October 24, 2012

30 in 30: How Do You Build a Program at Marquette?

by Joe Amplo, as told to Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

First-year program Marquette, under head coach Joe Amplo, will play just two home games in its inaugural spring season. "It's the Marquette Barnstorming Tour," he said.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Joe Amplo is the head coach of the Marquette men's team, which begins its first NCAA Division I season this spring. He was hired on Feb. 4, 2011 and moved to Wisconsin to lead the first D-I men's program in the state.

Taking the Job

I became aware of the job because the lacrosse world is so small, once news breaks everybody knows about it. To be honest with you, I wasn't that interested when it was announced. It was just before Christmas of 2010 and we were in the middle of our academic year at Hofstra, where I was assistant coach for going on 10 years. I was getting ready for the season, so I didn't give it much thought.

But then when Dave Cottle [Marquette's search consultant] called and said that they were interested in speaking with me and I said I would absolutely take a look at it. It's not that I wasn't excited about it, I was just so close to our season at Hofstra that I didn't consider it that much until I met the people here.

Literally, as soon as I walked in the room, I could sense the excitement and the connection that I had with Marquette. Deputy athletic director Mike Broeker and associate athletic director Danielle Josetti are the two people who hired me. The culture of Marquette that they expressed in their conversation with me was everything that I was looking for. It hit right away. I knew as soon as I sat down that I was going to take this job if it was offered to me.

I stayed on at Hofstra that season. That was a challenge, but it allowed me to finish things right there and allow me to get a jumpstart on a few things here. I wasn't doing much recruiting for Marquette that season. It was tough. I would literally get home at night, return emails and do some little behind the scenes work for Marquette. But really, as I told the people here and Seth [Tierney, Hofstra coach], I was focused on Hofstra. That was like my senior season over again. That was my last chance to do it right. I didn't want to sacrifice anything that Hofstra had done for me, because the place is so important to me. I tried my best not to burn the candle on both ends.

Hiring a Staff

As soon as the Hofstra season ended, I went right into it with Marquette. The first thing for me was to hire a staff. I've always had certain people in mind. I knew I needed great teachers or people who believed in teaching first. Development had to be the key thing. Certainly we're going to recruit and we're going to recruit as much as anybody, but for us to be successful, we've got to be able to develop our players and make them better from the moment they get here and challenge them every day.

John Orsen was the first guy I knew I was going to try to hire. I told him when he graduated Hofstra in 2006, that no matter where you were in the world, when I get a head coaching job, I'm going to call you. That's exactly what I did. He was a kid who was working on Wall Street and with the Trilogy Lacrosse guys, with no college coaching experience, but he's going to be a great one, because he cares about the same things I care about. That's really important to me.

I always liked the way Stephen Brundage coached offense and the philosophies he's been around. I have so much respect for a guy like Princeton coach Chris Bates, who groomed Stephen. He focuses on the fundamentals. He went to West Genesse (N.Y.) High and went to Loyola, played a little bit for Dave Cottle and then coached with Chris Bates. I knew he was going to understand development, teaching the basic parts of the game. When I sat with him, it was obvious.

It was a home run getting those guys as my full-time people, and I think I knocked it out of the park with Scott Rodgers as my volunteer, him coming to Milwaukee to work for free. He adds that image to our staff.

I tried to look for people who believed in my philosophies and their ability to teach and coach and people that are excited about the same parts of the job that I'm excited about, about the challenges we're going to face and how to get the most out of kids.

Building a Roster

Marquette had 28 players on campus last spring but the team played no games. It was a challenge to keep the roster focused, but having players around was criticial to developing the culture coach Joe Amplo seeks.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Since we weren't going to compete last year and are starting this year, I wanted to create a culture. With our staff in place, we sat down and said "How do we create this culture?" The four of us could sit in an office and talk about it, but in order to create a culture we needed people here, to help make mistakes and learn and set a standard for what's expected in everything that we do. We needed to find kids who wanted to come, who we could coach last year, and choose to redshirt and be a part of everything that we want to create, but not compete.

We looked at kids who fell through the cracks and were looking for opportunities. We attracted some transfers, guys who wanted an opportunity for whatever reason. We got 28 young men to come here last year. They went through practice just like a regular Division I team would every single day, they did weight training, but they didn't compete.

That allowed us to start to institute standards and create some hierarchy and leadership. And it allowed us as a staff to make some mistakes in our development and learn from each other. That was the first goal for us after hiring the staff. We needed to get kids on campus. Bringing in those 28 kids was check mark No. 1.

Then it was just the daily grind. What are we going to wear in the weight room? And when a kid isn't wearing the right thing, how are we going to hold him accountable? How are we going to empower the team to hold them accountable? When we walk to class, what are we expected to do? Are we expected to walk with our heads down or say hello to everybody and engage as many people on campus as possible? What do we look like when we do community service? Are we just going to do a one-hour community cleanup or are we going to put our hands around a big, major project like a toy drive and try to fill a tractor trailer with toys? What's going to be our standard for everything that we do?

The most important thing with this program right now is creating that culture, and trying to convince these kids that what you believe you can do is not even close to what you can do, in everything.

Practice but No Games

Last spring was an unbelievably challenging time. We went through two major lulls in the spring semester. They came just after February and just after mid-terms in April.

