"When Tony Seaman took the Hopkins job, one of my worst fears was realized. Tony's a great recruiter and lacrosse mind. My assistant, John Desko, and I said if we could choose the Hopkins coach, one guy we'd hide would be Tony Seaman."
-- Roy Simmons Jr.,
Syracuse lacrosse coach
Tony Seaman's bag of coaching tricks never seems to come up empty. Poof. Goalkeepers who double team the ball from outside the crease. Poof. Matchup zone defenses. Poof. Four Ivy League titles and six National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I tournament appearances while at the University of Pennsylvania.
For his next trick, Seaman has to re-establish Johns Hopkins as a lacrosse power. The Blue Jays slipped to 6-5 a year ago, and made a first-round exit from the tournament, only the second time a Johns Hopkins team has done so since the tournament began in 1971.
The dismal record was part of the reason former coach Don Zimmerman was forced to resign last June.
Poof. Can Seaman pull off some more tricks at Johns Hopkins, or will he just blow smoke?
"Let's put it this way," said C.W. Mix, a long time Penn assistant who replaced Seaman as the Quakers' head coach. "At Penn, Tony didn't have any scholarships. We had to make players. Now he's going to get those scholarship players at Johns Hopkins. That's kind of frightening."
It's a fear that is being felt around the college lacrosse world because Seaman, 48, is one of the most respected coaches in the game.
The Blue Jays say they have a fine formula for success: Great tradition plus good coach equals national championships.
Or an ulcer.
"Every kid who dreams wants to play lacrosse at Hopkins, and every coach wants a shot at No. 1," said Seaman, who has devised a lot of his strategy from coaching and watching basketball. "That's why I took the job here. In the Ivy League, you get a shot at the national championship maybe every eight or nine years. Here, you always have a realistic shot.
"As for the pressure, I haven't met a lot of players or coaches that were good and didn't put pressure on themselves. My wife has always told me that I'm a different human being from January through June than any other time of the year."
But it's always been the same Seaman on the field: someone who is respected by his peers and liked by his players.
Before Seaman arrived at Penn for the 1983 season, the Quakers were 20-36 in the previous five years under coach Charlie Coker. In his first season, Seaman guided the Quakers to a 10-3 record and an Ivy League title. That was followed by a 12-2 season in 1984, another Ivy championship and a second straight Division I Coach of the Year honor.
But what made Seaman unique was his style. His match-up zone defenses, where one player pressures the ball and the other defenders play zone, was an idea he got from watching Villanova coach Rollie Massimino's basketball teams.
Penn's offense, which seldom used transition except for those 50- to 60-yard passes to settle the ball, consisted of movement without the ball and often used picks. The style, Seaman once admitted, came from the New York Knicks basketball teams of the early 1970s.
And get this: Seaman even made his short stick midfielders play defense.
"It's not like we sat around and said, 'Well, what kind of crazy idea can Tony come up with today,' " said Mix. "Tony always had well-conceived game plans. Everything he used, he practiced it for hours. It's just that he was always trying to find new ways to beat somebody."
Maybe no other coach had more trouble with Seaman and his slow down offense than Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr. In the last three years at Syracuse with the fabulous Gait brothers, the Orangemen won three national championships.
But in seven games and victories against Penn, the Orangemen won five by two goals or less.
"A Seaman-coached team is schooled in everything," said Princeton coach Bill Tierney. "What you really have to prepare for is the unexpected. There's always a gimmick goal, one that really hurts in one of those 9-8 ballgames."
But will Seaman's style work at Johns Hopkins?
The Blue Jays have never been a finesse team. They run and gun. Zone defenses? Are you kidding? Johns Hopkins also would wear teams down with man-to-man defenses.
"I've always been open to new ideas," said Seaman. "I know that Hopkins always came straight at you. But if you're going to be successful every year, you have to adjust to what your talent is and what you can get on the field. We're going to do things a little differently here than at Penn. The talent level is different and so is the entire coaching staff. We're going to have a pretty good mix."
Seaman's creativity played a strong role in him being hired by Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays initially offered the job to Tierney, a former Blue Jays assistant and close friend of Johns Hopkins athletic director Bob Scott. Tierney reportedly turned down the offer because he was not finished with his rebuilding job at Princeton.