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July 12, 2010

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Triumph: Wojcik Earns Harvard Job the Right Way

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Chris Wojcik is returning to his alma mater having worked to ensure he was the best man for the job.

He’d been so faithful to his alma mater it was only natural to expect reciprocity.

As a finalist for the Harvard job prior to the 2008 season, Chris Wojcik figured he was the natural pick to replace Scott Anderson. He had apprenticed under Anderson for six years, not to mention bleeding Crimson for four undergraduate years on both the lacrosse and soccer fields.

The highest-scoring midfielder in the history of the program as well as the captain of Harvard’s 1996 NCAA quarterfinalist squad, Wojcik’s Cambridge bona fides were unquestioned. You can also throw in his All-Ivy soccer honors after guiding the Crimson to a conference championship on the pitch in ’95.

Heck, Wojcik was only the Bingham Award winner, given to the top athlete in Harvard’s senior class.

Surely, when the dust settled, his school would be true.

Only Wojcik knows the dark place he inhabited when Navy assistant John Tillman was announced as Harvard’s new head coach weeks later.

As the graduate of a school where entitlement is, well, an entitlement, few would have been surprised if Wojcik gave his alma mater a one-fingered salute, vowed to wear Yale colors at the next reunion while seeking comfort amidst sycophantic family and friends.

Wojcik took a different tack, however. He decided to take the same advice he had been giving to his players.

He vowed to get better.

It started by taking an assistant position at Bowdoin, where he was mentored by Tom McCabe, who has 207 wins in his 20 years in Brunswick. It was followed by a year under Brian Voelker at Penn and then this past spring with the Quakers under the eye of Mike Murphy.

“I feel like since I’ve left Harvard I’ve evolved as a coach,” said Wojcik, after finding out over the weekend he would finally get his chance to guide the Crimson.

“I worked with three different coaches and have seen different styles and I have incorporated some of their philosophies and coaching styles into my own,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m a much better coach now and have fresh ideas and an innovative style. I was hoping to get the job last time, but I’m a much better coach since I left.”

“In working with Chris over the past year, I'd say his biggest assets are his work ethic, his professionalism and his knowledge of the game,” said Murphy. “He also is an excellent mentor and I think Harvard made a great decision in hiring him.”

“I couldn't be happier for Chris,” added McCabe. “It is the best choice for Harvard and they will be better because of it.”

The fact that Wojcik has been named the Harvard head coach is a testament to both the coach and Harvard.

Wojcik’s ability to emotionally move past the hurt of not receiving the job the first time while accepting the fact that he had to improve himself is an increasingly rare character trait. He handled the setback the way winners do.

In addition, Harvard athletic director Bob Scalise had the vision to avoid hastily dismissing a previous applicant. It’s easier for ADs to simply snag one of the big names on the market and ride the PR wave. Scalise did his due diligence, combed the field, and found the best fit for his program even if the name might lack the “buzz.” When you consider the Crimson landed Tillman the last time out, Scalise is two for two.

The three years since Wojcik’s first shot at the Harvard job were spent not only gaining more experience, but formulating a game plan for if/when the Harvard job ever came open again. He asked questions of his coaching peers and went over how he would do things differently.

When Wojcik found out through the coaching grapevine that Tillman was interviewing at Maryland, he put his strategy in motion.

“I kind of had my resume and my plan ready and just went back over it and made sure everything was good,” he said.

Part of the plan was tough.

He knew that if he was going to make a serious run at this job, he would have to isolate himself from the numerous former classmates and interested alums who were willing to go to bat for him (two high school classmates of mine who were close to Wojcik at Harvard had more than a passing interest in his chances).

On one level it was great to have that kind of backing, but Wojcik knew that if he was going to be the man for the job he’d have to prove it on his own.

“They were very interested in the process and where the administration was in the process, so it was a fine line of being a friend but also doing everything I need to do to put the best foot forward to get the job,” said Wojcik of the many emails and phone calls he received. “I really, really appreciated all the people who reached out to me and all the people who cared.”

The nature of the beast says those people who were his biggest supporters now hold the potential to be his biggest critics. While Harvard Men (and Women) typically stick up for their own, if things don’t turn out as planned they won’t reserve judgment simply because Wojcik has the ‘H’ on his diploma.

Wojcik isn’t worried about that, although he admits there is some peril in heading back to his old stomping grounds.

“The danger might be that I do know the place too well and it’s a little different now and the players are a little different,” he said. “Maybe there’s a danger about having some preconceived notions, but I think I have an open mind so that when I do go in there this time around I’m going back as a different coach and a different person.”

He’s also going back knowing that he’s not returning as the Harvard head coach because of the alma mater discount or an appreciative alum with a big wallet.

He’s returning to Cambridge because he is the best man for the job.


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