One lull was when the weather was getting a little funky here and it had already been a long time practicing. We were practicing in the morning and its Monday through Friday but there's nothing to show for it on the weekends. It took about five weeks to hit that lull, then our guys went on break. They came back a little bit rejuvenated. The weather started to turn for the good a little bit. Then about four or five weeks later they hit a lull again. We, as coaches, eased off of them a little bit because we knew that we needed these guys to continue to be excited. We would practice for 90 minutes or 75 minutes and for us it was more about setting a standard and doing things well then doing things too much.

It was tough, though, not competing and watching other teams compete. But it allowed our kids to focus on school. We did a lot better in the second semester last year and it allowed them to focus on themselves in their development. We were in the weight room last year like a football team would be.

I don't know if it's going to help us competitively, but as far as establishing a culture having guys on campus last year allowed us to learn from mistakes. We would have made some mistakes this year, just things that we demand of them and fitting into a new community because all of us were new, our entire staff and every kid that walked in here. And lacrosse was new. Nobody knew what to expect or act of behave. We had to learn on-the-fly. It allowed us to go through some growing pains. I would not go back and change anything. If I could get 40 kids on campus, I would.

Golden Eagles' Inaugural Schedule

Feb. 2 | at Michigan (exhibition)
Feb. 9 | Hofstra/Penn (exhibition)
Feb. 23 | at Ohio State
March 2 | at Air Force
March 9 | at Jacksonville
March 12 | at Mercer
March 16 | at Saint Joseph's
March 29 | at Georgetown
April 2 | vs. Notre Dame at Chicago
April 5 | at Denver
April 13 | at High Point
April 20 | vs. Detroit
April 23 | at Bellarmine
April 27 | at St. John's
May 5 | vs. Duke

Creating a Schedule

Because this year is an independent year for us, we're not technically in the Big East, I wanted to get as many Big East opponents on our schedule as possible. I wanted to get that comfort level or see where we fit competitively. Villanova and Rutgers, we really tried to get on each other's schedules, the timing just didn't work out. Notre Dame, Georgetown and St. John's did work out. After that, who else could we get to play here? The school gave us a generous guarantee budget so we offered teams money to come in and play us. Unfortunately, we only got two: Detroit Mercy and Duke.

It's tremendous for the Midwest that Duke is going to come to Milwaukee and play a game on May 5. It's great for Midwest lacrosse. There will be thousands of people here and it will be an excellent day. I wanted at least one event on campus that could show the community what this could become.

After that, where do we fit? We'll go anywhere. We wanted to get to different markets. We're playing Denver and Air Force because that's a recruiting area for us. We're going to the East Coast a number of times in Philadelphia to play St. Joseph's. We want to be relevant in recruiting areas. We'll play Notre Dame in Chicago in a neutral-site game, but other than that we're on the road. It's the Marquette Barnstorming Tour.

Advice for New Programs

The most challenging thing has been educating. Maybe Richie Meade feels this at Furman as well, but educating the community about lacrosse. That's been the fun part, but a challenge. We tried to get in front of as many different people as possible.

We held Lax 101 for anybody on campus who wanted to come to our basketball gym and learn lacrosse. We had station work and our team out there and men's basketball coach Buzz Williams taking a shot at the radar gun. We wanted to explain the fact that lacrosse is not spelled with a capital C as it is in the town of LaCrosse out here. We wanted to introduce ourselves to the community. We offer free coaching clinics. We have 70 coaches coming tonight to a free coaching clinic. We can help grow the game and help get people excited about teaching and doing things the right away.

I speak about this in recruiting. You're not just coming here to play for Marquette. You're coming here to grow this game. It's your responsibility to help grow the game and do your part.

Day-to-Day Operations

Previous Stories
* Day 22 | Colorado Mesa Earn Respect?
* Day 21 | Where Do Losses Leave Denver?

* Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4
* Follow LaxMagazine.com's '30 in 30'

Everything is so new. It's as little as where do you get pens and paper, which is probably new for any new job, but nobody knew about lacrosse here. Nobody knew what was needed. What's important first? How do you treat your kids the best you can? Then give them everything they need to do well. Then you worry about yourself after that. Every day is a new little thing. My office bookshelves just came in so now I need to decide what books I put on them.

We have two turf practice fields and we play on the soccer game field, a gorgeous grass field. Our weight room is great. The thing we do the best is we have great people. Our human resources are as good as anything. That's the most important thing I said my bosses. Facilities are always going to be upgraded and I'm good with that but I want to make sure we surround our team and kids when the best people possible. They let me hire a great coaching staff, but moving past that, it was finding the people on campus that could support our program and believed in creating a challenging environment that would hold kids accountable.

We needed Todd Smith, the strength and conditioning coach who has been here nine years and works with the basketball and the soccer team. We needed him to work with our guys because he's the best that I've ever been around. We needed a great academic staff that cared about our kids so they could push them. Those are the things that are really important. Our facilities will improve and that will make our kids' lives more comfortable but what's going to make our kids turn into great men is the people that they're surrounded with. I would sacrifice everything else — a nice desk, nice office, nice facilities — to have the people that surround my kids because it's day-to-day with them.

My biggest piece of advice would be to surround your kids with the best people possible as quickly as you can. If I had to do this by myself, there is absolutely no way we would be this far along, or this confident right now if I didn't have John and Stephen with me and the people supporting us like they do here.

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