May 27, 2010

Cottle's Colleagues Mystified by His Firing

by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

"If there's not more value to coaching than winning a championship, why are we doing it?" asks Denver coach Bill Tierney, in reaction to Maryland firing Dave Cottle for not advancing to the NCAA final four.

© Trevor Brown

Lambrecht: Cottle 'Whacked,' What's Next?

Dave Urick took his first head coaching job more than three decades ago, and at the time rumblings about job security were more rare than the prospect of a televised game.

Winning meant something, sure, but it was far from the only thing on the minds of coaches.

Perhaps not anymore, though, especially in light of the ouster of Maryland’s Dave Cottle on Sunday.

Thirty years ago, Urick (and many of his colleagues) wouldn’t have envisioned a coach with a 99-45 record and eight postseason appearances in nine seasons losing his job. And if, somehow, he had?

“My wife probably would have said ‘You better find another line of work,’” Urick said.

To be certain, the line of work is changing.

The days of everyone playing at 1 p.m. every Saturday and only a handful of fans and alums paying attention is gone at many schools. Media coverage has mushroomed along with crowd sizes during Memorial Day weekend. Maryland played 11 games televised live this season, more than double the five the Terrapins’ football program had broadcast.

And with it, expectations have exploded as well.

At its most simplistic, a college coach’s job is to help players grow up, make sure they earn their degrees and to win games. By all accounts, Cottle did all three, the first two surpassing the levels Maryland officials anticipated.

“We are a different program today than the day he  took over,” said Michael Lipitz, Maryland’s senior associate athletic director and men’s lacrosse sport supervisor. “We have kids of character, and that’s to his credit.”

But Cottle’s .688 winning percentage -- nearly a carbon copy of the .692 mark posted by predecessor Dick Edell in 18 seasons -- didn’t include seasons finishing with a flourish. A four-year final four drought, just the second since the NCAA tournament was established in 1971, was particularly troubling to those who decided Cottle’s fate.

Their choice, in turn, was just as troubling to those in Cottle’s profession.

“All I know is we’re putting this price tag on a national championship game that in the last 18 years, four teams have won,”said Denver coach Bill Tierney, who counts Cottle as his best friend.
“In the last thirtysome years, five teams have won. Since its inception, seven have won. I know it’s only 60 teams and it's always hovered around that, but that’s absurd. If someone got fired and 25 have won it, then you’d say everybody has a shot … If there’s not more value to coaching than winning a championship, why are we doing it?”

A championship is the obvious missing piece in Cottle’s 28-year resume. He’s won 280 games and reached five final fours, though none since 2006. His 22 NCAA appearances match Virginia’s Dom Starsia for the most ever.

Perhaps Cottle wasn’t going to win a national title. But the logical follow-up is figuring out just who could do substantially better.

“I just think it’s puzzling,” Navy coach Richie Meade said. “I think there’s always two sides to things, but I don’t know. I guess a lot of Dave’s colleagues are trying to figure out who’s a better coach than Dave Cottle. We’re having a hard time figuring that out. I don’t know all the details, but I know Dave loved the University of Maryland. I thought he did a good job as its lacrosse coach.”

However, the school’s championship drought was extended to 36 years on his watch, and it’s evident Maryland’s administration is measuring success in the ability to contend for and collect titles. But there are issues facing the program that more than suggest the Terps can’t just walk onto the field and expect to roll like it’s still the 1970s.

The locker room in the decrepit varsity team house is, to put it mildly, lacking compared to other elite programs. The Byrd Stadium sod is always torn up from football season, and by the time May rolls around the crease areas are reduced to dirt and resembles a beach rather than a lacrosse field.

More schools than ever are allocating resources to lacrosse, understandably seduced by the idea of playing in front of 50,000 on Memorial Day weekend. And regardless of magazine rankings, the
perception of Maryland academically among recruits (and, more importantly, their parents) typically lags behind the Ivies, Duke, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame and even North Carolina and
Virginia.

Toss in the standards Maryland so boldly declared while creating its vacancy, and it’ll be curious to see who eventually seriously winds up in the mix for the job.

“They’re going to attract some good coaches, but if people take a hard, long look and if that’s where the bar is set, that might discourage some pretty good people from looking at that job,” Urick said.
“It may not be what some people want, while some people are going to relish that challenge.”

Whoever it is will be set up to succeed immediately. Should Will Yeatman appeal to restore a lost year of eligibility, Maryland could return 12 of its top 13 points leaders. The entire close defense is
composed of rising seniors, and long pole Brian Farrell also returns.

The Terps’ greatest graduation hits come at goalie (Brian Phipps) and on faceoffs (Bryn Holmes), as well as the defensive midfield (Holmes and Dean Hart). But Niko Amato, who redshirted this spring, was considered the top goalie in his class, so that might not be the massive hole it could be.

“They could get my little sister and she could go in there next year and win this thing and everybody is going to smell like a rose because of what Dave Cottle has done,” Tierney said. “Whoever gets the job, the first thing they ought to say is ‘Thank you’ to Dave Cottle.”

Still, there’s a larger effect here that creeps beyond College Park. When one school fires a coach coming off a 12-4 season and an appearance in the quarterfinals, it’s easier for another program to do the same.

Tierney noted he and many of his contemporaries got into coaching to teach more than simply how to run a fast break. As the stakes grow larger in the eyes of administrators, though, such a noble outlook could become a greater anachronism every year.

“I think what will happen in the future when these jobs are filled is coaches will ask, ‘How many years and how much money and what’s my security?’” said Meade, the president of the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association. “Basically, that’s the direction of basketball and football, so I guess that’s the direction we’re moving in, too.”


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