February 14, 2013

Coyne v. Censer: Saying Goodbye to a D-I Coach

by Jac Coyne and Joel Censer | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Guy van Arsdale (above) left Colorado College for Jacksonville last year in one of the increasingly rare instances of a coach jumping from Division III to Division I. Is a coach's move to the scholarship ranks any different for a D-III team than any other circumstance?
© Gray Quetti

If a coach leaves a Division III post to take a Division I gig, I would guess it's kind of a bittersweet event for a student-athlete. On one hand, you're a little annoyed that the guy who recruited you is bolting midway through his commitment. On the other, it's tough to begrudge a guy shooting for the highest level.

With the number of assistants who are apprenticing at premier Division I programs, the D-III to D-I jump doesn't happen a whole lot. Guy Van Arsdale (Colorado College to Jacksonville) did it last year and Kyle Hannan (Goucher to Mercer) and Jim Rogalski (Scranton to Lafayette) are doing it this spring. Van Arsdale and Rogalski are former D-I guys who had a cup of coffee in D-III before bouncing back, but Hannan is more of an outlier. He cut his chops exclusively in the bushes.

Regardless of their backstory, what happens to a team when a coach leaves to take over a scholarship program?

One could argue that it's no different than when any other coach leaves, whether it was because he was headed for another D-III gig, received a pink slip or decided to retire. I'm guessing it's different, though. In those situations, the coach in question is, for lack of a better phrase, on the decline. There might be some disappointment at the announcement, but it is usually countered by the promise of someone as good, if not better.

When a coach bolts for Division I? Initially, there is probably a sense of profound loss; the coach was so good that the big boys wanted him, and now he's gone. Likely more troublesome is the fact that his replacement is initially viewed through the prism of his more successful predecessor. Every change — whether it is to the practice plan, workout regimen, man-down defense, etc. — is evaluated with an eye to what the now-Division I coach would have done.

It has to be a very difficult situation to be in, both for the players and the new coach.

Is watching a coach move on to Division I more of a psychological blow for a student-athlete as opposed to someone who just left or retired? Or Is the whole transition to a new coach thing a bit overblown?

CENSER: To me, the more interesting question is why do some coaches decide to stay in Division III?

In today's world of linear job movement and resume padding — where greener pastures are generally considered to be found by moving on and moving up — what's the impulse for elite Division III skippers to "settle" at their respective programs?

If there's been a constant about the teams that dominate Division III the last few decades, it seems to be less about institutional advantages or geographical boundaries and more about having a passionate, long-standing coach who can tune out the Division I overtures.

Berkman at Salisbury. Daly at Tufts. Janczyk at Gettysburg. Koudelka at Lynchburg. The list goes on.

If you asked me why these guys have stayed, there are probably a number of reasons. Some likely have deep roots in the towns they work in and hope to avoid a vagabond coaching life. Others take one look at their Division I colleagues coaxing 15-year-olds for commitments and managing outsized expectations from athletic departments and think they have a pretty good deal.

If I had to guess, I'd imagine that Division III coaches have something of an entrepreneurial spirit too. In the lower ranks, a solid coach can recruit raw gems, develop talent and quickly build a program (see: Cantabene, Paul) in ways that just doesn't happen in Division I.

So I don't really know how much a coach leaving town for the bright lights and the ESPU hoopla will affect these programs. But I do think that if a team is going to hoist hardware come May, they'll need someone at the helm who sees his program as more than just a stepping stone.

No. 3 Salisbury (1-0) at No. 7 Lynchburg (0-0) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: There has to be a drop-off, right? I mean, there's no way that the Gulls can lose all of that talent off of last year's steamroller and still hit the ground running in '13. Please, tell me that's correct. Well, it probably is correct. But as usual, this match-up has very little to do with Salisbury and everything to do with Lynchburg.

Last year, the Hornets brought one of their deepest and most experienced teams to the Eastern Shore and got rolled, 16-7. This spring, Steve Koudelka has a relatively strong team, led by defensive aces Joe Lisicky and Jon Gill, but it's still not as formidable as the '12 edition. Is it enough, combined with home field advantage, to trip up a Salisbury squad still trying to find its own identity? Although I write it with very little conviction, the Hornets will. Barely. Bugs, 12-11.

CENSER: Putting the Seagull bait up first. Nice.

I remember last May when Sam Bradman was executing those two-man plays to perfection and you had to wonder if anyone could run with Salisbury, ever. On the other hand, when considering the giant void left by Bradman, Cannone, Krum, Mendes and Co., it'd be easy to wager chips on the Hornets' stingy backline too.

But I'm not sure Lynchburg has an answer for Tyler Granelli, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound bulldozer who can also crouch-and-clamp with the best of them. I'm guessing all those extra possessions will make up for any of Salisbury's inexperience at the offensive end. Gulls survive, 10-7.

Birmingham-Southern (1-0) vs. Goucher (0-0) – Sunday, 2 p.m (at Charlotte, N.C.)

COYNE: It's always interesting when a pair of tournament teams tangle this early in the season, and this tilt also has a couple of extra story lines. As was talked about in the intro, Goucher is breaking in a new coach — former assistant Brian Kelly — and facing serious questions after graduating a prolific senior class. Birmingham-Southern loses some key cogs as well, and the Panthers also get flipped into Pool B this spring, meaning a win here would be a huge chip in their pile.

Goucher was probably the most doubted team last year. Even the NCAA committee doubted them, sending the Gophers to WAC in the first round of the tourney even after beating the Shoremen during the regular season. So Goucher just went out and beat the Shoremen again on its way to an 18-2 record. The Gophers also posted a pretty respectable score (a 12-4 loss) against the Salisbury juggernaut in the second round. The offense will have to be retooled, but Connor Mishaw (65.9 sv%, 5.52 GAA) anchors a defense that should cover a lot of warts early in the season. That'll be the case here. Varmints, 8-5.

