Lump in his throat

Lacrosse: Tony Seaman confronts his past today when Towson takes on Johns Hopkins, the team he coached for eight years before his sudden firing.

May 02, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Tony Seaman just sat motionless on the bus.

At the season's opening college lacrosse tournament, Towson University and its new coach arrived early at St. Paul's School in what would be their first public appearance together. But the Tigers weren't alone.

Staring out at once-friendly columbia blue and black uniforms, Seaman wasn't prepared to confront Johns Hopkins nor his feelings. It had only been a few months since his devastating, seven-minute dismissal by Hopkins administrators that ended Seaman's eight-year tenure at Homewood.

So, as the Towson players filed off the bus, Seaman stayed for a couple of minutes and collected himself.

"To tell you the God's honest truth, that was the only day that it was really weird for me," Seaman said. "That's when reality hit me right in the face."

Seaman and Hopkins coach John Haus both requested not to play each other that day to avoid any awkward situations.

But neither can back away today, when No. 2 Johns Hopkins (9-1) takes a 5 1/2-mile bus ride up Charles Street to battle Towson (4-6), as one of the most intriguing lacrosse stories moves to the forefront.

It marks the first face-to-face, regular-season encounter between Seaman and Hopkins, where he was fired on June 22 after compiling the third-highest victory total by a Blue Jays coach and guiding the team to eight straight NCAA tournaments, including four Final Four appearances.

"People can write, people can call and people can say that this is revenge, but that is not true," Seaman said. "My revenge will never be taken out against the lacrosse team at Johns Hopkins or John Haus, who still remains a good friend. The personal stuff, that is between me and some other people."

"The other people" is how Seaman refers to the small group of alumni and one administrator who he believes influenced Hopkins president William Brody to make the unexpected firing.

Seaman said his termination came only a week after athletic director Tom Calder gave him a strong evaluation, informed him of his salary for next season and told him that he had been rehired. Seaman and Calder then attended a function in New York City, where they met with more than 60 Hopkins alumni.

Three days later, Seaman said he was hastily called from his lacrosse camp to see Calder and student affairs dean Larry Benedict, who asked for Seaman's resignation.

"I was like: I'd already been rehired," Seaman said. "They said no, it was time for a change.

"I then asked: Could you tell me what that's based on? We won a lot of games, been pretty successful. We've never been near .500 with the best schedule in the country every year. They said, `It's time for a change.' That's all they said."

When twice asked if there had been an earlier meeting at which Seaman was evaluated and verbally rehired, Calder would only say, "As I said before, my only comment is that I wish Tony all the luck in the world. He's a friend of mine and I do wish him well at Towson."

Seaman reluctantly quit and left Benedict's office at 12: 45 p.m. By 1 p.m., a news release had been typed up and sent to the media.

Seaman's wife, Guri, was visiting camp that day and received the startling news directly from Seaman. His players, however, did not.

Some players heard it off the radio and television reports. Others learned from the quickly spreading word of mouth. The reaction, though, was the same.

No one expected to lose the coach who endeared himself to players with his relaxed coaching style and off-beat wit.

"I came home from camp and my father said to me, `You'll never guess the bad news. Coach Seaman got fired,' " said Hopkins junior goalkeeper Brian Carcaterra, who lives in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. "I was really in shock."

Seaman still had two days of directing the Hopkins lacrosse camp, enduring the whispers and the strange looks from the 325 boys.

"That was the worst week of my life, ever," he said. "It's like getting kicked in your teeth. It's so hard to put a finger on the reason exactly, other than one thing. And that, I have no argument for."

At Hopkins, that one thing is a national championship. It's the only thing.

The Blue Jays have celebrated an unprecedented seven NCAA championships. But Hopkins hasn't hoisted a plaque since 1987, and Seaman was 0-for-8 in his tenure at Homewood.

The coach points to a 41-15 record over the final four years and his 77 overall victories. The disgruntled alumni cite no Final Four appearances in 1997 and 1998, the Blue Jays' first absence in consecutive years since 1990-91, as well as zero national titles.

Seaman brings up the four trips to the national semifinals and three overtime losses in the NCAA quarterfinals during his eight seasons. Others highlight the fact that Hopkins failed to advance to the NCAA title game under Seaman, not to mention the lack of titles.

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