June 29, 2011

New Rattlers Coach Soudan Empowers Players

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com


Midfielder Matt Striebel will be one of three captains named by new Rattlers coach Tim Soudan, instead of what he called a "floating captaincy" that existed under B.J. O'Hara.

© Rich Barnes

Tim Soudan's playing career with the Rochester Rattlers ended with a phone call to B.J. O'Hara the day before the first game of the 2004 season. With a young son and staring at a pile of rocks in his yard that should have been moved two years earlier, it hit Soudan that he couldn't be away for weekends during the summer anymore. The three-year pro decided to retire from Major League Lacrosse.

"I was away like 42 weekends a year," said Soudan, who also played for the National Lacrosse League's Rochester Knighthawks at the time and worked camps. "It just became too much. It was the year B.J. took over, and I had make a phone call before first game to let him know there's no possible way I could continue."

It's strange how circumstances come full circle. Just over eight years later, Soudan got a call from Rochester ownership to replace O'Hara as head coach after the Rattlers started 0-6 this season.

The official announcement on the coaching change was made Tuesday, and Soudan — a Rochester local, a former 11-year veteran of the Knighthawks, a National Hall of Famer and assistant coach at Fairport High School — on Wednesday provided a glimpse into his coaching philosophy and approach he plans to take with the team the rest of the season.

He's a players' coach.

"Let the horses out and let them go," he said. Soudan played midfield on Team USA under current Denver coach Bill Tierney and Bob Shillinglaw (Delaware) in 1998 and 1999, respectively. The 1998 team won gold (in the historic 15-14 double OT final against Canada) and the '99 squad won the inaugural World Cup of Lacrosse. Soudan said Tierney's style was "very controlling," and said he preferred Shillinglaw's let-them-play approach that he thinks will work best in the pro league.

"I'm going to put guys in positions where they're going to be successful and they feel empowered and they can go and make plays without anxiety, without any stress," Soudan said. "At this level, you have to really buy into that as a coach. That's going to be my philosophy going into working with these guys."

He wants leaders.

Soudan will name defenseman Greg Bice, midfielder Matt Striebel and faceoff specialist Anthony Kelly as captains, a switch from the leadership approach under O'Hara, whom Soudan said used a "floating captaincy."

"I know B.J. had a little bit of a floating-type captainship situation. That seemed a little strange to me," he said. "If we tighten up some leadership, that's going to be on the things that's going to help create some focus."

He said Rochester needs to clean up substitution issues that have led to numerous fast breaks and about three to four avoidable goals per game allowed on average. "We have a really talented team," Soudan said. "In talking with the guys, they're a couple mistakes away from winning games. If we could tighten some of the transition and the substitution play, we're right there."

"With substitution and going up field from our defensive end to our offensive end, we take on pressure and maybe turn the ball over all the way up the field -- or get a bad switch and get a couple steps behind somebody, and it causes number advantage for the other team.... Guys in this league are so good at [odd-man rushes]."

He loves Crotty.

Ned Crotty is a great player, Soudan said, but he would be even better if he played opposite Casey Powell, whom Soudan is trying to coax back into the MLL.

© Rich Barnes

Soudan called second-year attackman Ned Crotty an unbelievable talent. "We're going to let him make plays, and put him in positions to do what he does. I'm going to play the strengths of the players, empower them to have the freedom, put them in sets they can be successful in and give them the green light to go play. As a player, I appreciate that more than anything else. When the game is this fast, you shouldn't be concerned with having to make plays. You should feel that the split-second decision you need to make is the right one. If you don't make the same mistake over and over again, I'll be fine with it."

He needs d-middies.

Soudan said he talked with Rattlers players about the team's defense. He said they felt the Rattlers' six-on-six defense was solid, but they have been using too few defensive midfielders in their rotation.

He dropped a line with CP.

Soudan has reached out to Casey Powell, the MLL's all-time leading scorer who is still on the Rattlers roster but has not played this summer. O'Hara, a former neighbor of Powell, had tried to convince Powell to play, but to no avail. Soudan contacted Powell, but still hasn't spoken with him directly. He presumed that Powell may be burnt out from playing in the pro leagues.

"I talked about me getting burned out and that's why I ended up pulling out when I did. I think he's at that point," Soudan said. "I did drop him a line on Facebook before the news broke, and he called me back the next morning. I was in the shower. When I tried to call back he didn't pick up. So I'm still trying to get a hold of him, see if there's a possibility of him coming out for the rest of the season or several games, or whatever he could commit to. It would certainly help our team. If we can get him to come out, it would be awesome. If it's going to be spotty, I think we just need to run with the guys we got. We don't want any major distractions. He would be a complete breath of fresh air. It makes Ned Crotty and Striebel that much more successful. We're pushing hard to get him to commit. He knows why I've been calling and texting, but I don't think he's ready to do that right now. Having young children and a wife and living so far away [in Florida], it's that much more of a commitment."

Letting Garber go is bittersweet.

Soudan credits the late Dick Garber, the former longtime UMass coach, as his biggest coaching mentor, which made is especially difficult to let go Dick's son, Ted Garber, who was an assistant under O'Hara. But Soudan said it was best to make a clean break. "One of my greatest mentors was Dick Garber. He had a great presence on the sideline. One of the hardest things in this whole transition is having to let Teddy Garber go," Soudan said. "But [Rattlers owner] Rob Clark and I decided to make a fresh start. It makes better sense with the players."

Soudan's assistant coach will be Jacques Monte, a former Knighthawks assistant coach who grew up with Soudan. Billy Warder will also stay on as an assistant. Soudan said he reached out to former Rattler Chris Schiller to gauge his interest in a job, but Schiller was unavailable. He now lives near Charlotte.

He prefers a personal touch.

Soudan said he has called every player that will be in the lineup Saturday night against the Chesapeake Bayhawks, and has talked to almost everyone. "I've gotten in touch with almost everybody," Soudan said. "I wanted to do it that way instead of email, because the translation in email is sometimes not good. I wanted to make sure that I talked to them personally, so they understood where I came from, and my personality comes through when you talk on the phone. Everybody was really receptive. It gave me a lot of confidence that I'm in this thing for the right reason, and these guys are still excited to win."

As for on-the-field matters and the reason he has been brought in -- to get Rochester a win this season, and more -- Soudan said: "This is one of toughest situations I've ever been in. I'm going to approach it like any other day, and try to get the guys excited to play, understand what they're up against and have a good game plan. This is all new to me from a coaching standpoint, but it's not new to me as a player. I know how to approach it. I know the mentality that has to be in the locker room before the game, at halftime... One of our big problems has been in the third quarterm not coming out and responding. Some of those little things, if I can clean those up, it might give us a better opportunity to be in it in the end and hopefully win."


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