Blogs and Commentary

posted 06.06.2011 at 9.57 a.m. by Jac Coyne

Morning Jac: A New Bullet to Dodge


It used to be that an MCLA coach's biggest concern was a rogue player who wasn't getting enough field time, an influential parent with an axe to grind or a cabal of team leaders who felt the staff was hindering potential. Those three agents are traditionally understood as kryptonite to an MCLA coaching career.

Those three entities have ended the tenures of dozens of MCLA coaches. There has been the rare instance when the move proved to be a boon for the program, but usually hindsight showed that it was a capricious, and ultimately damaging, decision. The most comical – albeit a black comedy – was Gary Podesta being fired at Santa Clara, only to be hired back a couple of years later when the students realized they had, to quote the president, "acted stupidly."

It's not a surprising phenomenon. The set-up of most non-varsity programs has players as the boss and the coach as the employee. Since coaches must put demands on their players to excel, it's an unnatural dynamic and typically results in the termination of the coach, whether it's after one year or 10.

We're starting to see the advent of a new bullet for coaches to dodge, however, and it was highlighted on Thursday when Mike Ryder was "relieved" of his duties as the head coach at Colorado, along with his associate head coach. Now coaches must now also meet the expectations of the increasingly powerful club sports director (CSD).

This new challenge for coaches was brought to the fore with the firing of Jason Lamb at Brigham Young in '09. Lamb, who is now the coach at NCAA D-II Adams (Colo.) State, had created his own fiefdom in Provo, and refused to be reined in by the school's CDS (known as the "extramural" director at BYU). A three-time national champion coach was undone not by backbiting from the players or parents, but the demands of the "club guy."

Ryder was dismissed by Kris Schoech, the CSD at Colorado, for what was termed "administrative reasons." None of the usual player or parental issues were present – Ryder believed he had their backing – and there were no disciplinary problems, but the CU staff failed to meet the expectations of the club sports department. Reading between the lines of conversations related to Ryder's firing, the supposition is there was a level of disorganization among the staff that Schoech found unacceptable.

If this was the case, it's tough to fault Schoech. He is being evaluated by the performance of the coaches he hires, and must run his department the way he feels works best. Schoech will, however, reap what he and the lacrosse program have sown. With the firing of two coaches in 18 months – one due to the whims of the players, the other to the whims of the CSD – Colorado is no longer an attractive spot for a career-minded prospective coach, despite the many positives the university possesses lacrosse-wise. Considering the job security (or lack thereof), it has to be considered a last resort for any coach with virtual varsity aspirations.

Will Colorado get a good coach to replace Ryder? Sure, there are enough up-and-coming coaches who would crave an opportunity to harness the monumental potential that Boulder holds. Still, the new coach might want to rent, and not buy.

The rise in influence of the CSD is partly due to the success of the MCLA. Instead of the CSD simply having to worry about whether the Ultimate Frisbee team has enough end zone cones or the karate club gets floor space, the CSD must now oversee large teams that fly all over the country, compete at a very high level and represent their college or university. In many ways, the stakes are just as high as they are with varsity programs.

Ironically, while the success of the MCLA has helped give rise to the powerful CSD, it has also created yet another potential obstacle for coaches to navigate – quite a minefield for someone who could make more money flipping burgers.

And with every coach that is fired, it is the MCLA's overall reputation that suffers.