November 22, 2010

USC Envisioned as 'Hub' of Lax in West

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

USC senior associate AD Mark Jackson is the interim coach of its new women's lacrosse team and already in the throes of its search for a permanent coach and new recruits.

The University of Southern California's Nov. 18 announcement was not shy.

"We are 'all in' for women's lacrosse," said athletic director Pat Haden. "We are adding women's lacrosse with the intention that USC will compete for a national championship."

The Women of Troy won't take the field until the 2013 season, but the powers that be are already moving on interviewing coaches and recruiting players. We caught up with Trojans senior associate athletic director Mark Jackson, who is serving as the interim women's lacrosse coach before he makes a permanent hire in the spring. He spoke to us from Naples, Fla., where he attended last week's IWCLA Annual Meeting to conduct interviews and scouted the adjacent de Beer President's Cup tournament.

How did USC choose to add a women's lacrosse program?

"This decision stemmed directly from the president. President [Max] Nikias has been a part of the university for the past 18 years as the dean of engineering and the provost and now the president. From Max's perspective, the sport of women's lacrosse represents so much of what we want to attract to USC in terms of an academic profile, and growing USC's brand from coast to coast.

"From the athletic department perspective, we want to add a sport where we have a legitimate shot at competing for a national title. We have 21 varsity sports at USC, 16 of which have won national championships. When we take on something, we do it the right way. We're going to support women's lacrosse with the upmost staffing, recruiting money, travel money. We're intending on competing. We took a good look at the obvious trend in participation, and that's where it's a no-brainer for us. More kids and more women are playing lacrosse. It was really obvious that the timing couldn't be better, with the sport growing not only in California but in all of the West. There were a number of factors.

What are you doing now to get the ball rolling so the program is up and running by spring 2013?

"Some of the steps have already been taken. Obviously, our going into the MPSF is done. We have begun our coaching search on a national scale, which will take place over the course of the spring. We're knee-deep in the process of [identifying] a candidate. What we want is not the biggest or most established name, but someone who's about what USC's about. We want somebody who wants to start a program and is willing to go through the growing pains, with the understanding that they're going to get a lot of support. We've budgeted for two assistant coaches and a director of women's lacrosse operations. [AD] Pat [Haden] and I will continue to search. There are some very established coaches who've stepped forward."

Besides searching for a coach, what will your role with the team be?

"I've taken on the position as interim head coach. We're going to recruit. It's the one thing I know I can do. I know I can sell it. The interest already has been fantastic. The families and the athletes, they understand what USC represents beyond lacrosse. I know many kids aren't going to make a decision without a head coach in place, but they're willing to take a long, serious look. That's why I'm in Florida this weekend and why I was in Maryland last weekend [at the Mid-Atlantic Lacrosse Tournament], to identify the right kind of foundation for a program."

Do you have a lacrosse background?

"I had oversight of the men's and women's lacrosse programs at Syracuse for a few years. (Jackson became an executive senior associate athletic director at Syracuse in 2005.) I never played, but I can recognize athleticism, and we have enough resources and friends in the business who can guide us through the process."

What do you look for in a player?

"The first thing is, it's gotta fit on the academic front. USC was ranked No. 23 in the US News & World Report; we're an elite academic institution with a very, very competitive athletic profile. We need students who can handle both. That's a big piece of it."

It's a ways out, but where will the team play?

"McAlister Field, which we'll share with soccer, and we'll also play games at the Coliseum. And USC has been able to go out and really get our fans involved with our women's teams. We recently broke an in-season attendance record in our women's soccer game versus UCLA. (USC beat UCLA 1-0 on Oct. 22 in the Coliseum before 8,527 fans.) We hope to do the same thing for women's lacrosse."

So have you made a call to South Bend to set up the next big USC-Notre Dame game?

"[Laughs] We love to play off our traditional rivalries, and of course Pat has a history with Notre Dame. (Haden was a quarterback for USC during the 1970s, and was later NBC's color commentator for the Fighting Irish.) I've had some initial conversations with [Notre Dame women's lacrosse coach] Tracy Coyne, and we'd love to get that going. We have to understand that we have to ease into this. There's no false expectations that we're going to take on the biggest and the best right away. We'll schedule aggressively, but you've got to balance it. We'd love to be a hub for women's lacrosse in the West."

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