John Tillman, who coached Harvard lacrosse, is taking the reins… (David Silverman photo )
When the University of Maryland allowed men's lacrosse coach Dave Cottle to resign May 23 after nine seasons, there were some who thought athletic director Debbie Yow was either gutsy or out of her mind.
There was no middle ground.
In the weeks after the resignation, it appeared to be the latter. But when the Terps hired Harvard coach John Tillman to replace Cottle on Tuesday, Yow might have scored a major victory.
Only time will tell whether Tillman is a capable replacement, but the pedigree and potential are excellent. If there was an A-list of candidates, Tillman had to be on it with Bryant coach Mike Pressler, Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni and Syracuse women's coach Gary Gait.
One of the problems with college lacrosse, though, is that some of the heads of these head coaches have gotten out of control. They think lacrosse has become major college football or basketball. Gait, for example, has priced himself out of almost any market.
Tambroni and Pressler were excellent choices, but, like Gait, wanted certain guarantees. Tillman's head isn't that big. If he was the last man standing on the A-list, the Terps got a terrific deal.
"John is one of the outstanding young coaches in our profession, a hard worker, a tireless recruiter, a man of his word," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "I have always been impressed. If it was possible, the ACC just got tougher again."
The Terps were smart in offering Tillman a seven-year contract. Anything less might not have lured him to College Park. Yow had come under scrutiny for basically forcing Cottle out, and in the lacrosse world, she had acquired the reputation of wanting to win now or fire the coach.
In his nine seasons, Cottle had the Terps in eight NCAA tournaments and three final fours. His resignation came a day after Maryland was upset by Notre Dame in the NCAA quarterfinals, a team that eventually lost to Duke in the national championship game.
According to his players, this past season might have been Cottle's best, and the Terps played hard for him. They might have been too tight in the quarterfinals when the starting attack failed to score a goal.
Now, it's Tillman's turn to recapture that emotion.
"Dave Cottle's legacy is one of being one of the best all-time coaches in this sport," Tillman said. "I can't fill those shoes. I also want those players to know that they can still have those strong feelings toward Coach Cottle. All I can do is be myself, and I can't apologize for being me.
"My philosophy has always been one of being proud of who we are. I want to give off a lot of positive energy and let them know we're working to be a champion in everything we do, from how we pick up ground balls to the film room to the classroom. It's not all about the X's and O's, but I'm a firm believer in building relationships."
In the three years that Tillman was at Harvard, he didn't just rebuild a team, but its image as well. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Tillman spent two days calling and speaking individually with each of his 42 Harvard players about his decision.
Tillman compiled a 20-19 mark at Harvard, and the 2009 team went 8-5, the most wins by a Crimson team since 1999. By most accounts, Tillman had already compiled a top-five recruiting class for Harvard for 2010.
"I want to make sure that Harvard hires the best coach they can, and that all of those recruits come to Harvard and not waver," Tillman said. "Then I'll turn my attention, focus and excitement about bringing our next class to Maryland."
Said Loyola coach Charley Toomey: "He is a tireless recruiter. He has tons of energy and is one of the hot young coaches in the country. Maryland got a good one as far as coaching, but more importantly, they hired a great person."
Tillman spent 12 years as an assistant at the Naval Academy before joining Harvard. He was regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the country. It will be interesting to see what type of offense Tillman runs at Maryland.
The Terps have some great shooters at attack, but only one who can carry the ball. At midfield, they don't have a dominant player or scorer. On defense, Maryland will probably change to a pressure-oriented style.
"I think he'll settle it down on the offensive end," Toomey said. "John does an outstanding job of utilizing his team's strength, and he'll do whatever it takes to win. Defensively, they are going to stay after you and make you compete 110yards on the field.
"John has great attention to detail, but not just in the game, but as far as preparation, recruiting, everything. I think you're going to see him maintain the same approach of them having a blue-collar work ethic."
Tillman is no stranger to the ACC or the area. When at Navy, he played a lot of teams currently on the Maryland schedule. As soon as he relocates to Maryland, he plans on trying to get back his Ravens season tickets.
"The ACC is certainly a challenge," Tillman said. "You have three great coaches and four great schools all committed to winning. You are forced to be the best, to play up to your potential.
"Boston is a terrific place, and I received outstanding support from the administration, players, alumni and fans. Boston is also a great sports town with the Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox Nation and Patriots. But now, I get a chance to go back to my old town where lacrosse is a passion and has a very special place in the state of Maryland."
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