June 30, 2009

Bates Brings Style to Princeton

by Justin Feil, Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

New Princeton coach Chris Bates with the school's athletic director, Gary Walters.

© Princeton University

“This is Chris Bates from Princeton lacrosse.”

Bates was still adjusting to his new position as head coach of the Princeton University men’s lacrosse program when he left his first voicemail.

“I’m getting it little by little,” Bates said. “I put the black shirt on. I put on the Black-and-Orange. It’s mixed emotions.”

Bates is leaving the Drexel Dragons program that he built from humble beginnings 10 years ago. He officially accepted the Princeton job Monday afternoon and began phoning recruits and current Princeton players, immediately showing that he wants to be the people person that the Tigers saw in him.

“I will try to do it my own way, Chris Bates-style,” he said. “We’ve tried to create a culture of excellence at Drexel. We hold the players to high standards in everything they do, from preparation on the field to the classroom and being good citizens.”

Bates, a former All-America at Dartmouth College, returns to the Ivy League to follow the architect of six national championships for Princeton lacrosse, Bill Tierney, who left three weeks ago to take the Denver head coaching job after 22 years with the Tigers. Princeton also lost 20-year assistant coach David Metzbower, but the Tigers aren’t rebuilding their team.

“The whole picture is a little different from what I’m used to,” Bates said. “At Drexel, we had that underdog role. That was a comfortable role to be in. This is different one. There are expectations. Following Coach Tierney is a little daunting. At the same time, I am confident I can lead this program and lead it going forward, with all due respect to those guys.”

Bates was selected from five finalists that was reported to include Cornell assistant Ben DeLuca, Haverford (Pa.) coach Mike Murphy and LeMoyne coach Dan Sheehan. A fifth candidate, believed to be the head coach of a mid-major Division I team, never was confirmed. Bates was 70-72 in his 10 seasons at Drexel, but went 31-18 over the last three seasons and won two Colonial Athletic Association titles.

“We’re delighted that Chris Bates is becoming our new head coach,” said Princeton athletics director Gary Walters. “He has a wonderful track record at Drexel, a program that he built from scratch. We believe that experience, coupled with his experience as an Ivy League student-athlete, will translate well to Princeton.”

Mark Kovler, the midfielder who just graduated from Princeton after being named All-America for a fourth straight year, served on Walters’ search committee. Bates’ approach impressed him from the start.

“Coach Bates came with a great sense of confidence,” Kovler said. “During his interview, he came off as the consummate leader of a program.

“He’s a natural fit to continue the program where it’s going,” he added. “We didn’t get rid of our coach. Things were going great. We wanted someone to continue it in the same fashion.”
Bates got to know Tierney and Metzbower while working at Princeton lacrosse camps as an assistant coach at Drexel. Bates even spoke to the former Tigers coaches as he prepared to interview for the Princeton job.

“What I like about him is he seems to have a great combination of great relationships with his players,” Tierney said, “and that’s first and foremost.

“He can be an intense coach. He’s won in a program that has not had the success and the infrastructure that Princeton has to succeed. He had some big victories in that league. He’s done well.”

Bates met with his former team on Monday night to explain his decision to move on after 10 years of building up the West Philadelphia program. The Dragons won one game in Bates’ first year at the helm. They won a program-record 13 in 2008, and for their commitment to the resurgence, he tearfully thanked his former Drexel players.

“I blubbered like a baby,” Bates said. “I have pretty good roots here. It’s hard. But then there’s the anticipation and excitement about the next phase. I’m starting to get on to the recruiting and talking to Princeton guys, and it’s pretty exciting.”
Bates can empathize with Tierney’s tough decision to leave the Tigers after lifting them to levels of success unheard of before 1990.

“There’s a lot of similarities,” Bates said. “We didn’t reach the same heights, but when you do start and things aren’t in great shape, and you have a role in (building) that, being a big part of the growth here, you have that much more pride.”

Bates hopes to forge similar relationships with the Tigers players. It’s what he sees as the biggest challenge, as big as generating the same sort of success.

“The transition. Getting to know the guys and getting them to know me,” Bates said. “So much of coaching is based on relationships,” Bates said. “There are the Xs and Os and getting them to play hard, but knowing your guys and what makes them tick, that transition can start hopefully sooner than later.”

Bates is hoping to have a full staff to help with the process. Greg Raymond was an assistant coach at Princeton for three years before joining the Drexel staff last year.

“My goal is to keep some continuity,” Bates said. “With my own staff, there’s my comfort level. Greg is intriguing because he’s been at Princeton. That can facilitate the transition.”

Aside from potentially Raymond, there is a lot of the new in the Princeton program. For Chris Bates, there will be plenty of introductions, plenty of chances to adjust to his new job title.

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