June 3, 2009

BYU Dismisses Long-Time Coach Lamb

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

After winning nearly eight of every 10 of his games, along with three MCLA national championships, Jason Lamb was relieved of his duties at Brigham Young this week. It's a setback for the Cougars, but it could be a preview of what MCLA coaches may have to deal with as dollars shrink at the club level.
© Jack Dempsey

After an end-of-season conversation with the club sports director last Friday, Brigham Young head coach Jason Lamb was fired.

The head man for the Cougars for 15 years, Lamb led BYU to a 213-69 (.755) record and three Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) national champions, most recently in 2007. Lamb was also the first president of the organization that evolved into the MCLA.

Lamb and Lee Gibbons, the director of the Extramural Sports Department at BYU, which oversees the school's club programs, had conflicting philosophies on academics, scheduling, roster size, coaching hours and team finances, according to an email Lamb released on Wednesday.

"These and other reasons have added up to Lee's final decision, I assume, but in the end it has come down to my unwillingness to alter my vision for the program with regards to his vision for the Extramural Sports Department on a whole," wrote Lamb.

BYU and Michigan are commonly viewed as the programs that MCLA teams should model themselves after because of their status as ‘virtual varsity' squads - ones that match or exceed the resources enjoyed by many of the top tier NCAA programs. As such, the Cougars play a national schedule, including separate trips to Minnesota, Michigan, Oregon and Arizona this year, as well as boasting a large roster (43 players) and staff.

The results have matched the expectations: the Cougars followed their '07 championship with back-to-back appearances in the national semifinals, including this year's overtime loss to Chapman.

It appears, however, that the expectations may have outstripped the boundaries of the institution.

"My goal of making BYU Lacrosse the ‘best it can be' on and off the field has led me to run the program in ways that exceed the scope of the Extramural Sports Department," wrote Lamb.

My initial reaction to hearing of Lamb's dismissal was to cringe.

This would mean that the 2009 MCLA season started with the No. 3 ranked team in the country, Arizona State, being suspended for the year because of a hazing/underage drinking incident and concluding with the firing of one of its most recognizable and respected figures.

After some thought, I came to the realization that this shouldn't be considered even near the level of the ASU debacle.

As painful as it is to those involved, this is just MCLA growing pains.

It would be easy to label one side of the dispute the villain and the other side the victim. That's the traditional plotline. But this would appear to be a case of a coach who was trying to implement a vision for his program running up against an administrator charged with following directives from his superiors.

This isn't the first time this has happened and certainly won't be the last. In fact, this could turn into a rite of spring for MCLA programs.

As its teams improve from year to year and expand past the paradigms established by their respective club overseers, the league will bump up against these institutional ceilings on a more consistent basis. It will be uncomfortable for those directly involved, but this should be considered a positive for the league as a whole.

Unfortunately, sometimes there will be compromise and sometimes there will be casualties.

The most disheartening part of Lamb's separation from BYU is the simple fact that the two were made for each other.

Lamb's a Long Island guy (an alum of Rocky Point H.S.) with lacrosse running through his blood. Equally important, he's a lacrosse guy who understands what drives a Mormon student-athlete. Lamb is a Bishop of his Orem ward, which may not resonate with non-LDS (or at least with me), but I'm told it holds no small significance within the Mormon community. I dare say the Cougars will be hard pressed to match that resume when they hire their next coach.

Speaking of which, we'll likely get the school's version of the story - or at least a sanitized version - when they distribute their news release, which I'm told will be in the coming days and will also include the announcement of Lamb's replacement.

Whoever does assume the reins of the Cougar program has both the luxury and curse of following in the footsteps of an immensely successful coach.

On one hand, the replacement will walk onto a practice field featuring enough talent to win the MCLA championship. On the other hand, he'll be expected to make sure it happens.

That is Jason Lamb's legacy at BYU; one that will not be forgotten for some time.

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