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April 27, 2010

Lambrecht: 'Old Friend' Next on Seaman's Comeback Path

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Lambrecht Archive

Coaching under an NCAA tourament-or-else ultimatum at Towson, Tony Seaman has navigated the Tigers from a 1-5 start to 6-5 and CAA regular season champions. On Wednesday, he could help knock Johns Hopkins -- the school that unceremoniously fired him in 1998 -- out of contention.

© Scott Thornton/Towson University

Tony Seaman jokes about his fate in a way that a self-assured, accomplished Division I men’s lacrosse coach probably should.

If the door closes on his 29-year, collegiate coaching career next month, if Towson University fails to make the NCAA tournament and the school’s adminstration follows through on its make-the-tournament-or-else threat from a year ago, Seaman will be a man at peace.

Well, mostly. You don’t expect a colorful, outspoken character such as Seaman to go -- or stay -- quietly, do you? Even now, with the smirk and mischievous eyes marking a face that belies his 67 years, Seaman lets fly with the gallows humor, aiming his quips at the system poised to spit him out.

“I’ve got the best recruiting class coming in that I’ve ever had here,” Seaman said. “When they fire me, the new guy is going to be really lucky.”

If indeed the head coaching road is about to end for Seaman -- he has won 259 games, gone to 19 NCAA tournaments and is the only coach ever to guide three different D-I schools (Penn, Johns Hopkins, Towson) to the postseason -- at least the former high school history teacher has quite a stretch run to savor.

The Tigers, left for dead following a 1-5 start, have reeled off five straight wins to clinch the regular-season, Colonial Athletic Association title. Towson (6-5, 4-0) has earned the top seed and home-field advantage in next week’s CAA tournament. The Tigers will automatically qualify for the NCAAs by winning it.

“When we got to 1-5, I was thinking maybe it was time to start packing boxes,” Seaman said.

Now that the No. 11 Tigers have improved to 6-5, after being ranked for the first time in two years, there is the more immediate matter of Wednesday’s little road trip for Seaman to ponder.

Towson will pay a visit to desperate, unranked Johns Hopkins, the school that unceremoniously fired Seaman in 1998 after eight seasons that included four trips to the final four. Unfortunately, Seaman committed the mortal sin of failing to win a national championship. Towson then became the lucky new guy that snatched up Seaman.

The storyline at Homewood Field could not be juicier. Hopkins (5-7) must win its last two regular-season games just to be considered for the NCAAs. Towson is 3-34 all-time against the Blue Jays. Seaman has never beaten them in his 12 years at Towson.

But if the Tigers, with an inspired defense led by junior goalie and midseason replacement Travis Love, pull off a victory, Seaman will have delivered the killing blow by guaranteeing Hopkins’ first losing season and first tournament miss since 1971.

“All that [Hopkins] stuff is in the past,” said Seaman, tongue glued to his cheek. “I’m just going to see an old friend.”

If Towson eliminates the Blue Jays, Seaman might levitate over Hopkins. It’s a place that still gets under his skin, still brings out the scars. Although he has maintained many Hopkins-related friendships, Seaman admits it’s hard to let go of the past. When he scouts games there, for example, he usually sits alone, as far away from the Homewood crowd as possible.

“Getting fired after going 10-4 with a young team [and losing by a goal in the NCAA quarterfinals to Maryland] was a hell of a kick in the ego,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt as much as it used to, but it’s still there. I realize that I’ve won with the way my life has gone. I sleep OK.”

Seaman could have just stayed put on Long Island, teaching history and coaching lacrosse and soccer at Lynbrook High School, making good money, earning a comfortable pension, doing what he loved and doing it well.

But he decided, after 17 years in the classroom, to take a leap into collegiate coaching, first for a successful year at C.W. Post, then for an eight-year stretch at Penn that included six NCAA tournament trips. He has followed up his Hopkins stint by taking Towson to five NCAA tournaments, including an amazing final four run in 2001.

Seaman still loves recruiting, still connects with men young enough to be his grandsons, still refuses to shy away from brutal, non-conference scheduling, still can coach circles around the young guns.

And if the old coach goes down because a school administration craves new blood, or thinks a second-tier lacrosse school such as Towson must be in the final four more often, or must beat Virginia or Hopkins or Maryland every other year, so be it.

Whether he gets canned or not, Seaman is dead right, no joke. He already has won the fight.

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