CENSER: So Birmingham-Southern becomes the toast of Division III after hanging tough with Stevenson in last year's playoffs but is only up a goal at halftime against a second-year program last week? Welcome to the 'What have you done me lately' ethos of college lacrosse.

Anyway coaching changes aside, I feel pretty good about this Goucher team. Losing Kyle Boncaro, Matt Lynch and Rory Averett stings, but I think Stevenson transfer Dylan Zook and freshman sensation Owen Demmerly can pick up some of the scoring slack. 9-7, Gophers.

No. 13 Roanoke (0-0) at St. Mary's (0-0) – Sunday, 2 p.m.

COYNE: Was it really all the way back in 2006 when the Seahawks stunned a Roanoke team that finished an overtime goal away from playing for a national championship? I could have sworn it was like three years ago. Time flies. But enough with the trip down memory lane; we need to find out is whether we think it can happen again.

Let's start with 'Noke. Entering the season, this is an enigmatic Maroons squad. They've got Richard Lachlan (40g, 5a) and Mike Hayden (19g, 29a) on the marquee, but there aren't many other game-changers (at least none apparent right now). They also have serious questions at faceoffs and some uncertainty in goal — two key ingredients to Bill Pilat's up-tempo schemes. This is not a team that appears ready to make a deep run in the NCAA tourney, if they make it all.

Ever since that epic win in '06, I've been waiting for St. Mary's to take their seat at the table. It's a good school in a good location. Peek at the roster and the player's high schools read like a who's who of East Coast lacrosse factories. Unfortunately, they've been the perennial third team in a conference dominated by Salisbury and, up to this year, Stevenson. With the departure of the Mustangs, the Seahawks appear ready to take the second chair in the CAC, and they have a schedule that will make them viable in May.

Can they can a jump on their resume and party like it's '06? Call me crazy, but I think they can. 'Hawks, 12-10.

CENSER: Jac's right. With just three starters graduating, and Patrick Mull looking to play tablesetter for a bunch of able offensive bodies, the Seahawks are primed to play CAC spoiler in 2013. Moreover, Roanoke is ranked third (third!) in the ODAC preseason poll, and there's not a Keating in sight to bail them out.

But I've been fooled into picking SMC before. While the Maroons will need Charles Pease/Mike Hardon to improve in goal and a couple greenhorns to figure out the faceoff X, I think Lachlan will do enough damage around the crease for the Maroons to avoid the upset. 11-9 'Noke.

Censer's Pick

Aurora (0-0) at Ohio Wesleyan (0-0) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

CENSER: Deep in the Chicago suburbs, Kylor Berkman is building a nice little program. Last season with a team composed entirely of underclassmen, the Spartans went 12-4 and even gave Adrian all they could handle in a one-goal game in April.

But we are in Year Three of the Mike Plantholt reclamation project in Delaware, Ohio, and I'm feeling good about the Battling Bishops this season. Colin Short dancing behind the goal. Spencer Schnell dodging down the alley. Ryan McMahon playing ballstopper in net.

Aurora will compete sooner or later. But not yet. OWU, 13-7.

COYNE: It would sound weird last year, but it's a reality: Aurora has a better shot at making the NCAA tournament than Ohio Wesleyan this spring. The reasons? The Spartans are considered the favorites to win the Midwest Lacrosse Conference auto-bid with the departure of Adrian to the MIAA. Meanwhile, the Bishops are now out of the favorable Pool B business and will likely need the NCAC AQ if they want to join the dance. That means besting Denison — a far harder proposition than the contenders Aurora has to deal with: Mt. St. Joseph and Carthage.

I won't try to build the drama: OWU will win this game. The Bishops' defense is excellent and Aurora is still a couple of recruiting classes away from rolling with the name programs. Still, this game will tell us a lot about each of these squads. If the Bishops can put together a dominating performance from start to finish, they could easily be a 14-win team. If the Spartans play with poise and keep themselves in contention heading into the fourth quarter, they'll be well positioned to run the MLC table. It'll probably be somewhere in the middle. Bishops, 12-5.

Coyne's Pick

Colorado College (0-0) at Greensboro (0-1) – Friday, 3:30 p.m.

COYNE: Games this early are never make-or-break, but sometimes they can put a team in the driver's seat. That will certainly be the case in this contest. With the SCAC losing its AQ and being thrown back into independent bucket, this tilt features a pair of strong contenders for the five Pool B bids to be dished out in '13. Both the Tigers and Pride have relatively strong schedules, so there are plenty of chances remaining to make up ground, but we can pencil the winner of this tilt into one of the five slots. Pencil, mind you.

Greensboro is coming off its annual opening-season loss to Salisbury, but that setback probably leaves a better taste in the Pride's mouth than what the Tigers are dealing with. After breezing through the SCAC last spring, Colorado College got upended in the conference finals by Birmingham Southern, ending its season. This one is a toss-up, but I'll take G-boro with a game under its belt and the home field, 10-9.

CENSER: Well Greensboro mustered their usual single-digit goal total against Salisbury last week, while Colorado College has to step away from their comfy high ground in Colorado Springs to take a flight to the West Triad.

Losing defensive stalwarts Zack Pierce and Ian Coughlan on the backline definitely hurts CC, but Steve Rijo and the rest of the Tigers should be able to conjure up enough offense to muscle their way into the Pool B fastlane. 9-5, CC.

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