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October 15, 2010

A Test of Friendship: Jaffe Takes Over at UCSB

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

Mario Waibel spent two seasons with UC Santa Barbara, but was replaced on Wednesday by his friend and former assistant Lane Jaffe.

Less than three years ago, Mario Waibel was hired as the coach at UC Santa Barbara, and his candidacy was strengthened by a very enthusiastic recommendation from Lane Jaffe. Jaffe, the former coach at UCLA and the WCLL coach of the year in 2005, had not only developed a professional relationship with Waibel through their work with the Starz program, but also a personal friendship.

When Waibel was given the official nod to take over the Gauchos, Jaffe was quick to give his imprimatur.

“He's passionate, he's thorough, and he cares," said Jaffe to Lacrosse Magazine Online at the time about Waibel. “I definitely think he'll succeed at that level. He's not looking to make friends; he's looking to build on a program and win himself a championship.”

Less than a month ago, Waibel leaped at the chance to add Jaffe, who had built a power at Palos Verdes (Calif.) High School, to his staff as the Gauchos continued their push to rebound from a rebuilding year in 2010.

“Landing Lane is a key acquisition for the program,” said Waibel in a press release. “He has been a celebrated figure in the MCLA, high school, and youth lacrosse leagues every time he touches the field. He brings a wealth of experience and a new dynamic to the team.”

In the course of 72 hours starting on Monday, that dynamic took a very awkward turn.

Waibel not only found out that he had been fired from the position he had worked tirelessly at for the past three years, but he had been replaced by the man who had been so instrumental in getting him the job.

“[Wednesday] they told me they didn’t want me to coach anymore and they thought they could win a championship with Lane,” said Waibel, who was informed of his dismissal via email. “I just said, ‘Really? That’s it?’ There was no ‘Hey, this needs to change’ or ‘Hey, we have these concerns.’ Nothing. We’re going in a different direction. That was it.”

Jon Miller, an assistant at UCSB under Waibel, disputes the assertion that Waibel's dismissal came via email. "That is 100 percent false," he said.

Working through the sports club council at UCSB, the players on the team terminated Waibel’s contract, which was an “at-will” arrangement that allowed either party to end the relationship.

The decision to release Waibel formulated on Monday, when the team leaders approached Jaffe to see if he would be interested in taking over the reins in the event they did make the move. Initially stunned by the offer, Jaffe eventually agreed to take the position.

“I didn’t sleep from the night I found out until the day Mario was released,” admitted Jaffe on Thursday. “He’s dear in my heart and I struggled with the decision for those two nights, but what I realized is it had something to do with him and the kids, and nothing to do with me. I felt okay about it; it was a business decision.

“I was just up there to coach. It was heartbreaking to see my friend go through something like that, but at the same time those that are making the decision are going to make it, and you don’t always have to be happy with the decision to support the decision.”

Jaffe sent an email to Waibel on Wednesday after the decision became official. It was a personal missive, and one that didn’t necessarily ease Waibel’s hurt.

“Lane and I have been friends for a long time, so there’s a little bit of a bite to it,” said Waibel. “I don’t know really where it came from, but I highly doubt Lane came in guns blazing for my job, but it still kind of stings right now. I told him that things will work themselves out and we’ll talk again at some point, but right now I’m a little bitter about a few things, so let me be bitter for a little while and then maybe I can hold an intelligent conversation.”

“Mario is a good friend of mine, and he is still is,” added Jaffe. “It was strictly a business decision made by the kids. It’s club lacrosse and when they approached me I was a little taken aback by it, but I’m up there to coach, so if the kids want me to be an assistant coach or head coach, I’ll do it.”

Jaffe is inheriting a program on the rise. With two very talented classes in the fold and a schedule that will keep the Gauchos in the hunt, Jaffe will have the tools he never had in his first stint in the MCLA.

“One of the reasons I left UCLA was I thought they were competing on separate grounds than the rest of the MCLA,” he said. “Some schools have the ability to get students in while others are limited to their immediate resources, so it was always difficult to compete with the big dogs not getting the support they did. At UCSB, I have the players, I have the talent, and I’m excited. I think we have a chance to do something special this year.”

For Waibel, the unexpected unemployment will allow him to reconnect with the most important part of his life.

“I spent a lot of time on the road building that program, so I’m going to re-focus on my family,” he said. “Next year, I’ll take a look at what’s out there and what I want to accomplish and see if I can find the right fit. I’m just going to take a break and see where the next opportunity is. If you can build it, you can build it. And I can build it.”

While Jaffe and Waibel may need a little time apart to let the wounds heal, their friendship will likely resume down the road. Until then, they will continue their relationship vicariously through the same program that drove a wedge between them.

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