Now that school is back in session we thought it was about time to check-in with a couple of programs out there. Fall Ball has kicked off for a lot of teams, and things are starting to take their most basic shape for 2012. To kick off the Fall Interviews we’re talking with Head Coach John Paul, of NCAA Division 1 Lacrosse’s newest big time team; the Michigan Wolverines. We talk about goals for 2012, transitional adjustments, and how gear and uniforms can help an emerging major lacrosse program.
There has been a lot of talk in both the college football world, and now the lacrosse world, of wild uniforms, and how they can benefit a program looking to bring in top recruits. Is this a tactic that Michigan would consider following?
John Paul: Probably not. At a school like Michigan, where the brand is based on tradition and is already so strong, I think it would be counter-productive to try to be trendy. Our alumni and fans do not want to see a different helmet, for example. To them, that would be disrespectful.
Well, the trend of wild uniforms seems to have paid off for schools like Oregon in the football department, so even if Michigan doesn’t take this path, do you see any tangible benefits from really making a push to be on the cutting edge of uniforms?
John Paul: I understand why schools like Oregon are doing what they are doing in football, and it has obviously paid off for them in recruiting and exposure. In a sense, they have built a brand on being flashy, and on constant change. That path isn’t appropriate for us. However, our practice gear (yellow helmets!) is certainly a place that we can experiment a bit, and we did that last year with our practice jerseys and our practice helmets. Those helmets drew a lot of attention for us and for Warrior, and our guys loved them.
Some would argue that by adding grey into the Michigan uniforms, you guys have already taken a step in the direction of getting more wild. But to me, the UM greys were still really classic. Michigan football and hockey have also worn some standout throwback style uniforms over the past years, so how does the Michigan Athletic Department, and Adidas, draw the line on designs? What is the guiding principle of Michigan’s approach to on the field style?
John Paul: Tradition. Everything here is guided by that theme. But you have to guard against becoming stale or reactionary when you lean on tradition too much. There’s a fine line. Our teams here have worn throwbacks for special events. Some Michigan women’s teams have worn pink for breast cancer benefits. Our grey uniforms were a way for us to do something different without breaking too much from what people expect Michigan to look like. Baseball has worn grey here before, so we weren’t breaking completely new ground.
And just to clarify, will the greys be joining you guys at the D1 level, and if so, how often will you wear them?
John Paul: We are not changing our uniforms at all this year. The department’s approach to this whole process has been to transition from the MCLA team to the NCAA team, and we felt that keeping the same uniforms for year one would help carry our alumni along with us as we move forward. The greys will make an appearance or two.
You guys will be wearing Warrior gear this year, to compliment your Adidas uniforms. How excited are the guys to wear those winged TII helmets as varsity NCAA athletes? Any special helmet news we should be aware?
John Paul: They are excited to be representing Michigan as D1 athletes, and they were really happy with the helmets last year. They looked good and, most importantly, they performed well. As for something new this year? You’ll just have to wait and see.
As someone with a TON of success in the MCLA, do you think wild uniforms are worth focusing on at all for current MCLA squads? Teams have to design their uniforms no matter what, so it’s not that much extra time to invest. But in your opinion, is it worth it for MCLA teams to take the risk? After all, not every wild uniform works.
John Paul: Absolutely. The MCLA needs to continue to market itself, and uniform design is a way to draw attention. However, I think teams can go too far. At some point, you run the risk of losing legitimacy, which every MCLA team is looking for. Leave the really crazy stuff for the summer club teams.
Michigan-Michigan State is such a huge rivalry, are you hoping they bring their program back? It might make recruiting a little harder, but do you think that rivalry would actually help the sport at Michigan?
John Paul: Of course. We would love to see MSU bring varsity lacrosse back. It would be great for the sport here in Michigan and nationally. Our athletic director, Dave Brandon, has developed a strong relationship with Mark Hollis, the MSU AD. He has given him a little friendly competitive ribbing at a couple of public events about the fact that we’ve added lacrosse and they haven’t. Unfortunately, the financial landscape of major D1 athletics does not make it easy to add sports, much less men’s sports. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.
What are your team’s goals for your first year as an NCAA D1 team? How hard is it to gauge where you’ll fit in?
John Paul: While we certainly want to win games, and we will approach every game we play as prepared as we can possibly be, where we fit in this year is less of a concern than where we are going to be. Our goals are all about culture. We want to set the culture that will give us the foundation to build a great D1 program as quickly as possible. We already had some of that in place because of the way we ran our club program, but we’re demanding that our guys step up in many ways. We’ve taken our accountability expectations, on and off the field, to a whole new level (to the point that some other varsity coaches here have already been quizzing us about some of the things we’re doing).
Do you have any update on whether or not Michigan will ever be able to field an MCLA team AND an NCAA team?
John Paul: That’s completely up to the MCLA Board of Directors, and to my knowledge they have made clear they don’t want to go in that direction at this point. To be honest, that’s the least of my concerns right now. We’re focused on the NCAA team. I believe that a club team will continue to exist here at Michigan, but our Recreational Sports Department is taking a year off from sponsoring club lacrosse. I think it will formally start up again next year.
How many kids were at/will be at tryouts? Over 100?
John Paul: We held a tryout last weekend for a handful of open roster spots. There were about 30 prospective players there, and we ended up adding five guys to the roster. We need depth for this year until our first D1 recruiting class comes in next year. This is a pretty special opportunity for the 45 guys who are part of the first ever D1 team at Michigan, but they all know they will have to earn their way onto the team in the years to come. Our recruiting is changing significantly.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Coach! Some great tidbits in there for any MCLA program or coach that wants to get to the next level. And keeping it traditional when others are going all out wild… I like that too! We’ll have more from Michigan as the year continues, and their first NCAA season should prove to be an extremely interesting one!