October 16, 2013

30 in 30: Is Cometti Ready For A Saint Rose Return?

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

"He really doesn't need to say too much because he gets so much respect from the guys," said senior midfielder Rich Bamberger (above) about new Saint Rose head coach Mark Cometti. "I saw that as an assistant coach and I see it now as a head coach. The thing I really like about him is everyone knows what is expected and we haven't had any problems filling those expectations."
© Tom Killips

Mark Cometti has worn a lot of hats at Saint Rose – assistant coach, interim head coach and full-time head coach. It's not the rarest of paths, but Cometti's matriculation isn't quite as linear as many of the others who have traveled that route.

One might call it taking the long way home.

"It's a confusing timeline," admitted Cometti with a chuckle.

Cometti first signed on with Saint Rose, a member of Division II's Northeast-10 Conference located in downtown Albany, N.Y., just months after his 2010 graduation from the University of Albany, where he was a two-time captain. He was offered the job by his former teammate at Albany, Liam Gleason, who had been hired a year out to get the program ready for its inaugural campaign in 2012.

Despite being two years apart, Gleason, who transferred in from Adelphi, and Cometti arrived at Albany at the same time and formed a bond, strengthened by the Great Danes magical '07 season. One of Gleason's first calls when he took the reins at Saint Rose was to Cometti.

"I was trying to find somebody who was looking to build a program," Gleason said. "Knowing Mark as a former teammate, he just stood out to me. He was also someone who came from West Genny and had a very high lacrosse IQ so I wouldn't have to do too much teaching him the game. I asked him if he would be interested in coaching and he seemed pretty enthused. I think he just took a day to decide."

With no team to coach, Cometti's primary job was recruiting in 2011, leaving with him some down time. Siena, a D-I squad just five miles north of Saint Rose, was looking for a volunteer assistant, so Cometti decided to fill his afternoons in the spring of '11 working with Brian Brecht and the Saints, running the box and helping out on the offensive end for the MAAC champions. Once the season ended, Cometti returned full-time to the Golden Knights.

As the summer of 2011 waned, Cometti received some unexpected news. Gleason was offered a prominent position on the Albany coaching staff by Scott Marr, so he made the difficult decision to leave Saint Rose and head back to his alma mater. This left Cometti as the interim head coach.

"This was when I had one season of volunteering at Siena as experience," Cometti said of the interim tag. "I didn't really apply for the head job. I was just an interim for a month."

Tim Robbins was named the second head coach in the program's history before the first game was even played. Cometti was assured that he would be retained as assistant coach no matter who was hired, and he labored under Robbins for the fall, but was enticed by an opening at a familiar spot. Siena, now under the guidance of John Svec, was looking for someone to help out with the offense. Cometti was the pick, and he coached the Saints for the 2012-13 seasons, the last as Siena's offensive coordinator.

"I felt that he was ready to take over our offense strongly based off of our discussions concerning general offensive principles, along with his previous experience with Siena during the 2011 season," Svec said. "He and I had long talks about what he would want to do and how he would approach getting schemes implemented, as well as how best to teach the fundamental skills and principles our players would need to be successful. I would challenge Mark on his ideas and he consistently showed that he had given serious thought to what he was advocating, and why it would apply well to our team."

The two years working at the Division I level and getting a hands-on feel for all aspects of coaching prepped him well for potential head coaching gigs in the future.

"Going back to Siena, I was really fortunate to get that opportunity and I learned so much from Coach Svec over there," Cometti said. "My increased role, being in charge of the offense and running the film session for the offense, was important. I wasn't in charge of the whole team and didn't have that responsibility, but it was that increased role. I think just having that and being in charge of that unit gave me the confidence to take on the reins of a whole team."

Senior attackman Brett McAuliffe (above) returns as the Golden Knights' top scorer in 2014 after netting 29 goals and setting up nine others last spring.
© Tom Killips

When the head coaching job at Saint Rose opened up once again with Robbins' departure, Cometti didn't hesitate to put his name in the hat. He was officially named the third head coach in the Golden Knights' history on Aug. 15.

Cometti was the perfect fit because he had played a role in coaching or recruiting most of the players on the Saint Rose roster. In addition, he had the optimum demeanor for a program at such a young point its maturation. Gleason knew all of the attributes that made Cometti such an easy pick as an assistant in 2010 would transfer to the head coaching position now that he had the experience.

"He has the work ethic," said Gleason, who is now the associate head coach at Albany. "He's a level-headed guy with a great work ethic and I knew when we got the guys on campus, he was going to be able to instill all they needed. He's just so fundamental and I knew he'd be a great fit for the guys we had to develop. You have to be able to develop guys at the Division II level more than at Division I and Mark would be great at that."

Cometti's calm, steady presence was also a welcome change for the players.

"He's really a level-headed guy and he is no-nonsense," said senior midfielder Rich Bamberger, who first met Cometti in the fall of '11. "He really doesn't need to say too much because he gets so much respect from the guys. I saw that as an assistant coach and I see it now as a head coach. The thing I really like about him is everyone knows what is expected and we haven't had any problems fulfilling those expectations."

The expectations for Saint Rose this year will be set at the micro level. This is, after all, only the program's third varsity season and they are coming off a 4-11 campaign in which they played the eighth toughest schedule in the country, according to LaxPower.com. The Knights won't be worrying about the record, but they'll be expected to win the moment. And those moments will come against the likes of defending champion Le Moyne and tourney qualifier Adelphi in the Northeast-10.

"Things I try to bring are every day at practice, focus on the drill we're doing," Cometti said. "And then focus on the next drill. The mentality we try to take is every drill is a game against Le Moyne or a game against Adelphi. We know that we want to compete with those teams, but we don't look too far ahead."

This is part of the foundational approach that Cometti wants to bring to Saint Rose, and it has been received well by his new – well, new-ish – players.

"He really has an emphasis on fundamentals and likes to teach the guys the game as much as possible because he's a really smart coach," said Bamberger. "Even in my first year, he would go out and run around with us a little bit and you could tell he knew what he was doing and he could really teach us, especially the younger guys. It's nice because the offense he sets up, he teaches us what he wants us to do, but then let's us run it with a lot of freedom within his system. The whole time he's harping on ball movement, stick in the correct hand, passing overhand, shooting high-to-low. Guys are starting to buy into it because they see it actually work."

The first test of Cometti's approach will come in the season opener against Mercy and head coach Jordan Levine – another of Cometti's former Albany teammates. The new coach will be aided by a far more veteran group than Saint Rose has ever seen.

"Our core group of guys who were here for the first year of the program are upperclassmen now," Cometti said. "One of the biggest things I've seen compared to two years ago is leadership. These guys have been here for a couple of years now. They want it. They are hungry. They are good leaders and they are talented. Our goal is definitely to compete with those top teams in the conference and we're hungry enough to do it."

And Cometti is finally wearing the right hat to make it happen.

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