Loyola coach Charley Toomey is fond of saying that he’s rarely surprised when he returns to his family’s home in Anne Arundel County, and Maryland coach John Tillman is sitting on his sofa watching television. In his own defense, Tillman will point out that he’s usually a guest invited by Toomey’s wife Sara because she knows that Tillman is a bachelor.
Their friendship will be put on hold Monday when their respective teams tangle at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., in the NCAA tournament final.
Toomey and Tillman have been friends since their days coaching at Navy. They run several offseason camps together and hang out during the summer when they’re not on the recruiting trail.
“We all have those guys that we consider – as coaches – in your corner, and John Tillman’s one of those coaches that I know is in my corner,” Toomey said during a news conference Sunday. “Not on Monday, but I’m just looking to have a lot of fun on the other side of the field from him. I gave him a little razzing today because he’s never wanted to schedule Loyola because he says he doesn’t want to play a friend. This is what he gets. But we’re going to have some fun on Monday.”
Added Tillman: “Charley is one of the finest people I know, and probably the closest guy or friend that I have as a coach in the coaching business. He’s as good as they come in terms of character and friendship and what he does with his players on and off the field is impeccable. He’s a good coach. He’s a better friend.”
Instead of putting their heads together and sharing scouting reports on common opponents, Toomey and Tillman will be trying to find vulnerabilities in their friend’s team and use those weaknesses to their advantage. It would seem to put both coaches in a little bit of a quandary, but both men said no matter the outcome, their friendship will remain unchanged.
“It’s a little bit awkward in certain ways, but all that being said, we realize what’s at stake for both schools and for our guys and what they’ve invested,” Tillman said. “We’ll make sure that we’re focused and doing what we need to do to try to win the game.”
Added Toomey: “I think when the whistle blows at the end of the game, that’s when it’ll be tough. Going in, I think there’s an excitement on both of our ends for each other. But again, when that whistle blows, one of us is going to feel awful bad for the other one. But we’ve done what we needed to do to get our guys here, and I think we have to take solace in that.”