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July 20, 2010

Imperfect World: Myers Takes Over at Texas

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

Brian Myers (right) always had the ear of Paul Cantabene (left) when they were on the Stevenson (and Villa Julie) sidelines. Now Myers will be running the show at Texas.
© Stevenson SID

In a perfect world, Brian Myers would not be the new head coach at the University of Texas.

In a perfect world, Myers – a native of Buffalo, N.Y., and a Towson graduate – wouldn’t be in the Lone Star State at all. And he wouldn’t be working for Livestrong, Lance Armstrong’s foundation, striving toward improving cancer survival rates, which is located in Austin.

In a perfect world, he wouldn’t have amassed all of the experience in the non-profit world, which includes the creation of his own organization that has raised thousands of dollars, and helped him earn a job at Livestrong.

And in a perfect world, Brian’s father, Larry, would not be suffering from Huntington’s disease.

While life’s imperfections are ultimately what make it worth living, his father’s illness altered the arc of Myers’ life.

* * *

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a cruel malady.

Due to a genetic anomaly, the body produces an abnormal protein that attacks brain cells at the onset of middle age. This produces symptoms that are similar to a combination of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.  There is a ticking terror that comes with HD: because it is based on heredity, the children of those who have the disease have a 50 percent chance of acquiring it themselves.

Larry Myers had no idea HD came down his side of the family tree until he started showing some of the symptoms, such as loss of memory and involuntary movements. Unwilling to idly watch his father suffer, Brian decided to do something to help his old man.

It started with a hometown effort. There were bowling tournaments and parties thrown to raise money for the Larry Myers Foundation, an organization Brian and his brothers formed to defray some of the costs that come with degenerative disease.

It continued when Brian hooked on with Stevenson College as an assistant coach.

“It was mostly renting out bars and throwing parties and we did a lacrosse tournament through Stevenson,” said Myers. “When I was coaching at Stevenson, Coach [Paul] Cantabene let me be heavily involved with my father’s foundation.”

Myers was a key cog, along with Cantabene, in turning a lacrosse speed-bump, then known as Villa Julie, into the Division III heavyweight that has been on the cusp of a national championship for the past three years.

“Brian is just a great person,” said Cantabene, who led the Mustangs to within an overtime goal of the D-III title game this spring. “He brings a different perspective to the game and kids really respond well to him. He works hard to be the best coach he can be and doesn't mind putting in the extra time it takes to be good.”

Still, Myers' father’s plight weighed heavily. As much as he loved to coach and play lacrosse – Myers played for several Major League Lacrosse teams – there was a higher calling pulling him away from the sport.

“As I was coaching at Stevenson, I started looking around at all of the non-profits that were out there,” said Myers. “Livestrong is kind of the gold standard for non-profits as far as I’m concerned. They are a bunch of young people thinking outside the box and do different things to raise money and make people aware of cancer.”

During the time he was coaching the Mustangs, Myers kept a steady eye on the Livestrong jobs web board to see if there was a position that his grassroots résumé could fill. One came open and, after a couple of phone and face-to-face interviews, Myers was extended an offer to join the team.

The answer was quick.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” said Myers. “[Livestrong] is a great organization with amazingly talented people and it’s in a great city. Here I am in Austin.”

The new surroundings were a thrill for the Buffalo kid, and a welcomed respite from the lacrosse world. As much as the sport had defined him up until that point, there might have been a little burnout.  A new city and a new job were enough to keep him busy.

Until the addiction kicked back in.

“I don’t know how many people know the life of an assistant coach in the college ranks, but to put it simply, it’s a grind,” said Myers. “The recruiting, the schedule, it’s a busy life and I thought I’d take a break from the lacrosse scene for a while, but it only took about a week and a half when I was down here in Austin and I wanted to get back into lacrosse.”

Originally, Myers was eyeing a high school assistant gig, but a quick web search revealed that the University of Texas job was open.

The MCLA – or ‘club’ as it’ll be forever known by the ‘varsity’ world – was an entity that Myers had heard of, but with which he had a substantial unfamiliarity. Like many who take the time to investigate MCLA, especially a quasi-power like Texas, Myers liked what he saw.

The players did all of the interviewing for the job, which impressed Myers, and let him know that they understood his job with Livestrong was a priority, and that the players would be taking care of the scheduling, practice and fundraising responsibilities.

Myers quickly understood that he wouldn’t be coaching in a ‘beer league.’

“Just in just the beginning couple of weeks, I have a lot more respect for club ball,” said Myers. “I don’t think it’s that ‘Just a bunch of guys who are looking to have a good time but aren’t very serious’ type of situation that a lot of people think it is. It’s a very serious, well structured, competitive league with a lot of talented lacrosse players in it. They take lacrosse very seriously – just as serious as anyone who plays NCAA lacrosse.”

Serious is Cantabene’s hallmark, but the Stevenson coach – who is an assistant coach for the U.S. World Team – is comfortable giving Myers his imprimatur.

“One thing I know about Brian is that his kids will be not only good players but they will be good people off the field as well,” said Cantabene. “He knows the importance of that and really lets the kids know what it takes to be a great player off the field as well.”

* * *

Myers is walking into a Texas team in flux.

It’s a poorly kept secret that the Longhorns unraveled on the field, and off, at the end of last season, resulting in a stunning upset in the Lone Star Alliance playoffs to Texas State. It cost the Longhorns a bid to Denver, as well as the previous coach’s job.

Simply put, the Texas position may not be impeccable.

As the son of a father who has Huntington’s, Myers understands that life doesn’t go according to a plan.

But he’s not afraid of striving to find the perfect world.

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