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March 10, 2010

Lambrecht: Swan Song for Cottle and Seaman?

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Tony Seaman nearly took a mediocre Towson team to the NCAA tournament in 2009. The Tigers are 0-2 in 2010, the final year of Seaman's contract.

In the history of Division I men’s lacrosse, no one has taken his teams to more NCAA tournaments than University of Maryland coach Dave Cottle, who has done it 21 times.

In the history of Division I men’s lacrosse, Towson University’s Tony Seaman is the only coach ever to guide three different schools -- Penn, Johns Hopkins and Towson -- to the NCAA tournament. Seaman also is one of two to be named national coach of the year at two different institutions.

When you think of college lacrosse in Baltimore, Cottle and Seaman are fixtures that spring to mind. These are two proud, personable guys who bleed the game, can wield X’s and O’s with anybody, and have the numbers -- a combined 526 wins and 40 NCAA tournament appearances over 55 seasons -- to prove it.

Yet, on Saturday in College Park, when Towson (0-2) and No. 5-ranked Maryland (3-0) face off for the 31st time, it might mark the last time these two friends lock horns on the same field as head coaches.

That’s because the seats are getting uncomfortably warm underneath Cottle and Seaman, each of whom is in the final year of his contract.

At Maryland, where Cottle arrived in 2001 after an incredible run at Loyola College, there is palpable impatience among administrators and alumni who are starved for the school’s first national title since 1975. At Towson, where Seaman landed following his unceremonious firing by Johns Hopkins, the pressure is less intense. Still, Seaman is back for his 12th turn after surviving a year he feared would be his last, by nearly dragging another mediocre Tigers squad back to the NCAAs.

Time appears to be running out for one or both of these coaching icons, neither of which has ever hoisted a national championship trophy.

That is considered the bigger sin at Maryland, where Cottle competes for and signs blue-chip recruits on a scale that is completely out of Towson’s league, yet has never reached the title game in eight previous tries in College Park. It was the ultimate sin at Hopkins, which dumped Seaman after his eighth unsuccessful swing at a title in 1998.

When Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow hired Cottle to replace the retired Dick Edell, the Terrapins had found the perfect fit. Cottle had built Loyola from Division I scratch, and had thrived with second-tier recruits.

In 1988, his sixth season, Cottle took the Greyhounds to their first NCAA tournament. That started an amazing streak of 14 straight postseason trips -- third-best all-time -- including the improbable ride to the championship game in 1990. But there were some huge playoff failures, most prominently the 1999 team that went undefeated in the regular season, only to lose at Syracuse in the quarterfinals, thus becoming the only No. 1 seed in tournament history to fail to reach the Division I semifinals.

And the postseason flops at Maryland have been glaring. From 2003 through 2006, the Terps made it to the final four three times, with three losses by a combined score of 40-18. If Maryland fails to break its three-year, semifinals drought this spring, Cottle could be packing his bags.

Seaman probably needs to duplicate his Towson miracle to save his job, as school president Robert Caret itches to bring in some younger blood. One of the best lacrosse stories of the past decade was Towson’s 14-4 season and magical trip to the final four in 2001. A year after going 3-10, Seaman authored the greatest, single-season turnaround in Division I history.

That was perhaps the signature achievement for a coach that has always done the most with less. Seaman was a successful high school coach and history teacher for a decade in New York, before entering the collegiate ranks.

C.W. Post hired Seaman in 1982 to usher it into the Division ranks, and he responded by going 12-3. Penn noticed, hired Seaman a year later, and he directed the Quakers to six NCAA tournaments and a 74-37 record over the next eight seasons, before Hopkins came calling to replace Don Zimmerman.

And now, here are Cottle and Seaman, in the twilight of great coaching careers, trying to fend off the forces determined to get rid of the old and bring in the new.

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