Blogs and Commentary

posted 11.08.2011 at 10.44 a.m. by Jac Coyne

MJ: McCabe's Bowdoin Legacy is Secure

When I joined the Bowdoin athletic department in 1996, I figured working with Tom McCabe would be a unique experience. Why? When I was invited to a staff get-together at his house that fall, I noticed there was not one television in the entire place.

That certainly makes him eccentric by current technological standards, but I quickly found out that McCabe is about as grounded as an individual can be. While he is very serious about his job, the sport does not consume him. He and I have had long discussions about hunting and fishing – hobbies for me, passions for McCabe – but the conversations about lacrosse have been surprisingly minimal. From the day I first talked to him about the sport up until we last spoke a couple of weeks ago, he's always been predictably bland about assessing his latest team. "I think we'll be okay this year," he'd always say.

'Understated' is probably the best descriptor of McCabe. He is not a big yeller. He cajoles his players with quiet motivation and, while he certainly knows how to get on a referee, he usually does it by utilizing a sense of patriarchal disappointment in the call rather than blatant frustration or anger. His coaching philosophy does not rely too much on innovation – every team on the schedule knows what Bowdoin is going to do – but his teams usually execute their schemes to such a precise level that it doesn't matter (his 215 career wins are a testament to this fact). And Bowdoin does it with a toughness that became a hallmark of the Polar Bears under McCabe's predecessor, Mort LaPointe.

"Over the course of my career, the best NESCAC games we had consistently were against Bowdoin," said Erin Quinn, the former head coach at Middlebury and the school's current athletic director. "The teams were well-coached, well-prepared and played as hard as any teams we would play against. More importantly, they and their coach played with the utmost class and sportsmanship. We are able to compete against each other in a fierce manner, but it was always played fairly and with great respect. His integrity will be missed."

"Bowdoin College men's lacrosse student-athletes were incredibly fortunate to have the legendary coach, Mort LaPointe, as the foundation of that program. When Mort retired, none of us could imagine he could be replaced on the same level. Then along came Tom McCabe," added Fran Shields, former Conn. College head coach and now AD. "Tom honored Mort's legacy with his impeccable values, fierce competitiveness, professionalism, and passion for educating young men. Tom has been a respected opponent and a friend. I look back fondly on our battles in the 90's. Just being able to compete with the Bowdoin program at the time helped our program grow. While I'm sure Tom will be missed on the sidelines, he leaves an indelible mark on a storied program that will carry on for future Polar Bears."

"We have always had great match-ups with Bowdoin over the years," said Tufts coach Mike Daly. "There isn't much more to say about Coach other than the fact his teams are always well-coached, disciplined, and ready to play. More important, I have the utmost respect for Coach as a proud father and great family man. I personally wish Tom and his family nothing but the absolute best with the next phase of his life."

"Tom McCabe exemplifies class, integrity, and a genuine love for his players," said Harvard head coach Chris Wojcik, who was an assistant for McCabe in 2008. "I enjoyed coaching with him for one year at Bowdoin, and he had a positive impact on my development as a teacher and coach."

"Tom McCabe is a class act, and is the epitome of what all young coaches should aspire to be," said Wesleyan's John Raba. "A true leader of men and a great mentor. Every time that we faced a Bowdoin team, we knew we would be in for a long battle. The one thing you can always count on is that a Tom McCabe team will always play hard and believe they can beat anyone."

It seems odd eulogizing a coach who will still be roaming the sidelines this spring for the Polar Bears, but even though the current coaches have kind words for McCabe, they know they'll be in for another fight in 2012. And as much respect as he has gained over his career, what many don't know is the foundation for McCabe's success, as it is for many coaches, is his wife.

There were many days – too many, actually – when I walked out under a hard, cold, Maine rain to a lacrosse game and found everyone drenched and miserable, with the exception of Pat McCabe. Draped in a poncho or under a makeshift bivouac, Pat would be at the table doing the book and would greet me with a big smile and a hello. Her energy was infectious and her stats were impeccable (she knew the game inside and out). She also ran a disciplined sideline, chastising any player or coach on either team who used foul language. The McCabe's raised two great kids who both went on to play Division I lacrosse.

That Tom and Pat will be joining the Peace Corps at the conclusion of the 2012 season and will spend 27 months in South America, Central America or Africa, is not surprising. It will be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for the couple (they toyed with the idea just out of college 30-plus years ago). Still, his retirement will be bittersweet. I'll miss talking to Tom about hunting, fishing and maybe a little lacrosse, but at the same time I'm comforted by the knowledge that there are youngsters in Ecuador, Belize or Tanzania who will soon have the McCabe's in their life.

The retirement of Tom McCabe this spring will be a loss for our sport, but it'll be the world's gain.