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May 25, 2010

With Cottle 'Whacked,' What's Next for Maryland?

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

Now that the long-running rumor has come true, now that Dave Cottle has been fired for the first time in his distinguished, 28-year run as a head men’s lacrosse coach after failing in nine attempts to win it all at the University of Maryland, what does Maryland tell Cottle’s successor?

Win the school’s first national championship since 1975 in the next five years, or you’re next in the guillotine line? Get to the NCAA tournament’s final four at least once every other year, or else? If you dare miss the tournament, start cleaning out your desk?

At least Maryland didn’t leave Cottle dangling, as the pain from Saturday’s 7-5 loss to unseeded Notre Dame in the tournament quarterfinals set in for the third-seeded Terrapins, undone once again in a postseason failure by an offense gone missing.

Cottle had a pretty strong sense of what was waiting for him back in College Park, where he had been told following last May’s quarterfinal loss to Syracuse that he needed to get deeper into the tournament in 2010 to secure his job. Instead, Maryland failed to reach its first final four since 2006 and fourth semifinal under Cottle.

“I knew what could happen [after the Notre Dame loss]. I didn’t know what would happen,” said Cottle, 54, who never mentioned his job security with his players throughout the school year. “First time in 30 years I’ve been whacked.”

The whacking came in the form of a Sunday phone call from Maryland associate athletics director Michael Lipitz, running interference for athletics director Debbie Yow. He offered Cottle the choice to resign or get fired. Cottle, after winning 99 games and two Atlantic Coast Conference tournaments and taking the Terps to eight tournaments with one first-round loss, elected to step down.

While the speculation revs up over who will replace Cottle -- Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan is a hot commodity with strong ACC roots -- the deeper question is how much does Maryland expect from its lacrosse program? And are those expectations realistic in this era?

A dejected Dave Cottle walks off the field Saturday at Princeton Stadium, where third-seeded Maryland was upset by Notre Dame in the NCAA quarterfinals. The next day, Cottle was given the ultimatum to get fired or resign.

© Kevin P. Tucker


There are 60 Division I men’s lacrosse programs. Four schools (Syracuse, Virginia, Princeton, Johns Hopkins) have shared the national titles won over the past 18 years, which provides a pretty good indicator of who enjoys critical recruiting advantages, in terms of signing top-shelf talent.

Dating to 2000, only eight other institutions have made the tournament’s final four and, of course, each has failed to win it all. Only Duke has been to the semifinals more than Maryland over that stretch.

Cottle, who replaced Dick Edell in 2001 at Maryland after building Loyola’s Division I program from scratch and leading the Greyhounds to 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments, paid the price for various sins in the eyes of Yow and other Terrapin faithful starved for lacrosse glory.

He never got Maryland to the title game for the first time since 1998. His senior-laden squad fell flat in an 8-5, final four loss to unseeded UMass in 2006. His 2007 team flopped in the first round against little sister school UMBC, the first of three galling losses in a row to the Retrievers. His offenses could be maddeningly structured. And his teams picked some of the worst times to play tight and shoot poorly. His final four teams in 2003, 2004 and 2006 lost by a combined score of 40-18.

The first rule of Project Mayhem: don't ask questions.

* MD1 Tournament Central
* WD1 Tournament Central

Still, the decision to can Cottle circles back to how Maryland perceives its place in the sport.The Terps no longer live in the 1970s, and have not been among the game’s true elite for quite a while.

Still, the game circles back to expectations. At Towson University, for example, sources have confirmed that 12-year coach Tony Seaman and the school have agreed in principle to a new, multi-year deal. Seaman is the Colonial Athletic Association’s Coach of the Year and is coming off of back-to-back losing seasons.

At Georgetown, which routinely wins recruiting battles with schools such as Virginia, Duke, Hopkins and North Carolina, 21-year coach Dave Urick rolls merrily along, despite missing three straight NCAA tournaments and reaching the final four once. At Penn State, coach Glenn Thiel stepped down after 33 years and a grand total of two NCAA tournament trips. Will that program ramp up -- possibly behind someone such as Cottle -- or are the Nittany Lions content with a winning season?

“There’s more really good [high school] players out there than ever, but there really aren’t any more blue-chippers for the big schools to fight over,” said Seaman, who got axed at Hopkins in 1998 after eight seasons that featured four final fours but no NCAA titles. “Some really good ones who aren’t in that top tier are left for schools like Maryland and Notre Dame. The rest of what’s left go to schools like ours.

“I’m very disappointed that expectations have gotten so high that someone with [Cottle’s] body of work over nine years at Maryland could be let go. Who out there is going to replace him?”

Whoever it is apparently had better win the Big One, or at least play in one or two title games relatively soon. Spanning his time at Loyola and Maryland, Cottle coached in 22 NCAA tournaments, tying him with Virginia’s Dom Starsia for most ever. Cottle won 280 games. His only losing year was in 1983, his rookie season at Loyola.

Said Cottle: “When you put your head down on the pillow, and you know you’ve treated your kids right, and you know you have a team and a program that’s in better shape than it was when you started, it’s a pretty good feeling.”

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