ESPN’s Mark Dixon delves further into Division I coaching changes
Thursday’s edition of The Sun included an article on the spate of head coaching changes in Division I this year. The article included a few quotes from ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins midfielder Mark Dixon and a thumbnail look at a few selected schools that had hired new coaches or were in the process of doing so.
Dixon surmised that the impetus to win immediately and frequently that administrations are putting on head coaches has resonated on the youth and high school levels of lacrosse.
"I think if you look at the landscape of the sport and when you take it down to the cellular level, the intense involvement of parents and the existence of club teams for kids who are 10 years old, the behavior at games of coaches toward referees, parents toward coaches, parents and coaches toward players -- these are things that youth football and club soccer have endured, and now we face these things in lacrosse," Dixon said. "I think as the game grows, more and more athletes are picking it up, and I think the biggest thing is that the majority of parents haven’t played the game.”
Dixon said university officials can point to Villanova as a case study. The Wildcats went 11-5 this past spring and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years despite not fielding a full-time coach.
“That team has not been fully funded with scholarships and the coaching staff has not been a full-time group,” Dixon said. “That’s when really established programs start taking a look at themselves and say, ‘Why can Villanova accomplish this, but we can’t?'”
The issue of instability on the coaching level became a hot topic with 12 programs parting ways with their head coaches this year. But Dixon said the rationale behind those decisions emphasizing on winning national championships began locally 13 years ago.
“I think this all started in 1998 when Tony Seaman resigned from Johns Hopkins, primarily because he failed to get them to a national championship game in eight or nine years,” Dixon said. “I think that kind of kicked things off a little bit, and that’s what the mindset is at Johns Hopkins. Now you wouldn’t think that’s the mindset at those schools that have made changes, but I think another factor is the high-profile nature of the schools. It’s Maryland becoming open [in 2010], North Carolina becoming open, Bill Tierney deciding to leave a six-time national championship program at Princeton to go out west and build another legacy. So I think it’s a combination of things. I think it’s the people involved, but it’s also coming to a point where you’re not having one or two vacancies and guys retiring on their own. It’s six or seven vacancies and at least half of those are because people are forced out and then you have a domino effect. Look at Rick Sowell taking the Navy job. So Stony Brook comes open and Jim Nagle steps over from Colgate. Now Colgate has an opening. That’s the way lacrosse has typically gone. There are six or seven openings because of the domino effect.”
There’s no way to predict whether the trend of firing coaches for not meeting perceived expectations is a brief one, but Dixon said history has shown that everyone is susceptible to being second-guessed.
“I think you have to look at things on a case-by-case basis, but let’s not forget that John Desko in 2007 [when the team went 5-8] – because of the alumni and the fans – was on the hot seat,” Dixon said. “In ’05, they were knocked out of the first round. In ’06, they got to the national semis, but they didn’t make it to the national championship. So that’s a three-year stretch in Syracuse history that is a blip. Dave Pietramala had two straight seasons of what he would probably consider lackluster Hopkins lacrosse, and the alumni and fans were grumbling as well. Let’s look at Dom Starsia. He was under a lot of scrutiny over the last couple of years with the situations that had arisen down at the University of Virginia. They’re not immune to the scrutiny and the finger-pointing, and all three have won multiple national championships!”