Q&A with former Army coach Jack Emmer
When Jack Emmer retired as Army’s head coach after the 2005 season, he left as college lacrosse all-time winningest coach with 326 victories. That mark has since been surpassed by Salisbury’s Jim Berkman, but Emmer continues to monitor the game from the stands. Emmer, whose job status with ESPN is in the air, shared his perspective on the upcoming season.
Question: Many analysts have picked Syracuse as the favorite to win the NCAA championship. What team poses the biggest challenge for Syracuse?
Jack Emmer: “Well, you’ve got to come and play every game, and last year in the first round of the tournament when everything was at stake, Army beat them at home. So they certainly can be beaten. Will Army do that again? I don’t know. But Syracuse, they’re the best team in the country. But they’re a little unproven on their attack, I think. They’re going to rely on a guy who was hurt last year in [sophomore] JoJo Marasco and [senior] Stephen Keogh. They’re good, and Marasco has a lot of talent, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience. So they don’t have that great offensive player to go to, but they’re excellent at the defensive end, particularly with [senior goalkeeper John] Galloway. So they’re going to be real tough to beat. But UVA, they’ve got a lot of offensive talent. They’re a little shy on the defensive end, I think, so they’ve got to put together a defense. But they’re right there. I tell you, the most talented team in the country might be Maryland. Unfortunately, this is Dave Cottle’s team. This was supposed to be his best team. They’re a very veteran team, very solid. [Senior long-stick midfielder Brian] Farrell is a horse, and they’ve got a couple guys like that. I think Maryland, if they can get their act together, could be very, very good. So they look like the three best teams to me. And then there’s a whole bunch packed together after that.”
Q: Is there an underrated team that you think will be poised to make an impression in May?
JE: “I think there’s a big-time sleeper that nobody talks about, and it’s their first year of being eligible for the Division I tournament, and that’s Bryant University, coached by Mike Pressler. They’re not going to get much publicity in the Baltimore area, but I’ve seen them play quite a bit, and I’ve got great respect for Mike. He’s an outstanding coach, as he was at Duke, and they’ve got some outstanding players. They have a junior goalie named Jameson Love, and he’s as good as anybody I’ve seen. They have a face-off guy who transferred in as a fifth-year student from Notre Dame [Trever Sipperly] who was Notre Dame’s face-off guy last year. They have a defenseman named [sophomore] Mason Poli, and he is going to be as good as any close defenseman around. They’ve got a good attack. They’re very balanced. They just need to score enough goals, but they’re going to be very good. Last year, they beat Army, they beat Yale, lost to UNC by a goal, but they might be on the cusp of getting there. I think Lehigh has gotten a lot better. That’s another sleeper. UMass is going to be pretty good. They’re always on the cusp. Siena, who knows about them? They play Duke in the first game, and they’ll give them a good game."
Q: Which coaching move will have the biggest impact in the game?
JE: “I would say the most immediate impact is probably going to come down to Maryland because I think the talent is there and they might respond well to a new approach and then that talent might step up to a new level. I think John Tillman is stepping into a pretty good situation in his first year there. I think they’ll be very receptive to him, and I think he could have a very positive impact because they’re good. I think Harvard [with Chris Wojcik] is in the mix with teams like Yale and Brown. They’re going to be pretty good, too. I still think Cornell and Princeton are the class of the Ivy League. Ben DeLuca being the new guy there [at Cornell], he’s a real protégé of Jeff Tambroni. So he’s going to keep that program focused and going in the right direction. And they’ve got a great player in [junior attackman] Rob Pannell. He’s as good as anybody in the country.”
Q: Is there a coach whose seat is feeling a little warmer than usual?
JE: “I don’t think about it along those lines. Nobody comes to mind. Being a former coach, I’ve got a lot of respect for coaches who have been successful over a long period of time. Guys like Dave Urick who probably has more wins than anybody. You don’t get dumb overnight. I know people are after him, but I think Dave’s a terrific coach. And I think Dave Pietramala is a terrific coach. When you’re in this coaching profession, you go through these periods of time where people might think you’re not as good as you ought to be, but people should be careful about what they wish for. Those guys are great coaches, and they may be down for a year or two, but they always bring their programs back. I can’t give you an answer to that question.”
Q: What players will be vying for the Tewaaraton Award in May?
JE: “I think [Stony Brook senior midfielder] Kevin Crowley is going to be in the running. And then I think Rob Pannell of Cornell is very outstanding. [Senior midfielder] Shamel Bratton of Virginia is very good. And then Syracuse has a bunch of guys, but the most outstanding long-stick middie in the country is [senior] Joel White. The best goalie in the country right now is John Galloway. He’s matured, he’s getting better every year, and he does everything well now. Those are five guys that jump out at me.”
Q: The debate on how to improve lacrosse rages on and the introduction of a shot clock is widely mentioned as an option to accelerate the pace of games. What’s your thought on this?
JE: “The thing about the shot clock that worries me is, it’s been used in the MLL [Major Lacrosse League], and it’s different than basketball. When the shot clock is running down, someone takes a three-pointer and you can make that three-pointer in basketball. In lacrosse, if they’re shooting it from the restraining line because they don’t have a good shot, then it’s just a catch by the goalie, and – boom – it’s going down the other way. So what teams wind up doing is they throw the ball to the corner of the field and run back on defense rather than letting the goalie catch it and start a fastbreak. To me, that’s a pretty unpleasant part of the game in the MLL. I think the shot clock in some ways would speed things up. But I tell you, if you want to start a little controversy, the thing that I think would speed up the game the best is getting rid of the face-off. Every year, there’s new rules on the face-off on how to officiate the face-off, where to place the sticks, where to keep your position for the officials. And the cheating is incredible on the face-off. I would say 40 percent of the time, they have a second whistle on the face-off because somebody jumped and they give the ball to the other guy. It’s an unseemly part of the game right now for a lot of reasons. And I know I’m absolutely in the minority here, but I say if a goal is scored, give the ball to the team on the backline. You can’t sub except on the fly, take it out on the backline like you do in basketball, and get the ball moving. That would speed up the game in my mind more than a shot clock would because then you would take that 30 or 35 seconds of dead time walking up to the next face-off out of the game. But the traditionalists – and you’d think that I would be one – like the face-off, and it would limit the face-off specialists. They would lose a chance to play lacrosse, which would be a drawback. But if you took that ball out of the backline and got it moving along right away, it would be in my mind a much faster gamer. Back in the real old days of basketball, they used to have a jump ball after every basket. They did away with that, and it sounds ridiculous now that they would do that in basketball. But someday, that’s going to happen to lacrosse, and I think it’s going to improve the game. But it probably won’t happen in my lifetime.”