UMBC athletic teams feature two sets of sons coached by their… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
The two coaches sat together under the shade of UMBC's Stadium Complex. The coaches, men with more than 60 years of experience between them, occasionally glanced down at the women's lacrosse practice in motion, talking to pass the time. The reality is that Pete Caringi II, UMBC's soccer coach, and Don Zimmerman, the school's lacrosse coach, share more in common than a profession.
Both men have earned their reputations through the respected programs they have built, through the wins and championships they have achieved and the countless number of athletes they have coached. And over the past few years both have shared a new and challenging experience: coaching their sons.
Pete Caringi III and Jake Zimmerman grew up at UMBC. They grew up roaming their respective father's sidelines and practices, attending camps and interacting with players. From the stands they watched their fathers lead young men to victory, deciding it would one day be them.
"It's absolutely wonderful," Zimmerman said. "Most parents, when their kids go away to college, they don't have much access. And here with coaching Jake I get to see my son almost on a daily basis, and as a dad that's a blessing."
Yet playing for a parent — or coaching your child — can be a difficult situation, one with the potential to create tension within a team and provoke criticism from the outside. The challenge is being able to see their sons as just another athlete.
"From day one since he's started here, anytime he's been on the field and he's got his UMBC gear on, then he's another player and I've kept it from that perspective," Caringi II said. "I look at him as one of my players, not my son."
"When practice and everything [is] over, we can be father and son. But on the field it's serious business. It's serious for both of us to win," adds Caringi III, who the America East Conference's leading scorer with 13 goals this season. "We can't let a father-son [relationship] get in the way of [being] a coach-player on the field, which we are both fine with."
While the Caringis' time as player-coach has been relatively smooth, the Zimmermans admit theirs had its "bumps." Zimmerman can remember walking away from situations where he felt he was too hard on his son, but he has learned.
"It's a very fine line," Zimmerman said. "I don't want to be easier [on him], and at the same time I don't want to be tougher. And that's the balance you have to find."
Neither man coached his son prior to college. They credit their strong relationships with one another as the key factor of why the transition to player-coach has been successful.
As both players' high school careers were coming to an end, they flirted with the idea of going somewhere besides UMBC. But everything kept coming back to Catonsville. Both spoke of the fit and the feeling of comfort they felt.
Their commitments were nothing spectacular. Pete simply emailed his father of his intentions during a study hall, while Jake, now a senior midfielder, told his father face to face. Having given their sons every opportunity to look elsewhere, both coaches knew their sons were attending UMBC because it was where they wanted to be.
But ask both men if they secretly wanted their sons to be Retrievers and you'll get the same answer: A yes without a moment of hesitation.
What about the issue of addressing their fathers? Is it Coach on the field and Dad off?
"The weird thing is I don't think I've ever really called him coach," the younger Caringi said.
"That's kind of a weird thing for me; I call him Dad," Jake Zimmerman said. And that's OK with the coaches.
"I love it," the elder Zimmerman said. "Any coach loves to be called coach, but I think more so any dad likes to be called Dad."
Caringi III can remember sitting in the stands as a high school senior as he watched UMBC lose in the conference championship game. He told his mother he wanted to help them win it all next year. And he did.
"Here was a young guy that was my son, who wasn't a part of the program, but he was in the sense of him always being around it and he wanted that ring just as much as I did or the players on the field," his father said.
Zimmerman, who won three national championships at Johns Hopkins, recalls the moment after he was awarded a game ball for his 200th victory. Once the huddle dispersed, there stood Jake, then a freshman. The son congratulated his father as they embraced.
"That's one of the great moments of my life," Zimmerman said.
As the women's lacrosse practice ends, the soccer team takes the field. Caringi watches his players prepare for warm-ups. In the sea of white jerseys his son Pete is somewhere, mixed among the players, indistinguishable within the team. Zimmerman, meanwhile, walks the outer path of the complex with Jake at his side. Two fathers and two sons, two coaches and two athletes.