It wasn’t exactly the sexiest of hires.
The University of Maryland officially announced the hiring of John Tillman as the 9th head lacrosse coach in school history Wednesday, replacing Dave Cottle-who parted ways with the program following an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame in May.
While Cottle’s departure was called for by many amongst the alumni base and overall fan base of the Terrapins, there was a sense that the school would have their choice of any candidate to replace the coach who took the Terps to the Final Four three times in nine seasons.
Yet as the coaching search unfolded, it became clear that College Park might not be the destination some lacrosse fans thought it was. High profile coaches like Cornell’s Jeff Tambroni and Bryant’s Mike Pressler (the head coach at Duke prior to the 2006 incident in which all parties were ultimately exonerated) removed their names from consideration. Syracuse women’s coach Gary Gait also took his name off the list-although there was no real reason to believe Maryland was interested in him this time after passing over him to hire Cottle in 2002.
Other candidates Maryland supporters had hoped would be connected to the opening were never contacted, including Notre Dame’s Kevin Corrigan, UMBC’s Don Zimmerman, Albany’s Scott Marr, Stevenson’s Paul Cantabene and Syracuse assistant Leland Rogers. In fact, the only other known interview was Virginia assistant Marc Van Arsdale.
As I said earlier this week on Twitter of Van Arsdale and Tillman-I’ve seen sexier groups on “The Biggest Loser.” There were no “Bring Tillman to Maryland” domain names registered or Facebook groups started, not that lacrosse hires always go viral. Yet the news of who had interviewed appeared to be greeted with more of a “oh…okay” than an “OKAY!” response.
In John Tillman, Maryland gets a coach with three years head coaching experience at Harvard. Prior to that, Tillman spent 12 years in Annapolis as the top assistant at Navy. He knows the area and he’s worked with higher class kids to try to bring them to the Ivy League. In that way, Maryland appears to have made a solid choice, as they need someone to go into the homes of top MIAA talent in Baltimore and try to keep them in state.
Of course, Tillman has no NCAA Tournament experience at went just 20-19 as head coach of the Crimson; meaning the label “unproven” would not be unfair for a fanbase to attach.
I get the feeling the folks in the Maryland athletic office didn’t field too many phone calls Wednesday from fans looking to find out how much it would cost to lease a suite at Byrd Stadium for the 2011 lacrosse season.
Tillman will every chance to prove himself early in his tenure, as the Terps return the majority of the players that lead them to the 3rd seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. In fact, an early poll for 2011 from Inside Lacrosse this week had Maryland ranked 5th before a head coach was ever hired. The Terps retain the bulk of their offensive talent, with their biggest loss being goalie Brian Phipps.
Tillman’s hire appears to reflect a bigger need within the lacrosse program at Maryland. Simply put, it seems to reflect the need to win. Maryland officials could have tried to change the mind of one of the bigger names in the college game by offering a bunch of money, knowing that a splashy hire could help to generate buzz around the program.
Instead, they simply hired the man they felt could the team win. That may be even more significant.
When Maryland hired Dave Cottle from Loyola in 2002, Athletic Director Debbie Yow spoke immediately of NCAA Championship expectations in the University’s press release. As D1scourse’s Patrick Stevens pointed out today via Twitter, the only Championship reference from a Maryland source in the John Tillman press release was from former Terps attackman Joe Walters (“Coach Tillman is an outstanding person and a credible guy, who I believe can lead Maryland to a national championship”), possibly the best player of the Dave Cottle era in College Park.
Maryland isn’t looking for buzz in this hire. They’re clearly looking for results. It has become apparent that the fans in this area simply want to see the team compete at a very high level-as frustration had mounted over not making the Final Four in the last four seasons and a NCAA Championship drought that dates back to 1975.
Maryland needs to win to generate excitement. They feel like they have a chance to do that under John Tillman. If they do, no one will remember the names that were overlooked or the names that looked past Maryland before Tillman was hired.
If they don’t, “should have been Paul Cantabene” could become an even more popular rallying cry than “they should have never skipped over Gary Gait” has been.