nearby restaurant where he insisted on treating me to lunch. It was like going back in time, a very simple unpretentious place, and he knew everybody. It was almost hard to conduct the interview because everybody kept coming up to say hello to him. He was clearly at home, which makes obvious sense, given that he coached at Lafayette for 37 years and lived in a house just a block away from campus.
At Lafayette, Lawson didn't have the resources that most of his counterparts had. He had no scholarships, never had a full-time assistant, and also coached another sport (swimming and later diving) during his time at the school. Not surprisingly, his won-loss record wasn't gaudy, but it was never just about wins and losses for Lawson.
"You could have just played your worst game ever and he'd come over and tell you he still likes you," said one of his former players, Pat Lennon, for the story I did on Lawson back in 2002. "He's probably one of the best people I've met."
Lawson was competitive, but never lost sight of the balance of athletics and education.
"If you don't want to win, you shouldn't keep score," he told me. "We go out there and we keep score. Somebody's got to beat somebody. But there are wins and there are wins. You can be a winner without being at the top of the pack – did your kids learn anything? Did you learn anything?"
Perhaps what was most striking to me in looking back at my article from over a decade ago was some advice he gave to the next generation of college lacrosse coaches. His words were true then, and even truer now.
"What are you going to do if you don't win? Are you ready for that? You can't win all the time. If you're going to stake your livelihood – your house, your car, your family, your insurance policy – on the whims of 18 to 20-year-old kids and not think there's going to be some negative results, you're in the wrong business."
Rogalski was the beneficiary of lots of advice from Lawson since taking over at Lafayette last year.
"He stopped in just to see if I was okay," said Rogalski. "He cared about the program, but he cared about me. He'd calm me down and ask about my family. You don't find too many people like that anymore. When he'd leave my office, I'd wish I was more like that guy. He was so supportive."
And that's what makes Lawson's passing all the more difficult.
"It's a huge loss for the program," said Rogalski, "but you also lose a friend."