Dave Cottle is by no means a bad guy, and certainly by no means a bad lacrosse coach.
With that being said, Debbie Yow and the University of Maryland had little choice than to part ways with the man who has won 99 games as head lacrosse coach, as reported Sunday by regular WNST contributor Patrick Stevens as well as The Baltimore Sun. The Sun reported the break was a resignation, which may be nothing more than semantics.
Cottle’s contract ended following the season that concluded Saturday with a 7-5 loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, so this is not a “firing”, but instead a decision to not retain Cottle with a new contract. Cottle had been on the “hot seat” with Maryland fans for some time, but as I had reportedly previously-there were differing opinions about the safety of Cottle’s job within the athletic department.
The school decided to bring back Cottle following a somewhat disappointing 2009 season for multiple reasons-with money being among them. The athletic department also felt as though there was a significant amount of young talent returning, and that the 2010 Terps would have a great chance to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2006-and compete for a NCAA Championship.
And despite a very successful regular season that earned them the #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the loss to the Fighting Irish meant that this year’s Maryland seniors would end their run in College Park without making the Final Four-becoming the first graduating class since 1971 to do so.
There was little choice here. The program was stagnant-and the fanbase (whether their understanding and appreciation of lacrosse exists or not) was helping to make the decision easier. The fact that Maryland hasn’t won a NCAA Championship since 1975 despite being in the hotbed of lacrosse talent is only part of the problem. (It doesn’t help that Johns Hopkins was won 8 titles in that timeframe.)
A major part of the problem remains the fact that Maryland needs to win to generate interest amongst those who don’t live and die for the sport of lacrosse. Fewer than 2,000 fans attended the Maryland-Virginia ACC Championship Game at Byrd Stadium this season. And while the game wasn’t included in the season ticket package, the interest in such a game should be greater at a school where potential interest in lacrosse is equal if not greater than the biggest programs in the sport (Princeton, Syracuse, Virginia, Hopkins).
Cottle did himself no favors in the most important situations. He was 4-5 against Navy, just 7-7 against Duke, 5-12 against Virginia, 2-7 against Hopkins. He won just 2 regular season ACC Championships and 2 ACC Tournament Championships in 9 years.
Cottle defenders will point out that there is no guarantee that his successor will reach the NCAA Championship heights that the program hopes to reach, and there is no guarantee his successor will be guaranteed to continue the programs consecutive winning season streak, which has continued since the sport’s inception at the University in 1924.
With that being said, the school was forced to take that risk in hopes of future growth and development. Needing to sell suites inside Byrd Stadium, the school has to do something to try to spark interest. The names that will be rumored to be included on their upcoming search will be highlighted by current Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene, current Loyola coach Charley Toomey, and current Chesapeake Bayhawks coach John Tucker.
The biggest issue facing the next Terrapins lacrosse coach-no matter who it is-will be the need to attract the top in-state talent to the state university. It will be especially important to attract the top talent from the MIAA-which was part of the reason Cottle was hired from Loyola originally, and a job he did well to an extent.
MIAA families (whether they want to admit if publicly or not) have had a history of thinking they were better than the public in-state school. MIAA families have decided at times to send their kids to a school like Hopkins, Loyola, Princeton or Virginia-where the school experience rivals that of a typical Maryland public institution.
It isn’t an easy task for anyone who might take the job, but it is a necessary challenge.
The Maryland lacrosse team is by no means guaranteed to be better with a new coach, but if nothing else, the program is guaranteed a new level of excitement.
Excitement that will last until at least the first time the new coach faces Johns Hopkins.