At Hopkins, thumbs up for Seaman Despite 8-6 finish, coach's job is secure

June 01, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The voice on the other end of the phone said Tony Seaman would be getting home late. Leave a message? He probably wouldn't see it until around 3 a.m., if at all. Better to catch him in the office the next day.

The college lacrosse season had ended for Seaman over the weekend, and he was in New York on Wednesday, getting ready for the next one by checking for prospective recruits at a high school playoff game.

And yes, there will be a next season for the Johns Hopkins coach.

Seaman is 57-25 since coming to Hopkins in 1991, but 0-for-6 in the all-important national championship count. Six seasons without a title, tacked on to the three before he arrived, tend to make some people close to the program a little antsy. And each new failure brings an old rumor that the coach's job is in jeopardy.

Not so, said Hopkins athletic director Tom Calder.

When asked if Seaman would have his contract renewed for another year after going 8-6, including a loss to Virginia in the NCAA tournament semifinals, Calder said, "Oh, yes, definitely. He did a masterful job. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that we were going to get to the semifinals, I would have said, 'That's just fantastic.'

"We beat Syracuse and North Carolina [in March] and expectations were too high. Some people probably felt we were unbeatable again and that just wasn't the case."

After coming close to perfection the previous season -- the Blue Jays were 13-0 and ranked No. 1 before being upset by Maryland in the national semifinals -- they barely made the tournament this spring and wound up with their greatest number of losses since 1971.

That led to speculation about Seaman's future, even though the Blue Jays upset Maryland to reach the Final Four, played a brutal schedule and were a team in transition after having lost most of their offensive punch, including all-time leading scorers Terry Riordan and Brian Piccola.

Seaman said he hears the complaints of some alumni, "but as long as it doesn't come from my bosses . . . . They've been very supportive. I think I'm fairly well secure. Inside my own head, I'm happy with the job that's getting done.

"Everything's been great except for the absence of a championship, and that happened for a few years before I even got there. It's been a while, I know that, but it's been a while for a lot of teams.

"I guess there are a few people who love to talk and have hindsight and are experts of the game and find things that are done wrong. But I think we're well-prepared and well-coached. We had 100-percent graduation again for our seniors. We're right at around 98.5 percent since I've been here. I think we're getting done the things we want to get done."

Bob Scott, the former Hopkins coach and athletic director, said, "This was Tony's fourth Final Four, so it isn't like we've dropped out of the picture. There is no great alarm among the administrative people here. Our time will come."

Scott won seven championships between 1955 and 1974. After his final season as coach ended with a title, Henry Ciccarone won three straight from 1978 to 1980 and was a finalist four other times. And Don Zimmerman won three championships in his first four seasons.

In one stretch, the Blue Jays claimed seven titles in 14 years, which seemed natural at an institution that plays its games only a clearing pass away from the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. But is that sort of dominance possible anymore with parity in full bloom? And is anything less than that acceptable at Hopkins?

"They are under expectations that no other program is under," said Loyola coach Dave Cottle. "I remember one year, Zim won a championship but they lost to North Carolina during the season. He got a letter from an alum that basically said, 'Congratulations on the national championship. Do you think we can beat Carolina next year?' That kind of puts it in perspective."

No one understands that more than Zimmerman, who just completed his third season at UMBC. It's that tradition of excellence that attracted him to Hopkins as a player, and later as a coach. It was something to embrace, not shy away from.

"Hopkins has to be the program with the richest tradition, and with that comes a lot of support and expectations," he said.

As for Seaman, he'll bring in more blue-chip recruits for next season, along with Towson State transfer Dudley Dixon, who will bolster the attack. And he'll take another crack at winning a championship and quieting the critics.

"We all have to understand that there are some things that have changed," he said. "The number of good players in the country is more, there are more schools that are doing a better job of recruiting, the talent is spread out and the policy of admissions has changed drastically at Hopkins.

"It's hard to dominate like Hopkins once dominated.

"This is a great place; I don't think I'd trade it for any other place. But there are days that are tougher than others."

Pub Date: 6/01/96

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