Storm dissipated, Cottle sails on

Lacrosse: Dave Cottle faced a near-mutiny last September when he was named to run the Terps' program. With emotions back on even keel, he can get back to coaching.

College Lacrosse Preview

February 22, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Dave Cottle anticipates a long marriage with the Maryland lacrosse team.

The honeymoon? Can't we discuss less delicate matters?

Cottle's hiring was a lacrosse gossip's dream. Mike LaMonica and Mike Mollot, two of the Terps' top offensive players, say his reputation as an offensive guru preceded him, but ringing endorsements are not what met Cottle last September when Maryland lacrosse went from the Big Man to the big stink.

Three weeks after Dick Edell, a.k.a. the Big Man, announced his retirement after 18 years in charge at Maryland, the university hired Cottle, the one candidate players had lobbied against.

Amid rumor-mongering chat rooms and saber-rattling over a mass exodus of players, Cottle pondered a dilemma posed by one philosopher: When someone says you're in the wrong place, my friend, you'd better leave.

Cottle was en route to meet his new team when he got cold feet and pulled off Interstate 95. He needed a reassuring cell-phone call from athletic director Debbie Yow to continue south.

"No matter how bad it got the first year, the administration was committed to this," Cottle said. "You work your whole life to get a job, then you meet an unnerving situation, and I just didn't know if it was worth it.

"I felt like if I didn't take the job, I'd hear about it for the rest of my life. If I took it, I would only hear about it for the first year. I wanted to prove to people that they made a good decision."

LaMonica said Cottle "showed a lot of guts" through an ordeal that was prolonged when the world - including the hiring of lacrosse coaches - seemingly came to a stop after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Suffering from inclusion myopathy, a condition that destroys muscle cells, Edell resigned Sept. 2, too weak to hold on through the fall and orchestrate a transfer of power to longtime assistant Dave Slafkosky, similar to what Dean Smith did for Bill Guthridge and the North Carolina basketball job in 1997.

Amid speculation in The Sun and elsewhere that playing legend and Maryland women's assistant Gary Gait was in line for the job, Maryland had interviews or discussions of varying seriousness with Cottle, Towson's Tony Seaman, Duke's Mike Pressler, Georgetown's Dave Urick and Notre Dame's Kevin Corrigan.

On Sept. 25, the day after the campus was shaken by a tornado that took the lives of two students, Cottle accepted the job, then had that stormy meeting with his new team. He canceled a scheduled news conference the next day and tried to build a bridge to his players.

"I wanted to get to work," Cottle said. "I felt I needed to talk to my players instead of the press."

His first practice was aborted when only five players showed. A team statement said it was misled about its input in the hiring process. Yow said: "It really wasn't the process everyone was upset over, it was the choice." Cottle said no players transferred, and none asked for a release.

As much as Edell meant to Maryland, Cottle had an even bigger profile at his previous employer.

Edell came here in 1984, one year after Cottle moved from Severn School to Loyola College. It wasn't a big leap because the Greyhounds had one season in Division I and zero NCAA wins.

A guy from the other side of the lacrosse tracks - he starred at Baltimore's Northern High, albeit when it produced talent across the athletic spectrum, and Salisbury State - Cottle painstakingly turned Loyola into an NCAA regular.

No tradition became 14 straight tournament bids, the longest streak by an active coach.

Loyola reached the NCAA final in 1990 and got crushed - by Syracuse and Gait. Cottle went to one other final four, and that 1998 trip produced the worst-ever loss for a No. 1 seed - to Maryland.

Why were the Maryland players so resistant to Cottle? They heard he was aloof, hard on his players and his teams ran out of steam in the postseason. Sound like any of the knocks directed toward another Maryland coach over the last decade?

Like Gary Williams, Cottle does not sugarcoat criticism, as Notre Dame assistant coach Kevin Anderson learned at Loyola in 1990. A two-sport athlete, Anderson joined lacrosse after basketball season.

A sloppy spring practice led to sprints, and the routine was interrupted again when he threw a pass into the stands at Curley Field. Cottle told Anderson, "You stink in two sports," except he didn't say "stink."

"You can take a story like that one way, that he's ruthless," Anderson said, "or you can see the truth, that he has a way of motivating. I took it as the joke that it was, but it made me work harder and raise the level of my game."

Cottle said he has received more than 300 letters of encouragement. Any hate mail?

"Not a one," he said.

Cottle's direction will be most evident at the offensive end.

"Our offense really couldn't get any worse," LaMonica said. "Coach Cottle has an extremely good reputation for offensive knowledge. No offense to the guys who coached before, it's just so much better. His offense is incredible."

Mollot said there will be added freedom, with the onus of decision-making on the players, but they had best be flexible. The Greyhounds ran with Syracuse last April and beat the Orangemen.

Down to a handful of midfielders, Cottle took the air out of the ball against Princeton in a one-goal loss in the NCAA quarterfinals. Every possession? He coached every touch. So much for freedom.

Perhaps Maryland players discovered that first impressions aren't the most accurate.

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