Dick Edell, who coached the University of Maryland men's lacrosse team for the past 18 years and became one of the most successful college coaches in the history of the sport, is stepping down because of health reasons.
Edell, 57, who ranks fourth all time with 282 career victories - including 171 with the Terrapins - and is known affectionately on the College Park campus as "Big Man," said he is suffering from a disease that is attacking his muscular system and has weakened him steadily during the past year. Edell said the ailment is not life-threatening.
"My heart wants to do it. My mind wants to do it. But my body won't allow me to," said Edell, who added he has contemplated his decision for the past three months.
"I'm upset with the emotion and the finality of this. That's hard," he said. "This is the right thing to do. I've spent 18 years trying to make Maryland lacrosse something special. Staying and continuing when you can't go 100 percent, I was going to hurt the program. That has never been my intent."
Edell informed the lacrosse team of his intentions Friday. Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said a university committee would be formed quickly to begin the search for Edell's replacement. In the meantime, offensive coordinator Dave Slafkosky, who has worked with Edell for the past 25 years, will take over as interim coach.
Gary Gait, the former Syracuse superstar who has worked as the top assistant under Maryland women's lacrosse coach Cindy Timchal for the past eight years, becomes the leading candidate to take over the men's program. The Terps women's team has won seven consecutive national championships.
"We had known something was wrong, but [Edell's] health was worse than what we had known," Yow said. "His health is more important than anything. I just hope he can take care of it.
"We are profoundly grateful for the many contributions that Dick Edell has made to our athletic program. He has coached our men's lacrosse team with skill and great dedication, and he will be missed by everyone associated with the athletic program."
Gait has long been rumored to be Edell's successor-in-waiting. As for the strength of Gait's candidacy, Yow said: "Obviously, he has great credentials. He will get a serious look."
Edell guided the Terps to 13 NCAA tournaments and led them to appearances in the national title game in 1995 and 1997, a time when his job supposedly was in jeopardy. Edell is known for a tough, no-nonsense style. He typically produced teams that lacked flash and leaned on rugged defense and disciplined play.
Edell coached his last game in May, when Maryland finished a 13-3 season by dropping a 12-11 decision to Towson at Byrd Stadium in the NCAA tournament quarterfinal round.
He said the season was especially trying, due to his declining health. Edell missed a practice for the first time in memory because he was undergoing tests to discover the nature of his condition. During the preseason, he fell on the practice field for reasons he could not explain at the time.
"It's a slowly debilitating situation. It's not life-threatening, it's quality-of-life threatening," Edell said. "I was pretty much drained when the season ended. But when we got together as a team after the Towson game, I was adamant about going after it again in 2002.
"But when you're concerned about how you're going to get upstairs to the locker room or you're worried about falling on the practice field, you've become part of the problem. I've always wanted to be part of the solution. I've always asked the kids to give a hundred percent, and I can't give that right now."
Edell came to Maryland after seven successful seasons at Army. He guided Army to four NCAA tournament appearances. In all, Edell coached for 29 seasons and amassed a record of 282-123.