`Big Man' leaves large legacy

Dick Edell: A beloved figure on the Maryland campus, the retiring Terps lacrosse coach used motivational and interpersonal skills to build a tradition of success during his 18 years.

College Lacrosse

September 17, 2001|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN COLUMNIST

Dick Edell's passion for University of Maryland lacrosse was often on display in the fall. After the Terps played football games at Byrd Stadium, Edell and his players would go on "Dumpster duty."

Because of occasional budget crunches during his 18 years at Maryland, Edell, who resigned as Terps coach Sept. 3, and his team were reduced to picking up peanut shells, cracked mustard packets and other trash to add $1,600 to his budget.

"I went through some highs and lows at Maryland," said Edell, 57. "You haven't lived until you've picked up peanut shells. Those damn mustard packs were hard to get up once somebody stepped on them, but that money came in handy."

Edell ran Dumpster duty the way he led practices.

"My roommate of 34 years ended the cleanups," said Edell, laughing, referring to his wife, Dolores. "She said she didn't mind me screaming at them [his players] when they weren't hustling or punishing them when they didn't go to class, but it was a bit too much raising hell because they couldn't handle a broom properly."

Edell resigned because he is suffering from inclusion myopathy, an illness in which muscle cells slowly destroy each other. Edell said the disease isn't life-threatening, but does weaken him, especially in the arms and legs.

His legacy, though, will remain for quite a while.

Edell, known as "Big Man" on campus, was tough, but gentle. He was emotional, but disciplined. He was never part of lacrosse's yuppie, stuffed-shirt crowd, preferring to stay with his humble roots and the blue-collar work ethic he learned in his home area of Dundalk.

Possibly no other coach in the past 20 years has been able to get his players to play with such intensity. Motivation became Edell's trademark, and the skill was evident early.

"It was our second year at Army [where Edell coached for seven years], and we're going to play Navy on Saturday," said Terps assistant coach Dick Slafkosky, who worked with Edell for 25 years. "On Monday, Dick was getting our guys fired up at the end of practice. I said, `Dick, don't do that.'

"Tuesday rolls around and, at the end of practice, Dick is getting them all fired up again. I said, `Dick, don't do that. It's too early. We're playing Navy. By the time the game gets here, these guys will be going crazy.' He didn't listen.

"Five minutes into the game, there's a huge fight, and Dick is in the middle pulling kids apart," Slafkosky said. "Then, all of sudden, he screams out, `Hey, Slaf, you're right. These guys are crazy.' "

Edell spent his career working his players into a frenzy. He was good at it. He had 282 career victories, 171 at Maryland. He guided Maryland to 13 NCAA tournaments and two title-game appearances, in 1995 and 1997, both times when his job was supposedly in jeopardy.

Only Dick Garber of Massachusetts (300), Roy Simmons Jr. of Syracuse (290) and Jack Emmer of Army (289) have more victories.

"That program will be in good shape for a while, and that's a true sign of a great coach when he leaves," said Loyola coach Dave Cottle. "Maybe the most impressive thing about Coach is that his players were playing just as hard for him now as they were at the beginning of his career. You don't see that often."

A proud heritage

Where did this gift of motivation come from?

You can trace it back to his childhood, when Edell lived among steel and automobile workers. His father, Dick Sr., came from a poor family. The elder Edell was an insurance salesman who walked door to door to collect premiums.

"I was proud of my heritage. I had a great upbringing in Dundalk," Edell said. "My father would never cease to tell me or my sister that he supported everything we did and we were the most important things in his life whether he had 22 bucks or 22 cents.

"It sounds corny, but I tried to create a family-type atmosphere. I wanted to treat a player the same way a coach would treat my son on or off the field."

Edell always went the extra mile for his players. The stories are endless.

When defenseman Brian Jackson was suspended before the 1987 NCAA semifinals because of a positive drug test, Edell was told by school officials he had no chance of getting him reinstated. But the coach sought numerous medical opinions and discovered Jackson tested positive because he had taken a cough medicine and was dehydrated shortly before the test was administered.

Jackson played.

When goalie Pat McGinnis allowed the game-winning goal to Towson in last spring's NCAA quarterfinals, Edell was the first to greet him on the sideline. "If the toughest thing that happens to you in your life is that you let in that goal, then you're going to have it pretty good," he told McGinnis.

But it wasn't always about lacrosse.

There was the time in 1993, amid more reports that his job was in jeopardy, that Edell drove to Long Island, N.Y., to see former midfielder Greg Nelin, whose father had died. A couple of weeks ago, Edell attended the wedding of former defenseman Casey Connor.

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